Lluidas Vale

The sirens scattered birds and sent the children in the yard into a panic.

A beam of blinding azure light tore through a wall, hurling debris outward. It was too quick for some of the children to dodge. The impact of the blast shook the building and shattered windows.

And then, through the hole, Heather saw something She'd only ever seen in footage of the war; A giant sphere bearing down on them with treads rotating around it in wide rings.

The second blast cut into the building just feet from her and the intensity of the power was almost overwhelming.

It hummed in her awareness like all machines, but there was also a steady low frequency thrumming - and the building felt somehow wrong. Just then, one of the elders grabbed her and thrust her into a hallway.

"Run!" he shouted, panic cracking his voice.

They were all in motion now, evacuating children and barking orders.

The wall behind her suddenly gave way, exposing the hallway to open air. She could see the sphere stop and then change direction towards the main building.

"The reactor!" someone shouted.

That would be bad, worse than even this.


Alison, who'd been next to her when this started was now a floor below, lying in the rubble of the collapsed section. There were chunks of debris around her in a wide ring - as though the falling concrete and steel had actively avoided her during the collapse.

"You can't stay there!" she was frantic.

Heather felt the floor beneath her start to give way and then catch itself, but the sudden movement was enough to unbalance her and send her tumbling into the dirt next to Alison.

The elders were in their hardsuits now, taking the fight to the machine, but it was cutting huge swaths through them with its blue beam - leaving great molten arcs in the rubble.

The two girls started to make their way slowly towards what was left of the outer perimeter, away from the combat.

They didn't notice the other hardsuits until they were almost on top of them. There were hundreds of them, surveying the rubble — not like the ones the elders used, but older, and painted in a way neither of them had ever seen. Instinctively, they ducked out of sight.

"Who are they?" Alison whispered

Heather shrugged "Maybe they're here to help?"

Alison shook her head and pointed, "It doesn't feel like they are."

One of the hardsuits levelled its weapon and fired into the wreckage. Then all around them more and more of the others did the same.

Heather had seen this too in the footage of the war. They were the "clean up" crew. They were here to make sure there were no survivors. The girls watched as they advanced, tightening their perimeter around the main buildings, every other step a muzzle flash.

To live, they'd need to stay unseen.

They crept through the rubble, carefully timing their movements so that each hurried scrambling would be drowned out by the noises of the battle. They'd almost made it to the tree line when Heather nearly tripped over the partially buried body of an elder.

It was someone she had known — someone she had liked.

And then everything just fell away from her. The azure beam, the muzzle flashes, Alison trying frantically to get her to move, everything. There was only his body and the folding utility axe he'd been using to free children.

Instinctively, she picked it up, aware of it in a way only an Ayin could be.

It was like an anchor.

They were losing everything, but this would persist. How metal felt to her — how everything always felt.

Alison shook her out of it. "We have to go!"

But their timing was off, and a hardsuit heard them.

Too far back to alert the others, it swung around and found them in the rubble almost immediately. It paused for a moment, and then brought its weapon to bear.

Alison saw thousands of cascading possibilities unravel before her and she chose the easiest to push.

"No." She said flatly.

The weapon flared and jammed.

The hardsuit shook it. Confused.


Heather halved the distance between them before it could react. Flash told her where to place every footfall, and the length for every stride. She trusted the feeling, let herself fall into it — believed in the way the axe felt, and as she swung it, at the limit of her strength, she felt it break free.