by Chris Cook

Surahk stared out over the city, its bizarrely twisted dimensions familiar to him after so long. How long, he wondered. He had forgotten some time ago. It seemed, now, that it had been too long. Living was a prize, being kept alive was nothing of the sort. He turned from the ornate balcony as he heard footsteps behind him.

She - it - had arrived. He refused to think of it as 'she' since, to his mind, it was nothing more than a machine. It still wore the shape of the person it had once been, taunting its enemies with the beauty it had inhertied from its former life. Surahk frowned as he saw it approach, feeling offended that his Kabal - it would have been his - had been corrupted so far that it could create this. But even a machine had its use, he thought to himself. Maybe it would even be easier to use than a person. It would have the weakness, but none of the strengths.

"What do you want with me?" is said. Its voice was melodic, deceiving. Surahk took a step closer.

"I remember you," he said, "the day you fought in your first raid. You showed promise, then. You took great joy in the destruction, moreso than your fellow novices. You were assured a bright future." He paused for a moment, trying to gauge the thing's reactions. Its face was unreadable.

"What I remember most," he continued, "was that you truly understood our way. Most novices are frightened for their lives. The ones who become warriors merely turn that fear into anger in order to survive. But you knew that our way is right. You understood why we prey on the lesser races, even on the weaker of our own kin. You would have made a fine leader."

"I remember that time," it said. Surahk nodded.

"But now we are ruled by what? A human," he said the word as if its sound was bitter to him, "one who does not, cannot, understand our ways. Who took a promising young warrior and turned her into a device, a machine to amuse herself. It saddens me to see such a creature polluting our world."

"What would you have me do?" As always, the thing's voice was pleasant, but impossible to read. But it had given no indication that it disliked Surahk's words, and, he reminded himself, he had spoken nothing but truth.

"What she took from you, cannot be given back. It must be taken. Destroy her, as she tried to do to you. Prove that the will to murder has not been driven from your soul. I know you are capable of this. The warrior I remember had the will to do it. You still do." He took a step back, judging her - its - reaction. It turned to face him.

"I remember," it said. "I remember you. Hierarch, plotting to assassinate the Archon. You were stupid then," her hand was suddenly at his throat, lifting him from his feet, "and you are stupid now." She threw him across the room, then covered the distance in a single leap, pinning him before he could reach for a weapon.

"You think I'm some sort of machine," she said, her face suddenly alive with hatred. "That I can be used by creatures like you? All you have to do is say the right words, push the right buttons, and I'll do as you say, is that it? You would never have been Archon. You think he didn't know about your plots, your pathetic, transparent schemes? No, it took a human to do what you could not. Maybe I hate her for what she took from me. But for what she made me, I love her as much as the taste of blood on my lips, or the feel of skin tearing under my hands." She stood abruptly, releasing the stunned Dracon.

"I should kill you," she said, "but she wants you alive. She must enjoy knowing she owns your life. You don't even have the courage to take that from her."

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