𝚆𝚑𝚎𝚛𝚎 𝚝𝚑𝚎𝚛𝚎 𝚒𝚜 𝚛𝚞𝚒𝚗

𝚃𝚑𝚎𝚛𝚎 𝚒𝚜 𝚑𝚘𝚙𝚎 𝚏𝚘𝚛 𝚊 𝚝𝚛𝚎𝚊𝚜𝚞𝚛𝚎

~𝚁𝚞𝚖𝚒


post/177452579730/at-the-top-of-the-hill-where-nothing-ever-grows

Little was known about the origins of their kingdom. Sure, there were stories. Legends passed down from descendent to descendent often shared in the form of campfire song or bedtime story. But that was it. They were merely stories. Nothing more than ancient tales, adapted and altered so much so that the kingdom's inhabitants may as well have been playing some kind of long distance Chinese whispers.

No, the most trustworthy sources were the scrolls held by the elders, rescued from the very ruins their city today was built upon. But they still held issues. For as much as the elders knew, it wasn't enough to translate a long since dead language from scrolls so ancient that half the inscriptions were no longer visible, faint traces of what once was.

That wasn't to say the elders hadn't tried. Infact, it was their persistence that allowed the kingdom to discover as much as they had about their lands. From the elders, and the elders before them, and them, and so on and so forth. How there had been a war of some sort and how the skies rained fire and ash, metal husks of ships and weapons sent crashing and plummeting to the ground in a scene of complete terror and tragedy. The land had been laid waste to that day, the settlements all but destroyed and citizens left for dead, injured or homeless.

But that was it.

No one knew of the times before this 'war', neither did they know what it had actually been about. What they did know, however, was that the metal husks held technology from beyond their understanding, capable of powering cities upon cities with their cores. With this, they had raided the ruins and built skyward, creating new from old and forming it into the kingdom they knew it by today.

Airavia.


"Ezri!"

Thump! Thump! Thump!

"Ezri! Are you okay?"

"I- uh." The girl coughed, voice a little more scratchy than she'd remembered it to be. "Gah, yes? Maybe? I think I'll have to get back to you on that one."

In truth, there was a very high chance that she wasn't okay. That fall had certainly not been her most graceful moment, and she was pretty sure that her head and shoulder blade were not supposed to ache as much as they were right then. Yet Amaia didn't need to know that as of that moment. Knowing her like she did, her friend would only worry tenfold.

"Thank god," Came the heaved sigh she had been expecting, only for the voice on the other side to do a complete one eighty, now apparently fuming, "But jeez, what the actual heck were you thinking?! I knew this was dangerous! I said this was dangerous! And I still came and now you're-"

"This was my choice, Amaia," Ezri interrupted before the blame game became too much, "If anything, this is on me. But hey, what's a little adventure without some danger — am I right?"She cracked a smile that instantaneously twisted itself into a wince. "Seriously, I'll be fine. We'll meet back up at the entrance, okay? This door does not look like it's going anywhere."

"Wait, what?! I'm not- you're not! No! Absolutely not! There has to be something here to let you back through." Doubtful. There wasn't anything as obvious as there had been on the other side. "You don't know if there even is a way out of there. There's no chance I'm letting you walk around a haunted spaceship of all things!"

Haunted? Pfft.

"You know it's not me who's the one afraid of ghosts here." She reached up to grab a slab of metal, using it as leverage to get her legs moving again. It took a bit of strain, but sure enough, Ezri had hoisted herself up so that she was leaning against the wall, catching her breath. "And don't sound so freaked out. This isn't the first ruin we've explored, and thus far, they've all been surprisingly devoid of ghosts."

"Never too late for a first."

Ezri rolled her eyes, knowing full well that Amaia couldn't see her. "Oh hush, you. It'll be fine! Just retrace your steps. We're not that far in."

"Easy for you to say, mademoiselle 'I eat danger for breakfast.'" Snort. "But fineee, if you really think you'll be okay on your own, I'll-" Amaia paused, presumably to check the time. "Give you until four trelflecks, okay? Any later and I'm going to have a meltdown."

Twenty microbeats until four, huh? Yeah, she had this in the bag. If anything, she'd be arriving early.

Unless, of course, she found something interesting

"Yeah, yeah mum. I'll be back before dinnertime, don't you fret." Amaia's indignant splutter was music to her ears. "See ya!"

With that, Ezri turned to face herself away from the door, taking in the smooth, metal walls of the room she'd fallen into. There wasn't much to go by, the lumi-orb she'd conjured wasn't enough to illuminate structures of this grand a scale, the bobbing light casting out shadows left right and centre. Now, without Amaia's fused alongside it, she could see marginally less. Just enough that it was like walking on a particularly foggy day. Ezri gave it an arm's length in front of her at most.

Something at the edge of her periphery glinted, startling her. Ezri paused, and held out her orb, so that it bobbed just above her hand, moving it back to the position she'd held it at a moment before. Just as she figured, the lumi-orb's light caught on the object of interest again, causing it to shine out to her like a beacon in the dark, an immediate 'look at me' object if ever she saw one. Ezri took a steady step towards it, dutifully ignoring the cry of legs in favour of discovery. Chances were it wasn't all that special, most of the good stuff had been ransacked from here centuries beforehand when Airavia was still but a small settlement built upon ruin.

But if she was lucky…

Ezri reached out, paused, before reluctantly retreating her hand back to her side. After what happened a second ago with the door…

Eh, could it really be worse?

(You could get stuck in a jail-pod.)

No. Don't be dumb.

Jaw set in a 'now or never moment', Ezri went to grab the glinty thing before she regretted it. Instead of coming off in her hand, though, it buried itself into the wall, the grinding sound of metal upon metal making her skin crawl.

Oh.

Jeez, not another secret door-

Bzzzzt.

All around her, the ship began thrumming with life, igniting itself like an out of use quad-vehicle — one of those old ones her great great grandparents had. It seemed to cough and splutter, before deciding on a rhythmic pattern, distant clanking noises beginning to sound out from the nearby parts of the ship, a revival of something thought dead. Her heart almost stopped at the implication of it all, suddenly conscious of the fact that her pushing of the button had managed to reactivate this — god knows how old — ship's reserve power segment.

And that was before the even lights flickered on.

Before she got a good look at the room she was in.

"This is the- the-" Ezri squealed. Actually genuinely squealed. "The bridge! Holy heck! This is awesome. Amaia, get a look at thi-" The words died in her tongue, guilt eating at her mood. Finally, they find something worthwhile and Amaia wasn't even there to share it with her.

She was taking pictures, then.

Plenty of pictures.

Ezri dug her hand into her waistcoat, pulling out a rather finely cut triangular device. She began snapping pictures, plenty of them. It was unfortunate that her uphone couldn't access the world-wide signal down there in the shipwreck (otherwise she and Amaia would obviously be on call right now), but that wasn't to say the device didn't have its uses. For one, the picture quality was hyper-realistic. Might as well have been looking through a window or something, all crisp and clear if a little tint marring it.

Pointy stalactite architecture? Snap.

Tall imposing chair? Snap.

Armour? Snap.

"Wow," She breathed, taking in the figure before her. It reminded her of those put away in the local museum, all those school trips analysing bone structure, what those theorists believed they looked like. Then the conspiracists who compared them with those of their own, bold as to suggest their current people were a mix of both the surviving aliens who'd fought over their lands, and their ancestors whose homes had been, for the most part, destroyed. All those armour sets were better preserved than this one before her, all carefully cleaned where the best term for this one would be 'rust bucket'.

"Is this the kinda stuff people wore back then? All high and mighty in their intergalactic battle suits?" She slapped the metal armour on the arm, rattling it, just as she would a friend, though they weren't usually this painful to interact with. Ezri awkwardly shook her own hand in pain, drawing back, but the teasing smile didn't waver.

"Look at you, heh? All tall and over the top. I mean those markings? Never seen any like them before, not even on the exhibits. Bet this stuff weighs a ton. How'd you guys even move in those?"

Another angle, and another picture snap. She continued her photo shoot interrogation, though she expected no reply.

"You look pretty tall too. Even for guys like you. I bet you were a giant back in your day."

Snap.

"What's keeping you standing?"

Snap.

"Do you think I could carry you?"

Snap.

"Meh, you're probably right." She pouted. "Too bad. I'll just have to come back for you later. At least Amaia will love the pics."

Snap.

She shut her camera off, slid the triangular screen like so until it twisted into a much smaller triangle, pocket sized, and folded upwards. It lit up green before the dull glow died, a faint click as she pocketed it.

"Now, where was I? Getting outta here, right?"

Ezri twisted on her heel, surveyed the area with a wave of pride. She'd found something useful, and it was hers. She'd told them her work would pay off. Take that naysayers!

The rumble came unexpected, cut off the highlights of her good mood, and the ground clicked. Less of a restarting engine and more an ominous 'something's about to go down and you're not gonna like it' type of thing. Dread tickled at the nape of her neck.

The lights switched out, and darkness at once reclaimed its territory, plunged into the forgotten yet again.

"Oh, stars above. Seriously?" Her face pinched into a grimace as she resummoned her orb, flicking out her fingers and tracing an invisible pattern into the air. "Had to choose now of all times to run out of juice? When I'm still in here?" Ezri tutted, shaking her head as the lumi-orb's light spread. "Rude, just rude."

The glow was just enough to make out the plated armour, though freakishly shadowy in the dying light. It was all the more imposing, looming down in a way that felt watching, despite the lack of visible eyes.

Ezri refused to let this faze her in the slightest.

"And if you'll excuse me, sir," She addressed the armour with a sweeping arm, "I'll be taking my exit."

Ezri treaded carefully, retreated from her place at the foot of the armour and moved across the familiar layout of the room until she came to what she earlier had glimpsed as an exit. Her ticket out of this time capsule, though hopefully — she crossed her fingers — not one way. She had to show her parents. They'd be thrilled! This was their area of expertise, and perhaps, just perhaps she wouldn't have to go around these sites behind their backs anymore. If she could, once and for all, prove herself as competent…

Her mind wandered, as did her feet. She tripped on an unknown that almost sent her sprawling. Her foot slammed down, echoing across the room as she regained balance from her blunder. It was missteps like that which landed her in more trouble than she could get a handle of.

Trouble such as opening a trap door, for instance.

Ezri screamed, thrown off her feet yet again as the floor gave way beneath her. Her body slammed this way and that, probably bruising her sides like the peach she annoyingly was as she flailed down some sort of tunnel system. It flew by all too swiftly, her light unable to keep up, and the surrounding darkness kept her guessing. Maybe it was for the better.

"AAAAAAAA!" She shrieked, warbled by her fall, tearing at her vocal chords with her startled cries. Ezri had read about these, tunnels of traps activated to protect a ship's load from… Morligagles? Something like that. Roughly translating to something akin to pirates and thieves. Whatever the battle ships held, it was a loot worth stealing, enough so that traps must have been put in specifically to target them. Or in this case, her.

Uncertainty tackled her down. Right, if they were designed for capturing people, this was going to take her who knows where. Worst case scenario was the prison pods, those in current disappear — from the outside at least. Their systems hadn't yet been cracked by her people and operated on a long lasting power source separate from the rest of the ship, designed to stop looters stealing from the carcass of this metal beast. Those systems would still be fully functional.

And here she was heading into the very heart of it.

Was this the part where she said her final prayers? Left off her prized possessions to her parents? Was reminded in her final moments of her mother's warning, echoing like a broken record deep within her consciousness?

Pain shot out from her left arm unexpectedly, her fall broken, jarring her joints to the extent that she was surprised her limb hadn't been ripped clean off.

She burned. But she wasn't dead.

She wasn't dead.

Ezri craned her neck up, nearly twisting it to get a good look at whatever had lunged for her with iron grip. The hand was firm, steadfast and cold, as if the very walls had come to her aid. In a way, they had. A fist had hounded a hole into the wall (no small feat, have you seen the width of those things) and was now clutching at her with perfectly timed accuracy.

Her screaming didn't cease.

The hand, in jerky motions, exhaled with a rush of steam, all at once whirring back into motion and dragging her through the wall. The sentence in itself wasn't a stretch, for the hole was by no means person sized, yet she was pulled through with ease. The rippling sensation felt like moving through mud, cold and slimy as she came into contact with the cool of the metal. It lasted a mere second, and once it was over, she had trouble processing it had ever happened at all.

She stared. Metal stared back, or gave her the impression of a stare at the very least. As she'd said before, that thing was devoid of eye holes.

The armour had returned for her.

Ezri cocked her head, unable to do little else until the thing decided to release her. The armour mirrored this with a clunk and exhale.

"... You're… alive?" She choked out a last. Indeed it was, now aglow across the markings she's noticed earlier. The green trailed it's plating like poison, curving around in embossed spirals and unintelligible patterns that once ago must have meant something, but now was little more than intricately crafted design. Calligraphy with a lost meaning, but still very much art.

Where she assumed it's nose to be, smoke puffed, somewhat grunt-like.

"Aaaand you understand me. Okay, that's a first." She laughed, a little pitchy to her own ears. "Uh, so do you mind releasing me then? If you can understand me? Just put me-ah, yeah. Like that."

The armour relinquished it's hold on her. Ezri relaxed her shoulders.

"Good, that's -ah, good. Well, if you're a living thing, you've gotta have a name, right? You have a name?"

The armour remained still, statue-like as it had been on their first encounter. Well, minus the whole glowy thing. But they could work with this. Huh, was this even the one she met earlier? They looked eerily the same, and surely if it wasn't, it would have been collected by excavators by now.

"I'll take that as a nooooo," She drew out, frantically giving the room a once over. Between the bobbing of her recently returned lumi-orb and the acidic glow of the armour, few details were able to jump out. Nothing much except crumbling ruins and a pile of rocks in the corner to decorate this joint.

Ezri snapped her fingers. "Tell you what? If you don't have a name, I'll just give you one. Everybody deserves a name. Even… ah, armour? Sooo, any suggestions?"

A shot of steam exhaled at high pressure and the armour creaked like the heaping mass of rust that it was. For something that looked like it should've fallen apart decades ago, rusty mcbucket here sure looked awfully intact. Not even the carvings saw an ounce of damage. The ancients knew how to make something long lasting, and this guy really showed for it.

"Thought so. Hmm," She paused, drifted her attention back to the corner, "I'm gonna call you… Rocky. Yeah!" Her eyes flashed as excitement took root within her. "Rocky. You just look like a Rocky to me."

She reached up onto her tiptoes and tapped both of his shoulders, jamming her protruding finger out with extra flourish. Ezri cleared her throat.

"I hereby dub thee as Rocky. No take backs."

The metal knight, now inventively knighted as 'Rocky', only grunted in response.

"Don't talk much, do you?"

Grunt. Clank.

"Hmmm… hey? Rocky?" Her expression flickered. "If you - err, live here? Do you know the fastest exit? I've got a friend and — lemme tell you — she'll be fussing over me for hours if she realises I'm late because I fell down some old defence shoot." Ezri hesitated. "Especially if it's because I fell down a defence shoot. I won't hear the end of it I swear."

Rocky's head straightened after a delayed pause. It… he (?) brought up an arm, grinding metal upon metal, and pointed off down the corridor.

Ezri perked up.

"Hey! Looks like I have a guide. You mind taking me there?"

His footsteps answered for him.


They made their exit in record time, Rocky just as talkative a companion as before (Ezri didn't mind, she did all the chatting for them, Rocky lent a good ear… or whatever he had on the side of his head). Plated metal gave way to blinding light, an abundance of luscious greens, hills to roam free amongst, and flora splashed across the landscape as far as the eye could see. The graveyard of ships, where there were once bowl shaped cavities in the ground, had melted in as one with the greenery, Mother Nature never straying from her promise to reclaim her territory. It would have looked to a traveller like mismatched patchwork, a sore thumb where it resided, sticking up as out of place. To Ezri, she'd grown up here, knew this stretch of land like the back of her hand, a familiarity she treasured close to her heart. The valley of Naufraga was her normal. It was as a part of her as anything.

Speaking of sore thumbs, the pop of bouncing blue hair was easy enough to spot, Amaia already at the stage of frantically pacing left and right.

A loose grin slipped onto Ezri's face.

"Amaia!" She hollered, waving as Amaia's eyes widened. Her friend waved back, though not with the full exuberance Ezri pulled off, her energy supplies a mystery to all she met.

"Ezri? Ezri! You're not possessed! Or trapped! You're alive!"

"I know!" She rushed forwards, as did Amaia, pulling each other into a bone crushing hug as they collided in the middle. "Awesome, right?"

"I don't need to hire an exorcist!"

"Yeah, no." Ezri narrowed her eyes, and though it wasn't visible to Amaia, the way the girl's shoulders stiffened said she'd heard it perfectly clear in her voice. "Were you really considering that?"

"Ah, uh." Amaia pulled back, her expression telling. "Maybe? But can you blame me? I was getting worried, where were you?"

Ezri rolled her eyes, prized Amaia's hands from her arms. She shot Amaia a pointed look. "Pfft please, I'm early, see?"

Ezri pulled out her uphone, clearly displaying a glowing ∆0003:052. She all but shoved it in her face. With a single finger, Amaia pushed the device away from her, wholly unimpressed.

"Hah? You? Early? That's nothing short of absurd. You… oh goodness, you are." Her eyes boggled, and Ezri couldn't help but snort at the sight of it. Amaia huffed as she reasurted herself. "Colour me shocked. Never did I think to see the day. Are you feeling alright? This isn't like you at all… are you sure I shouldn't be calling an exorcist?"

"No," She replied flatly and repocketed her uphone, having served its purpose of proving her victory. "I'm not always late."

"Yes, yes you are."

"That's just - ah! An inaccurate generalisation!"

Amaia folded her arms. "Have you forgotten the marshlands already?"

"Nooooo," Ezri protested, gesticulating wildly, as if the fish-like flailing on her part would do her any favours, present her some sort of backup. That was something they both benefited from scrubbing out of their brains, the marshlands were best left where they were. In the marsh. "But I suggest you should. Besides, I have something better to show you!"

Amaia inclined her head.

A giggle played at her lips. "Guess who I met?" Ezri's voice rose an octave, drifting into a teasing lilt, playful, a singsongy bird's mischievous call, all the telltale signs of having done something Amaia would be inevitably dragged along to deal with, arms deep in a stinking hot mess. If one looked close enough, you could pinpoint the exact time Amaia's mental alarms blared, flashing red as panic mode reset in for the millionth time that day. 'Brace yourself', 'Brace yourself', 'It's every single situation you've found yourself in all over again.'

Ezri, for one, remained oblivious to her turmoil.

"You've probably seen him by now," She went on, "Sooo, guess!"

"Urrhh." Amaia scratched her head, left her locks fall into a tangled mess of blue, crashing against one another — a roar of lapping waves. "Lucian? He's the only person I can think of offhand… don't know why he'd be out here though. Did he bog you down with another cursed object?"

Ezri studied her a moment. "No? Come on, duh, he's right… here?" She blinked thrice like a camera shutter, unable to focus on her newfound reality she'd found herself plunged into. Nothing but empty air stood beside her, devoid of any metallic objects breathing down her neck. "I mean, Rocky was. Ah." She threw her voice, "Rocky? Come out wherever you are?"

Grass swayed, and the world fell silent around her, the soft whisperings of the breeze turned harsh, taunting. Glancing back at forth, Amaia mirrored this bafflement, though for a completely different reason, and with a distinct lack of crestfallen dismay that was present on Erzi, her eyes soft and shoulders sagging with a newly found weight placed upon them. Amaia rubbed her neck.

"So a pet then? Uh, a small thing, right? One of those things you see scuttling around the ruins?" Amaia was guessing here, striving for an answer that wasn't a given. The curious silence of Ezri spoke volumes to her, those pebbles placed between where her eyes usually shone, so dull, defeated, and it tore at Amaia's heart. Just a little.

So no mere pet. A friend. Someone Ezri wished for her to meet.

The whispers of the wind grew, the taunts hung heavy in her ears. Ezri pursed her lips and sighed.

"No, he was… nevermind. It's not important."

The words didn't quite sit right on her tongue, bitter and chunky, tough to tear through. She wondered if she was still tasting the residue from earlier's dust cloud.

Warmth grasped her hand, pale blue skin — deceptively not cold to the touch — against the stony grey of her own. Amaia smiled back at her, bittersweet and sombre, warm if not for her eyes that spoke too much, a little too knowing with that shimmery tint.

"If Rocky was important to you, he was important to me too."

Amaia nudged her, and her grin lost all knowing edge.

"I bet you named him too. With something silly like that…"

Ezri batted back at her arm, indignant as she moved to regain her self respect. "Excuuuuse me!" Her tongue poked its tip past her lips, then buried itself back again, dispatching from the outside world in quick retreat as she used it for a much more purposeful reason. The art of verbal self-defence. "There's nothing wrong with Rocky."

"You're like my sister when it comes to naming things I swear."

When Ezri laughed as much as this, it made the burn of rejection sting just that little less. She could almost forget.

But one doesn't. Not when they save your life.


It's a moment she wouldn't forget. Not as the seasons pass and change with the falling of leaves, crisp and golden like spun riches sewn into a blanket for nature's bed.

In her moments of quietude, alone with but her and her brain, she's left wondering what it all meant. What he meant.

If he ever existed after all. The armour never turned up in any of her pictures, not even when she thought to send them to Amaia.

There were few in this world who entertained Ezri with her dramatics, and those who did could be boiled down mostly to the drama division — the actors with a passion, a knack for flair and pizazz. If she hadn't had her heart set on archeology, these may have been her people.

As it was, she was more than comfortable watching their latest performance play out, seats courtesy of their own resident drama student. Lucian Harcroft.

Often — when not troubling them with his own cursed affairs (and she meant literally, you have no idea how many 'authentic' props the drama department would get their hands on, only to realise they stayed locked up for a reason) — he'd invite them to these shows, get them the best seats in the house for their help. Ezri couldn't say the reward was too bad, though she was increasingly growing worried about the amount of objects she'd had to de-curseify (his words, not hers) on a regular basis. You'd think they'd have learnt their lesson by now, but noooo.

At least their plays were good. Ezri would rather stick her head in the sewage than say this, but Lucian — that impish blonde — was pretty darn good at acting. The way he could throw himself wholeheartedly into a role, could change how he presented himself like the breeze, how he loved what he did, it was all pretty inspiring.

Right then they were having a go at something historical, a book to stage play of 'The Primary Beings', a mixture of fantastical science fiction, and their city's rumoured past, a smooth blend creating a not too far fetched plausibility. She'd never read the book, but from Lucian's constant reciting of lines she felt as if she may well have had. You can only shout "Down with the tin cans!" and "I pledge my heart to your crystal" so many times before it became infuriatingly ingrained in your brain like a second conscience.

Ezri knew the bit that came up next, present at the rehearsal, so leaving to take a quick break for a breather wouldn't leave her missing much.

She hissed at Amaia, who was listening on with rapt attention, eyes glued with an extra dollop of superglue to the stage, even as she was munching on her leaves. Erzi pinched an extra crunchy one from her bowl.

"I'll be back in a microbeat, okay?"

"What? Aww." Amaia's face fell to a pout. "But you'll miss the best part."

"I've seen it before… and so have you."

She slid out of her seat, stopping to apologise to the odd person for trampling their belongings. With everyone under the canopy of the tent enjoying the performance, the outside was deserted with the small exception being her.

At least, so she thought. As she finally made her move to return, a certain someone made their entrance as she all but slammed into them, with a force where she could have equally just found a wall and rammed herself into it. Her pain levels wouldn't have noticed a lick of difference.

"Hey!" She protested after an almighty 'oof', "Do you mind… I ah, huh?" Ezri stood agape, catching flies, as not even a squeak escaped with her vocal chord's permission. She swallowed, not trusting her eyes to close.

Her vision burned, as did her heart. Those fallen leaves meant nothing, him the exact figure she recalled him to be.

"... Rocky?"

Just as she had seen him before, the mass of metal armour glowed, burned a light into her eyes that couldn't be mistaken for the realms of imagination. Ezri broke into a grin, slung her whole body weight around him as she wrapped Rocky into a hug, bone crunching if not for his lack of bones.

"Rocky!" She squealed, "You came back."

She never thought he would.

Her jovial mood did a 180 as she slapped him across the side (painful on her part, but she didn't regret it).

"Where the heck did you run off to?" She bit deep into a sore wound, his return a sprinkling of salt. "What's wrong with Amaia, huh? She wanted to meet you… you, you- Rust Bucket."

When her malice dissolved, all that was left was a longing girl, quiet, and moreoseful. "Couldn't you have at least stayed for a thank you? Meet my parents? Show you off to them?"

Rocky was hers, her discovery and her hero. Yet he'd taken off without even a moment's notice.

Hah, and now here he was, back again just as mysteriously as he came, but for what?

Rocky cocked his head, less clanky this time, as if he'd taken to practicing the motion. His glowing pulsated, right to the very lines that met in smooth curves across his torso. His neck then jerked up as he proceeded to turn and walk off.

Again.

Go figure.

"Hey!" She threw her hands out in exasperation, clenching them into fists as she called his name again. "I'm not done talking to you! You see me? We're not finished here! I've still got questions for you Mr."

He stubbornly walked on, tuning her out as mere background noise. She harrumphed at the sheer audacity.

"Fine then, be that way. But just know I won't be leaving my questions unanswered just yet."

Ezri followed on.


"Where are we going?" She asked after countless other tries, each to no avail. There was no reason this attempt would turn out any different, but there was no harm in trying. Any time now and he'd crack. "And oh- ah, okay. Err- any reason why you're filling up buckets with water?"

In clunky movements, Rocky had done just that, rounding up a steadily amounting pile of buckets and paying little regard to the vast quantity of water that missed them by a landslide. Erzi observed, only to realise too late what happens to those who buy tickets for the splash zone, a front row seat to a good old dousing of water, right in all the places you don't want it to be. Some odd degrees higher and she may have started to consider it as refreshing, but as dripping wet as she was, she could merely stand, shivering, and resigned to the fact that she chose to follow him.

"No?" She fixed him with a dead stare, disbelief trickling in with rising crescendo until it matched the force of an underwater current, fast, desperate, and unknowing of where it might lead, stuck in the deep end of madness with no way out. "Still not answering? Eesh, are there inbuilt earplugs in there or something? Do you have ears to begin with?"

Rocky, as per usual, remained silent as a, uh… rock. He kept his ground until satisfied, and hoisted up two of the buckets, seemingly as easy as lifting a paperweight. Water sloshed over the rim, split onto the already sodden ground, and she gingerly stepped away, not fancying to add soggy toes to the list.

"Why do you need water? Are you gonna drink that?"

As if to respond, in a manner that dodged the questions entirely, Rocky loaded her up with a bucket. She staggered and regained her footing, nearly sliding on the upturned mud.

Her protests fell silent to him as he picked up yet another bucket from the selection and headed off.

"What?" Ezri called after him, making cautious steps across the ground, "Now do you want me to follow you or something? I don't understand! Is this for a paddling pool? I think you already spilled a paddling pool on me."

Steam exhaled, and Ezri figured that was as much a response as any.

Back and forth the pair went, unloading buckets around the outside of the glorified theatrical tent until there were no more left. Ezri exhaled, plopping the last one down with an exhaustion she was only partially exaggerating.

"Okay? Now what?"

Rocky pointed to one of the lower tips of the canopy, one of three where the fabric met at a slanted point and the sky roamed free above. Erzi couldn't say she wasn't disappointed, because she was, and had just hauled these giant buckets of water for no other apparent reason than the 'walking armour told her so.'

Perhaps, not told, but it was very much implied.

Grunt.

"I'm looking, okay? I'm looking." She raised her hands up in surrender. "But there's nothing- ah, uh. Hang on… what?"

From where there was simply tent canvas, light began to fizzle in fits and bursts curled upwards, igniting wreaths of azure flame, along with sparks of violet and orange that came roaring to life, ablaze out of seemingly nowhere. The fire licked and ate at it, a ravenous beast sprung from what Ezri recognised as a faulty warding system, keeping the structure protected from interference and standing upright.

A magical fire. Hence the water.

Erzi shook herself from her horrified stupor, only partially mystified by the intense array of colours. Such a spur of the moment pyrotechnic light show wasn't welcome there.

"Wha- gah!" Erzi stuttered incredulously, then flung her attention back to Rocky. "Was this your doing? How did you know this would happen?"

Somehow his steam managed to sound — dare she say it — offended at the very prospect? His exhale was indignant at the very least.

"Right, sorry. So you want us to throw these buckets to stop it right, that's what they are here for? To save everyone… before it's too late."

Magical fires didn't smell, and by the time anyone noticed, chances were it would be too late. What they did do was give off heat and burn, the people inside would be magically cooked toast and her not so dripping wet anymore. They warned against sloppy wards, darn it. Didn't safety regulators do their jobs properly anymore?

Reality hit her, a high speed train thundering down the rails with no intention of slowing down unless she acted, and acted now, because between herself and Rocky, the lives of all those in there hung in the balance (Amaia, Lucian, the theatre kids-). With all her might (which wasn't much, but a very dramatic sentence to say) she pulled up a bucket and readied her aim.

She fell short by quite an amount, what water she had left in the bucket stared back at her pitifully. Erzri didn't let it deter her. She held up the bucket and…

Rocky held her up.

"Argh!" She wriggled, taken off guard, her legs squirming this way and that, so much so she resembled one of those worms both her and Amaia had come across in the marshlands. "Wait, are you helping me?"

His steam tickled her back.

"Oh, right." She pinched her brows in concentration, aiming for higher up. "Okay then. Here goes."

The slosh of water met its target, more or less, a splash that somewhat eased off the flare of flame, dulling it down enough that the fire retreated from its furthest ground. Rocky put her down, replacing her for a bucket of his own.

He worked himself into a rhythmic pattern, picked up the bucket and tossed its wave of contents, only to place it down and move onto the next.

The fire ebbed into oblivion, leaving only the mystifying purple smoke that curled into a twisting plume, and the crisp edge of the canopy, tip now smoked black. Sparks sizzled, lights danced, and the spectacle faded, the protection wards having deactivated their natural connection to the world.

She heard an upstir of noise from inside, possibly drawn to the sizzling, people having finally caught on with the fate they had almost been doomed to, shouts and cries carrying across to even out there.

Ezri visibly relaxed, face softening as she turned back to where her metal friend had been.

"... Thanks Rocky."

Yet she was alone once more.


"You're seriously saying you saw him again?"

Is it possible to over-massage one's temples?

"Yes Amaia, again. Beats me as to why."

Amaia bopped her on the nose. "I'm pretty sure he was out there saving the day. Rocky Superbucket to the rescue! Our daring hero returns for a sequel!"

"I just hope he returns for a trilogy. Where does he keep running off to?"

Amaia's eyes widened, stumbling through a tumble of her own words, tripping on her tongue when all that she could force through was some variant of a chocked cough.

"Ar- agh… wha- no! No no no no no no! Why on Airavia would you want that? Ezri, you could have fallen to your death! Of course I know he means something to you, and your story sounded really cool, but his every appearance never bodes well."

Ezri shrugged her off, rolling away her worries through one ear and out the other. "I'm going to see him again, I will. He will come back for me, and maybe one day even stay around for a goodbye."

"Ezri, I know he means a lot to you but-"

"He saves people, Amaia! That's what he does. I don't know who or what he is, but he's got a metal heart of gold." Her fists clenched into the fabric of her shirt, drier thanks to the towel Amaia had provided of somewhere. "He saved me, he saved you. He's here to protect us. He's my discovery."

Amaia sat silent, for a moment, the air thick and weighted with an inexplicable feeling. She sighed, resigned, but her expression wasn't unkind. It was one she used that was perhaps a little too sage.

"Something makes me think he discovered you," Amaia said softly.

The winds agreed.


She's not a discovery of his, she would tell herself, pulling up the memory in between meals. Yet the more she dwelt on it, twirling her fork through lumpy strands of greens, the more she realised she couldn't let the thought go.

Why had he only been seen by her? Even at the theatrical tent, he'd been far out of view of the others, all inside and busy with the performance. Once they'd come out… he'd vanished into thin air. A pattern of his which could possibly grow into a nasty habit, providing she was lucky enough to catch him again.

Why her? If he had let himself be concealed for so long, generations upon generations of people failing to notice him, why come alive for her? He did his rescuing in the comfort of solitude, so why awaken and reveal himself to her? Why let her in on his little secret?

Did he really believe himself to be the archeologist of the two, and she his discovery?

Or was she just fooling herself?

She didn't get much sleep that night. Or the night after that, or that, or that, or that and that, and suddenly all these brimming questions — the ones that threaten to spill through the rim of her mind like an overflowing coffee mug of steaming hot confusion — needed answering.

Books, it seemed, could be her only solace. She couldn't see him returning any time soon.

"Please don't tell me you're here for more cursed objects, Lucian."

She's joking, mainly, but spotting the boy walking in like he owned the Library of all places was a highly suspicious past time indeed. Ezri was in no mood to de-curse-ify anything else for the time being.

He startled, the shimmery bronze of his skin dark against his hair as he went to scratch at it, awkwardly, having not noticed her presence before then.

"Nah." He lowered his arm. "Not this time, pretty sure I've been kicked out of the storage room here."

Ezri leaned across her table, cheeks smushed against her palms as she kept her voice low after the dirty looks passers by were eyeing her with.

"Okay then, why are you here?"

Lucian inclined a brow, paired it with a tone dryer than grit. "I'm in a library. Think for a second."

"You? Using this place for its intended purpose?" Ezri tutted. "I don't think so."

"What? It's true!"

"Hmmm nah," She concluded with a lazy grin.

He opened his mouth to respond, reprimand her with something equally indignant as it was witty, only to be interrupted by the distant grumble of thunder, closer than the last time Ezri had heard its moans.

She didn't even flinch.

"So? I'm curious? Why do you honour us with your presence?"

Lucian opened his mouth and hesitated, shut it again as he gave her a funny look. She figured he must have finally chosen to go 'to heck with it' as his conversational option because he didn't even try to beat around the bush.

"Okay sure." He shrugged, somehow managing to morph his already casual posture into something even more lax. "I'm here to visit a friend."

"What?" She mocked a gasp, for all appearances more dramatic than the genuine drama student in the room. Alright, it wasn't anything believable, but like she said, she was dramatic, not an actress. "You mean to tell me you don't just hang out with the drama bunch all day?"

"I have friends other than you, you know?"

"Awww, you see us as friends?" She flashed him a blinding smile, genuine to the core. This was definitely the first she heard of this. "And here I thought you were using me for personal gain."

"Eh." Lucian made a so and so gesture. "And that too."

"Typical." Ezri bushed her chair back from where she sat, springing to her feet with a dose of her trademark contagious enthusiasm. "Right, so where to?"

Point two to Ezri taking Lucian off guard.

"I- what? I'm sorry?"

"Come on!" Ezri laughed, elbowing him in the side as a gesture of camaraderie, something she often caught herself doing with Amaia. "Take me, your friend, to meet this other friend of yours. And preferably before someone escorts me out for making too much noise."

Lucian, when the bafflement wore off, gave a good natured roll of his eyes. "You're kind of impossible to say no to. I don't think you'd accept my 'how about no' I was preparing."

"Come on, you owe me."

"I thought the free ticket covered the fee. Or wasn't that enough?"

"The show was kinda a bust. Your tent caught fire," She pointed out flippantly, in the way one might comment on how the weather was looking. Something recognisable as guilt crossed Lucian's face, pained like a wound buried deep, a blink and you'd miss it motion. The guy knew the ins and the outs to facial expressions. "Eh, tell whoever was checking them to up their game. Or not… because looked like they were trying to draw up wards too complicated for their skill set. All's good."

Ezri shook herself and continued. "Heyyyy, what's one outing, one friend with another?"

"... This way."


River, Ezri would say, in most accurate terms could be described as sheepish. Part nature spirit, they had a pair of horns protruding through their skull, twisted over the years like a pair of hooked tusks, spiraling around the crown of their head to almost form a circlet of bone. Their thick chestnut curls that run amok around only added to the wolly-esque appearance they held, exceptionally fluffy where parts of their hair poofed.

River's work, however, was anything but sheepish.

"I'm tracking the energy readings of the storm," They said, leading the group of them up onto the rooftop, exposing them all to unsettled winds. Erzi grimaced at the chill, but couldn't hold back her awe at River's equipment. Spires of metal connected up to a series of buttons and machinery Ezri couldn't even begin to name, all resembling some type of weather reading device if she could hazard a guess. "My mum — Clove over there — and I have been working on this theory that magic doesn't just come up from the ground, or reside beneath our very skin, but is present as a diluted concentration in the very air itself."

Clove waved back before turning back to her work, wincing as she butted one of her pigtail-like horns on the equipment, entangling it with a heap of wire. She waved off River's concerned gaze.

"Anyway." River tugged at their curls. "If this is true, there should be a much more powered charge of magical energy in the storm. If we separate this data off and analyse the underlying current, our readings should help with harnessing this magical potential. Perhaps to help strengthen our own runic symbols or even tap into the magic of those who have difficulties accessing their own root of magic." River waved their arms with a flourish over the equipment. "And to check out our storm, we must be at this vantage point."

Awe frolicked though Ezri in bountiful supplies, twirling in the abstract dance of the mind. River's words moved her, from the jist of it she picked up, sounded extraordinary to exploring the vast unknown of their future, perhaps even using it to explore a once thought lost past too, such magics dead along with those who practiced them.

Though a certain question was niggling at her.

"What's Lucian here for?"

River blinked owlishly at her, then proceeded to burst into a fit of laughter. "That's what's been eating at you? By my stars, I merely needed his companionship and snacks. Lucian provides awfully good conversation, and the waiting game is big on this project. Speaking of-" They threw their voice over to the boy opposite. "Do you have my salad crunchables? Tomato biscuits?"

"Extra crunch," Lucian said, tossing a bag he fished from his pocket. River fumbled a little as they caught it, and smiled, relieved, as it didn't fall. "But we're out of the biscuits."

"A shame." River started munching all the same, completely satisfied from the crunchables alone. They offered some up to their mother.

Ezri nudged Lucian, her lip quirking up into something a mix of amused and self satisfied, taking pleasure in how he immediately went on the defensive. What's wrong with a load of good natured teasing here and then?

"Important task?" She prompted, "Alright errand boy."

"Helping River out is plenty important."

"Did they ask for a delivery of tea too?" Ezri snorted. "Are you bringing deserts? Awww, don't look at me like that, I think it's sweet. When are you gonna start doing this for me?"

"If you call me errand boy again, I'd say it's as likely as never."

"Well isn't that just rude." She was grinning too widely to be insulted, all broad and free and struggling not to let the tickle at the back of her throat build up into a full blown laugh. Lucian was trying for something insulted, but his eyes told what his mouth didn't, amusement a subtle spark in his pupils.

"You're rude."

River interrupted them with a yelp, an assortment of tools all clattering to the ground with the most ear ringing sound. They grimaced at the narrow miss between the box and their feet, but paid more attention to what was showing up on their contraption's screen, frowning at the flickering numbers displayed. They tapped at it, once, twice, and cast a worried glance over to their mother.

"Much more of a magical energy charge than I imagined…." They trailed off before brightening somewhat, shrugging off their worries as mere dust particles. "But I'm sure we'll be fine. We've put too much work in for it to fail us now."

Erzi cleared her throat, her awe at the machine melting away to worry. Her expression tightened.

"Is this safe?" She pushed, glancing over to Lucian who was similarly disturbed by that offhand remark. He scratched at the back of his neck and, upon noticing where her attention was directed, avoided her gaze, eyes soft and concerned on River.

They were out in the embryo of a storm afterall, with some device with the purpose of being a magnet for lightning. All natural instinct told her this was teetering on the verge of mad science. Were they holding up a corpse there?

"Hmmm…. More or less? I've got my goggles." River pointed out, pinging them over their eyes with an elasticated force that couldn't have done their nose any good, removing the pair briefly to rub at the sore patch of skin underneath, regretting that even more by the moment. "Ah no no, bad idea. Bad idea. Ouch."

Erzi couldn't help but wince, rubbing at her own by reflex.

"River?" Clove came up beside them, sucking in a breath. "Oh moons. How did you manage that?"

River pulled a face, guilty and reminiscent of a kicked puppy who just wanted to curl up on the curb of the pathement. "Even the most intellectually inclined have their less than stellar moments."

"And it's those mistakes you learn from," Clove said with a wink, placing a gentle hand on River's shoulder. "Now, are you ready?" When River nodded with assurance, Clove's gaze drifted over to both Ezri and Lucian, a kindly smile as she addressed them for the first time. "Do you two mind keeping an eye on readings too? We could use all the help we can get."

Taking readings during a storm. Her kind of adventure then, daring with a looming possibility of fatality narrowly avoided by luck and daring escapes?

Definitely not safe.


She hoped River and Clove knew what they were doing.

For once she was the tall one, a being of great proportions standing life times away from the dinky figurines of people below, all immersed by equally tiny little problems. Many had taken initiative, and fled to the indoors as the rain hit, scatterings of droplets multiplying en mass until the sky was thick with tears. Clove had supplied them all with ponchos, declaring that they weren't waterproof like her equipment, but the rain had affronted Erzi enough already that her hair now showed up more as an appropriate storm grey rather than its normal chromium.

It wasn't even the worst of it and she was shivering. Oh the stuff she did to be helpful. Even declined the offer to go back inside.

Thunder rumbled and the scientists whooped for joy, the exact opposite reaction of ten year old Amaia when Ezri remembered cuddling the girl at their sleepover all those rotational seasons back, huddling in close together as she kept her best friend calm. Ezri had then proceeded to amuse Amaia with stickers, finding great joy in popping them on her nose.

The memory was warm and tingly to cling to when the rain stung her face. The edge of the building? Decidedly not, just cold and slippery beneath her fingers, leaving them numb under the vague assumption that she was clinging to something.

"Stunning, isn't it?" Came a voice. Lucian shifted himself down, sitting side by side to her as he came back from discussing something with River. He wiggled his legs over the edge, as if tempting fate, or coming the closest he ever could to walking on air.

As a non-magic user himself, it was easy to see he had a personal investment in this project, not just from being River's friend.

Erzi tilted her head. "If you're about to wax poetry on what our city looks like, that's seriously cliché."

"I was talking about you having not slipped off this ledge yet," Lucian remarked as she glared at him. She scaled many a ruin with her sense of balance, and he knew this, darn it. "But if you're up for discussing the view, I'm fine with that too."

"Nah, I'm good buddy. I'm saving the favour for later, because you owe me."

"I- wha," He spluttered, "Since when? You wanted to come out here."

She nodded. "Yeah, and River's cool. Really cool. The machine too. Sitting here in the pouring rain to get hypothermia? Not so much. Sub par experience. 0/10 would not recommend."

"Come on, I think the rain's great. It's refreshing… in a way. All those grass pavements down there will be smelling like daisies. The burrows may be a bit musty, but out here our flowers will flourish."

"I thought we weren't doing poetry."

"We aren't," Lucian retorted. "I stole those lines from a documentary."

Ezri felt inclined to address how he looked much too smug for someone who'd just confessed to plagiarism. Maybe she would have too, but the train of thought derailed from the station, a flash of something distinctively not lightning catching the edge of her periphery. She squinted at the distant object, leaned forward to dangerous levels Lucian swore his heart dropped. He pulled her back before they could see how fast a person who hadn't gathered up enough feathers for a flight spell could fall.

"Erzi!" He chided, torn between disbelief of her making a move so risky, or disbelief at his disbelief because he knew it was something right up her street.

Ezri was paying too much keen interest to a distant familiar figure to notice.

"Luican," She said slowly, carefully, when she realigned herself with her current position. "I'm going to nip to the facilities. Tell River I'll be back, alright?"

"... Alright."


It wasn't a lie per se, just a different set of facilities. The teleportation pods were back on the first floor of the library, operated by some of the most complicated magic and science intergenerational spells she'd ever bore witness to. A necessity considering the teleportation spell alone was highly dangerous, risky, and could lead to human entrails stuffed in a slab of concrete if you weren't precise with your measurements and thoughts.

It was a grotesque fate that even she wouldn't tempt.

Hopping in the 'in' cubicle, she tapped a few coordinates matching up with the displayed map. She'd roughly seen him round about there, right? Ezri bit the bullet and after making a few adjustments accordingly, activated the teleporter.

A swirling light spun around her, pulsating with a glowing aura until it encapsulated her. She felt her sense of everything flip, everywhere and nowhere all at once, interspersed between the atoms and molecules of reality itself. If you weren't accustomed to it, or suffered from motion sickness, it was an experience that could leave you nauseous at the other end.

Ezri remained fine and completely intact as she emerged in another pod, leading her out to a place some blocks off the Library. The gym wasn't her usual stop, but she recognised the building, having seen it from outside many a time. Like most buildings it had a higher ratio of glass to wall, the odd balcony secluded by overhanging canvas. Like the library in particular, it was tall, one of the grandest structures you could lay eyes on.

Exactly where she'd seen him standing.

Ezri made a beeline to the roof, easily accessible unlike the sanctioned off rooms she kept coming across, labelled 'members only'. The frenzied air outside was like a whiplash to the face, even after expecting it. She scrunched her eyes and wrinkled her nose as she powered forwards, tapping at the glowing marks she'd applied around her hood to keep it from obeying the will of the wind. She was damp enough as it was.

"Rocky!" She cried out, trying to carry her voice as far as it could. Erzi had a feeling she'd feel like her throat was pulled through the wringer if she kept that up. "The heck are you doing?"

The stuff she did for that metal man.

With a clunk, he twisted his head right around, full owl rotation from where he stood, atop a platform and holding a metal rod straight up into the air. An accurate description would be calling it a renaissance era painting turned sci-fi, pristine self assured brushstrokes accentuating his armoured figure like a king riding into battle, foot atop a step and holding high his sword. Erzi had no such works to compare it to, though she did recall her grandfather painting stylised helmets.

And apples. Lots of apples.

"Are you… trying to be a model?" Erzi asked, baffled as she circled him. "What is this? Am I sure you're Rocky and not some distant eccentric cousin that's really into the arts? How do I know there aren't more of you? I mean, have I just been meeting a bunch of different pieces of living armour and called them all Rocky?"

The armour tilted his head.

"Yeah, that's you." She brought her palms up to the hollows of her eyes and pulled them down, slowly, smushing her skin with a great elongated sigh. "Urgh, okay. But why?"

A beat passed and Ezri assumed he was going to go all 'I'm a statue' on her again, when he moved his rodless hand so that it pointed in the direction of… oh dear.

"Please don't tell me you're messing with River's project." She glared, dagger eyes that, for all their precision, would be useless against his tough exterior. "It means a lot to them, you know."

There was another puff of steam and the arm moved to the sky, and back down to where it had rested before, pointing at the library.

"Yeah, they're analysing with the storm. I like you, you metal enigma. But keep out of this."

The armour grunted, more discernible as a huff this time, agitated as the hand retracted. With determination drawn from frustration, Rocky pointed again at the sky in small, side to side fractured movements, bringing it down until it hung by his side. It resembled, to an extent, a strike of lightning. Considering the context of the storm, the most accurate conclusion, though Ezri struggled with what two and two she had to connect together.

The boss battle of charades had begun.

"Lightning? Uh, library? Lightning library? Quick library? You…. want me to run to the library? I just came from there."

Grunt.

Ezri jutted her nose out like so, pointed expression as she addressed him, accusatory finger raised back. "Well excuse me but you're not making this easy."

Grunt.

He repeated the zi-zag motion, stiffened, then spread out his hands in some variant of explosive motion.

She tried again. "Explosion? The lightning… will explode? We're gonna explode? I'll explode?"

Never had she thought a helmet could look so disappointed in her before.

"Lighting library? Is the library exploding? With lightning?" Ezri gasped. "All those people inside! Lucian! Paman and their mum! Wait… that's not what you meant, right? I thought the machine would be able to take lightning."

The pointed hand morphed into a fist, and dread settled in the pit of her stomach, recognising that as the universal sign for 'yes.'

She did her best to shake him, Rocky staring down at her as she merely succeeded in making him creak. "Rocky! We have to do something. Get them off there or something, anything."

His steam puffed in response, a no in his own code, and he returned to his model posing.

"Your solution… is to do nothing?" Ezri bit out, nipping the corner of her lip as she kept back many a choice word. "I thought you were all about saving people?"

Rocky was the utter metallic face of 'what does it look like I'm doing', shaking the rod with another grunt and holding it higher towards the heart of a conflicted sky. Thunder rumbled, a guttural sound from a deeply hurt animal who had leapt to defend itself, furrocious and raw, it was a challenging cry from the heaven's themselves. The storm gave the sky a voice, and the sky screamed.

"You're… you're a lightning rod," She realised, startling as the sky lit up, ablaze with cracks of white light on the distant horizon. Once, twice, three times and a streak of purple.

Huh, purple lightning. A peculiarity she hadn't thought possible. Then she flashed back to the moment River had announced a peculiar storm reading and, well, it fit. A jigsaw of various pieces fitting in, slot by slot.

No wonder Rocky thought it dangerous. No wonder he was… trying to redirect a fatal strike to himself.

"If you get hit by the lightning instead, it won't hit the library or blow up their contraption." Ezri processed the meaning. "But how will you know it'll hit yours instead? What's stopping our building from going kaboom?"

Rocky pointed to himself.

"Yes our building."

And again.

"I know, you're holding it."

Point, and explosion gesture. He pointed at himself a fourth and final time.

"... You'll EXPLODE!?" She shrieked, only to be stopped as he thumped his armour. "Oh. You're protected. So… you'll just… absorb it?"

That pleased the armour, who cut the gestures and went back to his business.

"Well then, we can't leave things to chance. I…" Ezri gazed up at him, eyes of dark pink hopeful, caring. With the water rushing down her face, it was easy enough to mistake her for crying. "How about some upgrades you old rust bucket?"


She traced spiralling sigils across the glowing patterns on his chest, casually entwining them in a work of complexity. Temporary protection runes functioning to buffer the blow, not strong enough to hold in this weather or even reach their complete potential, some 'magnetism' ones even added onto the rod as her finishing strokes to call to the sky's deepest, darkest desires. She backed away when she was done, holding out a balled fist at her work before wavering and retracting it as she noticed an empty spot upon his neck plate.

"What are you thinking to some permanent sigils Rocky?" She offered, laughing as he tilted his head. It was almost enough to forget the rain plastered to her face. Almost. Her fingertips were freezing and the heat sigils scrawled onto her cuffs were flickering.

Water dampened magic. Yet, she could only hope those strong ones, etched in with his own energy source would hold. Whatever kept Rocky alive, it was ancient, an unknown power source born of chaotic means. A distinct energy signature she couldn't for the life of her place.

Erzi got back to scrawling on his plates.

"You'll like this," She said in between strokes. "It's perfect for you. I… Rocky. Whatever you are. I want you to know that your name is your own. You're you, and not just a piece of armour brought to life. You're more than metal, you're more than my discovery… you are your name. You're the unyielding force of a rock, strong and standing your ground. You help people and I truly believe you care like... Our kingdom's own knight protector. For this selfless giving, I just want to leave this name with you, I want to give you a name to own because I care too." As she finished, she leant her head against him, cold and damp, but thriving with a living energy that just radiated warmth. She didn't quite know where her words were coming from, but once they started, they wouldn't stop, like an ever growing flow as a dam of something broke inside of her. Her heart sung to her metal friend. "Thank you," She whispered.

The newly written 'Rocky' glowed strong on his neck plate, for names have power, and no greater a power is a name given and claimed.

A new kind of warmth radiated from him.

When his steam exhaled, Erzi stepped away, and the lighting struck. Purple streaks of electricity charged with the unknown rained down to strike him. A chaos of light, a battle of power. Yet, the armoured rock stayed strong.

As did the project some blocks down, soon to shake the world more than thunder could ever.

Erzi could only imagine the kinds of readings it picked off this.


"Rocky, does this make me your sidekick now? You're all hero with this weird trouble foresight thing and-"

Grunt. Huff.

"...Is that a definite yes?"


"Wow, this would make the perfect picture, you know. Amaia would- oh, right. You don't show up on camera. Eeesh, what a waste of a good view, hey?"


"That was… wow… quite the blow. Can you feel pain? Can you feel… anything?"


"Hah, Rocky! We have got to stop meeting like this."

Grunt.

"Yes, I confess to plagiarism."


Perhaps the saddest goodbyes are the ones where you never say goodbye at all, never know that your parting moment will be your last. We live in each individual passing moment until we aren't, we're either looking forward or back and missing something either way. You focus too much on now, your future is unplanned. Get lost in the past, you're missing the experience of now.

Rocky would live in the future, look forward to look back at the now. He saved the girl, he saved the boy in the theatre, and he saved the project they were to be present at.

Perhaps he was living their next encounter already, and knew his disappearance was no goodbye at all. Perhaps he saw nothing good about goodbyes.

Erzi looked to the past.

She should have known that even at their last goodbye, it wouldn't truly be a goodbye. He had never done that, as if he'd wished to somehow never have been there at all. He left, he popped up. Rocky had never been one for such finalities. That's how the cycle went until it didn't.

He was inexplicable, an enigma of life she couldn't even begin to grasp. Where he came from, even more so.

When. When he came from.

"You've collected so much!" She observed, addressing her parents' exhibition at the museum. They were renowned for it, something she wished she could push for one day, discover great treasures to share, take a peek into a history long thought lost.

It was a section she could lose herself in, the beautiful history, the adventure in it all. Curses, ancient spells, you name it. One day, when her parents let her come along on their travels, she'd go further than her local ruins. Discover entirely new cultures from their planet's past, locate even more fleets of buried ships scattered across the globe and draw parallels between those of her local ones. For the time being, she had to watch as her parents brought in their own, just like then.

She fell to a stop at the armour section, all metal polished beings of protection or war, stared at the labels and descriptions until the words merged into one blurry being. "Do you think this armour used to be alive too?"

Ezri didn't know to who she was asking, just that she wondered. Had there been a time in their lives they were just like him? Did they glow and walk and grunt? Did they protect? Or did they conquer? Whose side were they on? Or were there ever sides where the armour was concerned?

Her mother's frown deepened, as did her father's, left a crease in her forehead as she turned to her daughter, following her line of sight to the display. Her mother opened her mouth to speak.

"When someone wore it I suppose you could have considered it alive. But too? What do you mean Erzinitha?"

Ezri stayed lost in thought, spilled the words from her tongue and dared make them material, drifted between the gap of the mental to verbal connection and saw it merged. "They have different markings… but maybe they were alive. Like Rocky."

"I… beg your pardon?"

Had she looked, she would have noticed how her parents had a silent conversation between them, giving the other a concerned look, tainted baffled, and above all else, very parental.

Her father traded carefully as he elaborated on her mother's question. "'Rocky'? Are you talking about the armour?"

Ezri startled, whirled around to face them faster than she could blink. "You… you've met him?"

Her mother sighed. "Yes," She stressed, "But you shouldn't have. Only the Elders… and, ah, a few exceptions know of his location. Us, of course, included. We needed it for our research and the Elders reluctantly complied."

"Location?" Ezri reiterated. "You know his location? He has a home?"

"Of sorts," Her mother responded, a little warry. Her father's hand slipped into her mother's, supportive but questioning, and the older woman gave him a nod. "Your father will remain here. I'm unsure if this is a good idea but… I'll take you to it."

"Him."

"... I was talking about the location. But alright, him."


"Legends speak of a warrior, a… hmm protector of sorts," Her mother started, the sofly dusted lilac of her skin lit with a mossy hue as they passed through the valley's hills. The woman flexed her fingers and drew out sigils which pulsated and gave way to a doorway Erzi had never known to be there. After placing her thumb across the glowing purple lines, her print activated a passageway hung with vines and the distant trickling of water. "It's, ah, his very existence has been passed down as myths only, and then, well, our people have forgotten completely, only known by the elders. There's a misconception that he himself is made of rock, but he is rock in name only."

They made their way down, Ezri gaping all the way at his supposed home. An array of flora, few of which she could name, shimmering with life and magic, all contained in this passage like an indoor grove, the heart of the valley contained and planted there itself. The air thrived.

"His existence raises more questions than answers."

Her mother pushed past an overhanging vine, Ezri ducking after her.

"From the little we knew, we believed the old people of this planet had little grasp of magic. Of course, those civilisations from space, the ones we believe blasted themselves to smithereens, had the capabilities. Such capabilities, oh all that knowledge they had, only little was stored on the ships… I really hope we can find them again one day."

There was a long sigh. A woman wistful for something eons before her own time.

"But he's been on our planet far longer than that. Far, far longer. His true purpose has been forgotten, only marking him as a protector on the inscription. Of what? We are unsure. This sacred ground? Our planet? But it's exceedingly important, why else would the wards around him make him so impossible to move?"

As the pair of them headed downstream, the wildlife became less and less frequent, until it all but dissolved away, leaving not even the slightest tuft of grass. The ground was cracked and dry, coarse skin of the earth, exposed where before the vegetation had been abundant.

Her mother explained.

"The runes are so strong that they repel water, a magic I've never seen possible. It's sucked right out of the very ground around him. Those protection runes are so sophisticated and entwined with the highest casting spells — some which still remain a mystery, they're too entangled to encode. But we know if the public ever got a hand on any of them, it could be catastrophic. We've used some of them in everyday magic but… well, we don't even know what civilisation he's from. He's older than anything. The side effects of these spells we can't even comprehend. It's like the magic… is it's own thinking entity."

They came to a stop where the ground was driest, yet the air so entwined with magic, it prickled at her skin, a buzzing, excitable energy, and left her breathless. The tingling gave her the urge to float off her feet, but weighed her down with its power all the same.

Her heart caught in her throat as she laid eyes on the central figure, metal armour with patterns familiar. He looked to have not moved in centuries, conserved by the magic, yet obviously decaying to an extent that so much as nudging him gave her the feeling he would disintegrate. Now even his rust had rust.

"Translations call him the silent guardian. But there's something else written on him that makes him the forefather of our language. Others call him…"

Her eyes burned as tears fell, and she hoped, hoped to everything out there that they'd burn away whatever twisted magic lay in front of her. But there, inscribed in the neck plate of the armour, though untold eons old and faint, the acidic glow long since faded, was an etched name in a style she recognised all too well, her fingers brushing across every letter, thankfully not crumbling.

Her voice broke as the wind — the wind that always was yet shouldn't be there — took her words.

"Rocky."