Amelia remembered the moment so vividly. The time when she took the snapshot of Ed’s face. The only one she had in her system.
A summer breeze in the kitchen. A beam of light through the window. A sweat on her forehead. A kiss on her cheek. Ed’s lips, wetter than she expected.
The way they rocked together to a volume-free song in their heads for an hour that afternoon. Just basking in each other’s presence, blissfully unaware that months from then, they would be separated.
That was, unless Ed had known all along.
Whenever Amelia looked at that close-up photograph, she saw a young woman in love with another. She saw herself, her own memories of this perfect girl who had rescued her, who had awakened her from her ancient sleep and helped her escape the clutches of tyranny. She saw the cute little freckles around her nose, and the rim of her glasses that made her eyes just pop. She saw the pointy ears that she loved getting teased over.
That beautiful woman had become a fleeting memory to her. A fragment of a time that seemed so far away, so naive.
Now she wondered what Ed had been feeling on the other side of that photograph. What had she been seeing in Amelia? What about the cracks on her face, or the purple sparkles in her false eye, or that frown that sometimes took a slightly upward shape? Had she been happy? Content in the moment? Or pained with a bittersweet sadness? Had she known, all along, that she would be leaving her soon?
Just one moment ago, maybe a second, maybe an hour, Amelia had seen Ed once again. The first time in over a year that she laid eyes on her lover. Her life partner.
She looked well. Her hair was longer. A few more freckles on her face. Skin pretty pale, but healthy. Still wearing lab coats everywhere as if it had any kind of fashion.
Why was Ed here? Why at this meeting?
Now she was gone again.
Now Amelia may never see—
“Snap out of it!” Hummer screamed. “We’re going to die if you keep leading us in circles.”
Amelia realized she was in the facility. The one exploding and burning down. Chased by high-spec stone golems flinging high-powered rocks their way.
“We have to go back to the conference room,” Amelia said.
“What the hell are you talking about? We need to escape this place so we don’t die,” Hummer replied.
“No, we can’t leave yet. We need to find Ed—” She stopped herself, realizing she had said her name out loud.
Hummer, for what it was worth, did not seem interested in discussing this in their current life-and-death situation. “Let’s get out, please.”
“Yeah.” Amelia dashed off her hopes of finding Ed today. If Ed wanted her to find her, she would leave a trail. She had to trust in that. But today was impossible. If she went to find Ed, she would risk losing Hummer in the process. After everything that had happened today, she knew she could not allow that. She was a friend.
They came to a three way hallway, with one turn a dead end and the others blocked by golems on both sides. Relatively narrow, with single-file lines, but the ceilings were high.
Hummer raised her flintlocks up and blasted at the golem in front of them. The bullets bounced off harmlessly. Amelia slammed her fist into one of them with [Shock Pummel], but its structure did not ripple and crumble apart. Then she realized that these were not stone golems here; these were iron golems. Special, custom-made iron golems advancing on them, with stone golems still keeping hot pursuit behind them.
“Screw it!” Hummer tossed her now-empty flintlocks aside and pulled Amelia along with her, backwards into the stone golems. She pulled out her sword and smacked it through one of them just before they launched more rocks at her. Brave and stupid simultaneously. Her sword cut into the golem but did go entirely through it.
Amelia pulled away from Hummer’s grip and slammed herself into the first stone golem. The sword strike and smash together broke its head off, and its soul gem went bouncing down the hallway, keeping in step with them for the first few seconds as they ran.
There were several more golems in line, but they charged straight through them, utterly ignoring them. Amelia was pelted in the face with a stone, leaving a gash above her left eye, but that did not faze her in the slightest.
They curved down white hallways and made sharp veering turns every time Amelia sensed the golems drawing nearer. She knew the layout, but so did they. There were no alarms, but they did not need them. The fire had cut off several routes, but the golems were mostly immune to the flames, and certainly the smoke.
There was one easy path out; a secret elevator up to Floor 2, not too far from the conference room. But every time they approached it, the golems cut them off, seemingly with perfect clarity about Amelia’s plans. They cut her off long before she reached it, every single time.
They turned down the same hallway one too many times, and this time found it covered in fire; they had to turn back around, a deadly move in this kind of chase, but the only one they could do now.
When they went back and retraced their steps, they found themselves in one circular hall, with four branching paths. One was the way they came, impassable. The other three, all leading to different points of the facility, also had golems already in them.
“Cornered,” Amelia said.
“Yeah, I see it,” Hummer said. “Doesn’t look so promising for us, does it?”
Elite iron golems on their twelve. Incessant stone golems on their two and their eight. A raging fire on their six.
Amelia simply stood and waited for something to come to her.
I have a suggestion.
Pretend the golems are melanoids.
Her Access Core had a good idea.
These things were just as mindless, just as rudimentary as the monsters they faced hours ago. They advanced toward a target, but did not consider the targets as individuals, because they did not even understand what that meant.
She activated [Harmonic Ring] and began building up as much potential energy as possible.
Hummer noticed the lack of action, and gave Amelia a look of concern. The three groups of golems, fourteen in all, had nearly entered the circular hall.
“Bring up your shield. Protect yourself,” Amelia said.
Hummer did so without second guessing her. But then, after her magical barrier was ready, she second guessed her. “Uh, I don’t know about this.”
Amelia was too busy building up energy to say anything.
This blow was about to be absolutely massive. She just hoped Hummer’s shield was as powerful as it looked.
And now... she was done. [Harmonic Ring] was ready to go.
Hummer waved at her frantically. “So what’s the next step of your master plan?” she asked in a shout.
Amelia balled up her fists. “Crashing these golems,” Amelia said, “with no survivors!”
The giant shockwave of kinetic energy shot out of Amelia’s body, essentially vaporizing the stone golems nearest to her. Anything made of clay was torn apart, too, and the shrapnel from those destroyed littered the iron golems with debris. Hummer’s shield rippled from damage and burst, but the blast did not reach her personally.
One of the iron golems had its soul gem pierced and fell over instantly. The others ended up in various states of damage, unable to move or unable to fight.
The golems further out from the blast radius were not destroyed immediately, but their bodies still broke apart. Their souls reached desperately to reunite the pieces, but before they could put themselves back together again, Amelia stomped out their very existences.
To the iron golems, she bent open their shells and put their soul gems in her pocket.
Hummer walked over to Amelia, looking congratulatory. “I can’t believe that you...” She trailed off, and then something funny entered her face.
She looked down, and Amelia’s eyes followed.
A piece of sharp stone stuck out through her stomach.
“Shit,” she mumbled. “I didn’t even feel it.” Then she began to wobble and nearly fell over.
Amelia propped her up on her shoulder. “Can you still walk?”
“Yeah, probably. I’m not... THAT bad off.” She seemed quite that bad off.
Hummer was hurt very badly, even as she pretended not to be. And the next wave of golems was likely coming very soon. Amelia barely destroyed this one, and it took an attack which hurt her friend in the process. Any more iron golems and they might be out of luck, she realized. A plan came to her.
“Can you swim?” Amelia asked.
Amelia picked her up, swooped her up off her feet, and carried her over to a nearby full-length window, overlooking the Floor 5 landscape and the dark waters below. It was brighter out there now, thanks largely to the great fire eating up the facility.
She put her foot up and kicked the window until it shattered.
“See that beach?” Amelia asked. Hummer nodded. “Swim to there. Make it to shore, and we’re good. That’s all you have to do.”
Hummer sighed. “Okay.”
Amelia set her down. Just then, the thundering footsteps of golems approached. Time grew very short. “On the count of three.”
They jumped, one story down, into the warm water.
A big splash, and another explosion from the facility.