"Rise and report." Midori's voice was a physical thing that rolled and reverberated through the audience chamber where his core resided. Midori's awareness focused at the moment on the trio of lupine that knelt just before the raised dais that his core rested upon. Unlike the place Lonely Hill's core rested there were a series of inwardly curved structures at the edges of this raised structure, almost as if the core rested in the palm of a giant hand cradling it with those that knelt before it in the hand's shadow, almost as if it were a physical thing reaching for them.

Corwin chuffed at the order. Midori had been watching the entire thing through his senses. When he spoke anger laced through, giving an almost insolent tone to his master, "What more needs to be said? We were ambushed before we could do more than a preliminary assessment of their defenses. Yet as they had several stone grotesque acting as parameter alarms as well as took the trouble of stationing dedicated guards as well as had a way to call for aid that did not involve runner nor any sort of signaling system I have seen any of our other opponents use."

Midori's core pulsed, its light cold and harsh as it illuminated the new scars along Corwin's chest, as well as Celest and Lun's necks. "This gives me actionable information on how to best plan our march against Kronos's forces. So even in failure, you still give me a measure of success."

Involuntarily all three lupine's tales slow wagged at the praise. Yet Corwin still spoke up, and this time his voice held none of the prior malice. When he spoke it was to the point. "I have had nothing but contempt and loathing for you since my pack was forced under your banner. Yet you offer us praise even though we literally cannot disobey, and our opinions have rarely if ever mattered to you."

"Mmmm," Midori's voice was thoughtful. "I can see why that would be confusing, and I doubt the full explanation would make sense. However try thinking of it this way. You are a tool to me. However even with how you feel, you are still valuable, and a craftsman does not go out of his way to damage his tools."

Corwin's confusion was mirrored by his two subordinates, yet the trio remained silent.

"What I saw of your senses pointed to it being unlikely the Library noted your trespass." Midori sounded, if anything, relieved. "That was a risky gambit I would rather you have not done, but given you were being pursued I am irritated, but it is what it is."

"What would you have us do?" Lun spoke the question all three wondered.

The light of Midori's core flickered, dimmed, Then the stone of the far wall peeled back by way of several intricate mechanisms. "It is likely Kronos has sent scouts into the library. If Kronos has managed to take the library it will be a disaster. However, if we come to the library's aid." There was a pause. "The time for subtle has ended. Muster six companies."

"E-excuse me?!" Corvis's ears stood erect as he straightened. "Isn't that excessive?"

"No." Midori's voice was firm. "Most will be end up peeling away to secure a safe corradore through so that we might... assist the Librarians in relocating to a safer venue."

Corwin's teeth gritted. His master, his true master, had been in negociations with the Library when Midori attacked. That this carrion feeder wanted to use disaster as excuse to plunder made what was left of his stomach turn.

Lun and Celest put hands on either of his shoulders and he slowly bowed to the softly pulsing core. "Yes lord."

⁂ ⁂ ⁂

The automaton had followed somewhere behind Ishida and Stone Soup as Ally walked ahead of the quartet as they made their way to the Library's borders. Throughout that walk Both Ishida and Stone Soup asked her to come with them. Not forever, but 'for the duration.'

They knew that Midori was coming for the library. If for no other reason than to deny it to anyone else. They weren't seeing a construct that likely had spent as much time if not more than them active and alert. They saw their little girl in harm's way.

Ishida looked to Bonehead, silently pleading in the way only a parent could.

"Is there nothing we can say to change your mind?" Bonehead looked at the automaton, empty eye sockets looking at obsidian eyes. Like Naoko, she had no facial features and more a suggestion of figure. Yet at the same time the way she carried herself was wholly unlike the head librarian. His mind filled in the face her current form lacked. Knowing the determined set to her jawline alongside how she currently stood. Knowing the kind of woman she had been before made the question pointless.

Her head tilted. There was a flicker of memory between the two. The Guard-Captain once being asked the same question. Bonehead looked away in shame. Letting the memory play out.

Taru there, the youngest of the Zodiac Brigade, begging. Pleading. Stay here. Don't come. Why must you be so stubborn? Is there nothing we can say to change your mind?

His mind was drawn to the last desperate assault against Kronos, and the stone figures it had crafted. How he had clashed with the stone facsimile of the Sagittarius Zodiac.

Again back to what was. Taru hugging him close even as he spoke words that hurt her heart.

Those words, spoken by the automaton, were invested now with as much heartache and regret as he had invested then. "This is my path now, and I can no more change it than drink the sea, or hold up the sky."

Bonehead swallowed hard, holding Taru just those few moments longer. Words said to him in that time were his to say to her in this. "It is not your burden to carry. We're the ones who walk this path to keep you and yours safe."

Obsidian eyes again met empty eyes as the embrace parted, then she touched his mouth with where memory said hers should have been. It was a light tap between the two beings. Then words whispered to him completing the reversal of roles. "You won't be rid of me that easily. Now go. We have our own jobs to do."

Only when Taru had left and the group was at the gate to the library's lands did Ishida speak up. "Should ... I be angry?"

There was a look between her and Stone Soup before the latter sounded just as confused. "I get she's her own woman now but-"

Bonehead folded his arms as he looked between the two.

All this interrupted by Ally. "Campbell, you and your wife can make broth out of him later. We've got work to do."

Which got the pair chuckling. Stone Soup playfully chiming in, "Oh now there's an idea Sparkle. Though I dunno what kinda dish he'd be good for. You got anything Redline?"

Ishida smirked as the quartet resumed their walk. "Well, humans are considered long pork. Might try my hand at making those damned noodles he kept going on about."

This prompting a playful snort from Bonehead, "You go through with it, you better not mess up. I spent decades haunting you for far less than messing up my grandma's noodles."

⁂ ⁂ ⁂

Lutz's eyes shot open. The healer that was in the room with him was lightly dozing.

He looked at his hands. Then around the room and paused at the reflection of himself in the dressing mirror. Slowly he got out of bed and approached the dwarven healer.

His hand trembled as it rose.

There was no time to think. He couldn't have made it stop even if he had been able to anyway. There was only Action and Movement.

The healer lay there, neck snapped as he took her long knife and inspected it. As a tol it was quite well made. As a weapon? It might be enough to get him better.

How to get the guards?

No sooner had the question formed had his body moved. "GUARDS! Healer Onyx Buttress isn't breathing! Help!"

As soon as the door opened, her body sailed through, knocking the guard down, tanglign him in the limbs of a still warm corpse. Were Lutz capible, he would have wondered at the how. s it was. He grabbed the guard's short sword along with the rest of the guard by way of grabbing his belt. And then he ran.

There had been confused shouts. A few arrows. A few spells. His legs didn't care. His mind wasn't working as he jumped the parameter wall to the coalition's property.

His master called him to action.


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