Previously on: The main characters are still pursuing the AAI Titan.
The three Embers were still laughing about Clint’s quip as they piled into a small lift which carried them down Sariel’s leg. Tyrene had gone silent and on Sulien, in the meeting room where he and Amalia monitored the Embers, he pinched his fingers on the bridge of his nose. “Please, just focus on the mission on hand, Clint.” He said irritably.
More snickers traveled over the great distant and grated on Tyrene’s annoyed ears.
“You should have expected this, Tyrene.” Amalia told him matter-of-factly. “They’re children. You could have just made more AAI’s and that would have been much easier.”
“And much more expensive and it would take longer. I’m not regretting my decision.”
The three young people exited Sariel’s leg, stepping onto the dry, cracked ground. They spread out to survey their surroundings. The sun, high in the sky, was broiling hot; it reduced every piece of vegetation to bare twigs. The sarsh’s pupils were barely visible slits as he peered into the distance.
“There’s the city!” He exclaimed, pointing where he could see a line of black silhouetted buildings. His companions turned to the direction he pointed. No one said anything for a minute, all of them staring into the far distance and letting out long breaths. “... I guess we should go now.” Keila interrupted the silence.
Rune tapped the button on his intercomm. “Tyrene, are you sure we shouldn’t just take Sariel into the city? People could see it easier out here in the open.”
“People rarely leave the city limits,” The man replied. “The authorities will see her and probably try to check her out, but they won’t be able to damage her. It’s fine. Now hurry.”
“The metal giant has a gender?” Rune inquired, snorting.
“Yes. Now get going!”
The sarsh nodded in consent, casting another glance up at the titan looming over him. The younger Embers were looking up at Rune, awaiting instruction. Rune began walking, he touched the activator for his mask and it enveloped his face with a series of clicks. Clint and Keila followed suit and the three Embers started off, marching steadily into the hazy distance.
“I wish we had these suits when we were traveling to the Crown of mountains.” Clint mused as they traversed through the dusty, fractured landscape. Rune grunted in agreement, his strides growing as his patience dwindled.
“Tyrene said we need to be faster,” He growled. “Can your short legs go any quicker?”
“Short!” Clint turned sharply to his friend, glowering up at him, though the sarsh could not see his face. “I’m actually tall; you are just abnormal.”
The sarsh rolled his eyes. “Fine, I have an idea.”
“I’m assuming it’s the same idea as you had back on Sulien?” Keila asked. She got her answer as Rune deactivated his mask and morphed to the wolf anarii, crouching down. Clint grinned.
“Oh, yeah! My ride!”
Rune snorted angrily and pushed his friend into the dirt with his enormous tail. Clint shot to his feet and brushed himself off, glaring at the sarsh who gave him a fanged wolf grin. Keila laughed, climbing up their friend’s furry back; Clint followed and with a burst, they rocketed towards their target.
The sarsh halted his headlong rush as they neared a dirty, cracked road. His young friends slid down, hitting the ground on shaky legs. They sat, complaining about their sore backsides. Rune transformed back to himself, letting out long breaths and slowing his heartbeat. Recovering, he jogged in the city’s direction. Clint and Keila called after him.
“Wait!” They complained. “Can’t we take a break?”
Rune turned around slowly, an angry gleam in his eyes. “No, we can’t.” He retorted. Keila climbed to her feet and ran over to him, looking up into his fiery eyes.
“Why are you upset with us, Rune?” She inquired.
“Neither of you understand the importance of a mission like this! We have orders to get this done as fast as possible and you two are moping around after I did all the work!” The sarsh’s exasperated outburst echoed through the wasteland they stood in and silence followed on its heels.
“.. You’re right.” Keila whispered. “I’m sorry. Clint, get off your butt. We’re going.”
Rune snorted angrily, turning and stalking away. Keila sprinted after him. “Rune!” She called, a hint of severity in her voice. He growled, turning to her.
“.. One thing God commands us to do is forgive those who hurt or annoy us.”
The tall sarsh dropped his eyes to the ground. He thought hard about what she said and sighed. Silence stretched and Keila turned away, walking slowly back towards Clint.
“I’m sorry.” He swallowed, the frustration melting into shame.
Keila smiled. “I forgive you. Now let’s go.”
The short trek on the last stretch was silent, each person’s eyes downcast and full of thought. The dirt road turned to concrete as they neared the edge of the city limits. Tyrene’s voice came over the comms again.
“You’re coming up on Bell’s street in ten minutes. Don’t be inconspicuous, that will only attract more attention. Just ignore everyone except Titan, understand?”
Rune pressed his hand to the intercomm. “Affirmative.” The sarsh sighed as he heard a snort of laughter from one of his friends. The three young people passed the first few buildings as they passed the city limits. There were very few people around, which all of them were grateful for; the few people present stared open-mouthed, whispering. A few ran away. Rune sighed.
“I’m going to have a talk with Tyrene about this mask thing later,” The sarsh growled. “We’re supposed to be helping and uplifting everyone, not scaring them.”
His friends nodded. “And these masks change our voices to this weird, deep and buzzing too.” Keila pointed out.
Rune tapped his earpiece again. “Tyrene, how close are we? I’m not seeing anything.”
“The building is on the right. Only a few meters away now.”
“Okay.” The sarsh gave his friends a purposeful look and though Rune couldn’t see their faces, he knew they were grinning. He ignored them. “Guys, did you hear that?” The sarsh asked his friends. They nodded their affirmation and continued to creep down the streets. A few moments later, Rune stopped abruptly, causing his friends, who were trailing behind him, to crash into his broad back. “We’re here.” The short brick building showed obvious signs of recent repairs and through the gleaming windows, Rune could see several figures.
“Tyrene was right,” Clint whispered. “There are people with him. What are people doing with a nine foot tall rogue AAI in a warehouse?”
Rune glared at him, but of course, Clint couldn’t see it, so he kept talking. “How are we supposed to get to him? Just walk in and say: Titan, we are aliens and we are here to abduct you?” He gasped. “I didn’t think of that! If we’re not from this dimension, we’re aliens! Cool!”
The sarsh growled at his friend and Clint finally shut up. Then Keila spoke up. “He has a point.”
“About us being aliens? I was always an alien to everyone.” Rune replied.
“No, about how we’re going to get in.”
“We’ll find a back door and surprise him.”
“If we’re not actually trying to surprise him,” Clint interjected. “Then why do we need the element of surprise?” Rune’s scowl deepened, but his friends just heard silence and tried to smother their laughter, which sounded strangely evil through their masks’ speakers.
“Fine.” The sarsh snarled. He, turned and delivered a mighty blow to the rickety door. It flung off its hinges, landing with a crash on the floor of the warehouse. Instantly, everyone’s eyes were on them. The AAI had disappeared. “Where’d he go?” Rune asked in a low voice, his masked eyes glancing around the room.
Everyone stared wide-eyed at the dark-clothed and armed intruders. They took in the enormous frame of Rune and his metal limbs, his height and build dwarfing his friends. Rune’s eyes fixed on one man in the crowd whose eyes kept flicking up to the roof, the sarsh followed his gaze and swore as he spotted two purple eyes gleaming down on him from the dark of the high ceiling. The AAI dropped directly in front of Rune, staring down at the masked sarsh.
“May I ask who you are?” Titan inquired.
“A seeker.” Rune replied. “I come from Tyrene; he needs you.”
Titan’s glowing eyes matched Rune’s, unwavering and intensely bright. They stared unblinking for several seconds. “I am fulfilling my purpose here.”
“But Tyrene needs you to move from here and fulfill your purpose in a bigger setting.”
“And where would that be?”
“In the Edenstar. Can we explain this later?”
“Very well, but I’m going to finish this gathering. Will you join us?”
“How long is it going to take?”
“We were just finishing.”
“Fine, but we’re going to have the military on our heels in a few minutes, we might already. I’m going to go out and check it out.” Rune turned, his body disappearing as he moved. Everyone in the room gasped as they spotted footprints on the dusty ground. Clint and Keila stayed where they were, their eyes flicked nervously through the room; behind their dark masks, they just seemed stood stock-still, staring straight ahead.
“Why don’t you join us?” Titan asked, his deep and almost human voice raised goosebumps on their skin. They slid down to the ground, his intense gaze compelling them. The AAI moved quickly around to the front of the group; they all slowly turned their attention back to the AAI and Titan continued. “Now, we were talking about the importance of forgiveness. One of my favorite verses is proverbs 15:1: A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. I believe this is a verse to live by; return all harsh words with a soft voice and it will be like rain on a flame. Thoughts?”
A man raised his hand, Titan gestured for him to continue.
“Isn’t there a part on the bible where it says to forgive seventy times seven?”
“Indeed there is, and I believe it to be true. We must forgive those who have sinned against us and place the judgement in God’s hands.”
Keila listened, a thousand thoughts and memories flooding into her mind and heart. They overflowed and her eyes watered as she remembered her brother’s soft voice telling her about God’s forgiveness. Can I go back? She wondered. Would God still accept me as his even though I’ve been ignoring him for so long? She shook herself from her thoughts just in time to hear Titan say: “... God seeks those who have strayed from the path and he welcomes them back with rejoicing when they seek forgiveness and come back to him.”
The words struck Keila with such effect; she flinched, and a tear slipped down her cheek; her mouth fell open and she was silent. It had been so long since she felt the overwhelming sense of a presence beside her and watching over her. Seek forgiveness.