Melsa left the grehawk. It let out a awful shriek and tried to get up. Although it was dying, it was still dangerous.
As it stumbled to get up it’s huge talons nearly crushed me. They caught my shirt and tore it down the middle. My arrow quiver belt ripped as the claw caught it, lifted me up and and slammed me to the ground. As it was, the bird was unaware it could snuff out my life.
I reached into my quiver and grabbed an arrow. About the time I pulled it out and tried to jamb it into the grehawk’s foot it stumbled backward, releasing me from it’s pin. It’s huge wings, each three times my hight thrashed around.
It shrieked again. Now laying on the ground with it’s talons grasping up at the air, like if it could grab the sky one more time it might be free. It’s beak opened and closed, gulping down air. The huge bird’s eyes rolled back in it’s head. It let out one more shriek, gasped again and then lay dead.
The plague continued to consume it, multiplying over and over from it’s meal.
I shivered. I was covered in filth from the plague and now had a gash down the center of my chest. I looked down at my hand and saw the arrow. If I had stabbed the grehawk, the plague would be able to see me and then devoured me. It was a choice in an instant of time. A response to a specific threat. I put the arrow back in my quiver. I would have to be more careful.
I tried to stand but failed. Slowly the world grew dark and I lost consciousness.
“Mechal, Mechal! Wake up boy!” Some voice said as I was being shaken back to consciousness.
It was Morg, trying to revive me. He poured some wine down my throat and I gaged.
“Ah, good, he’s not dead.” he said.
I finished clearing my airway of the wine and tried to sit. Morg helped me up.
“You look awful boy. We need to get you back to the village.” He said.
“No! He’s coming with us.” I turned my head to the voice and saw Janna.
“He’s not in any condition to hunt, he needs to get his cuts cleaned and bandaged or they’ll get infected.” Morg said.
“He’ll survive.” Janna responded.
Morg stood and pulled his spear from his back. “You don’t care if he lives or dies. You’ve got something you want him for and then you’ll let him die.”
“Put that toy away before you get hurt fool.” Janna hissed.
“It’s you that’s gonna get hurt.” Morg said and lunged at Janna with his spear.
Janna didn’t flinch. The spear struck at her chest. A blue flash of light erupted from the spearpoint and what looked like a spider’s web became visible over Janna and then faded.
“I warned you not to follow me.” Janna said and raised her palm to him.
Morg tensed himself for an attack but none came.
“You’re not bad with that spear, you struck hard enough that you activated the cool down process.” She said looking at her hand.
“You’ll find that I’m more than a match for you!” Morg shouted as he took a second lunge.
The spear struck at Janna’s neck. Another flash and spider web pattern spread over her again. She grabbed the spear and pulled Morg toward her.
“I don’t need the suit to kill you.” Janna said calmly.
Morg didn’t answer. I looked down and saw a knife buried in his side. I didn’t see Janna draw it or drive it in, it was just there.
Morg let go of the spear, stumbled and pulled the knife from his side. His blood poured from the wound and he fell.
“You’re coming with us.” Janna turned to me with her eyes blazing.
I didn’t argue. The ground began to swallow up Morg’s body. Roots sprung from the ground and entered into his nose and mouth as the soil opened up to accept him. Three were now dead for sure and possibly two others. Morg was a fool to attack Janna, but I had no doubt that she welcomed the opportunity to kill him.
“Where’s Melsa?” I asked.
Janna looked up and behind me. I thought I would find a bird up in a tree instead I saw a giant legs that went into an immense body and long neck topped by a head with antlers as thick as a man’s body. Melsa had taken over an Alk.
“Get on her back and she’ll carry you.” Janna said.
“Melsa isn’t supposed to carry me around.” I replied.
Janna just glared at me.
“She has a job to do, and carrying me around isn’t part of it.” I insisted.
“Figure out how to make it work or you’ll have to walk. I doubt you’d make it more than a few hours in the shape you’re in.” Janna said. She took a skin bottle from her shoulder. “Drink. you’re not going to make it anywhere if you don’t.”
I opened the skin bottle and drank the warm water. It was nearly empty already. I thought about pouring it over me but I really was too thirsty to waste it. I felt a little strength returning but not nearly enough. Janna was right, I wasn’t going to make it very far walking.
I looked up at Melsa. “Let me examine those antlers.” I said waiving her head down to me.
The Alk lowered it’s head nearly to the ground. It’s eye, the size of my open hand, examined me as I reached up to touch it’s antler. The head itself was three times my size.
“A little lower.” I instructed.
The Alk complied and I was able to grab hold of the base of the antler and climbed onto the head. I stationed myself between the antlers.
“Melsa, we need to follow Janna. That woman is Janna. Follow her.” I said.
Melsa didn’t move for a moment. Her head down by the ground. Very slowly she raised her head and I was lifted up over the tops of the trees. Melsa stood there a little dumbfounded that I was now on her head. She started to shake her head like the Alk would to shake off insects but realized what this would do and stopped herself.
Melsa took a step forward, not sure of how she should handle this situation but slowly began to walk after Janna. Janna was able to walk much more quickly than I could but the Alk’s long legs were more than a match for her and we had to periodically wait for her to gain some ground on us.
“Melsa, I told you to step on Janna and crush her, would you do it?” I asked.
“No, I’m not permitted to harm a human or construct.” she answered.
“What do you know about the creature that is protecting the world door?” I asked.
“I’m not aware of any world doors, however it’s not my function to track or monitor the state of the world doors.” She said.
“Can you poll any unusual creatures in the direction we’re heading?” I asked.
“Please define what you mean by unusual. There are many unique constructs along the way.” She replied.
“Something that is bigger or more powerful than the regular animals. Ashlyn said that it couldn’t be hunted, that it could not be killed.” I said.
“I cannot poll any creatures that this, Janna, could not successfully hunt even with her severely damaged equipment. There is a construct in the path that does not respond to my polls.” She said.
“You can’t poll the plague, is it like that?” I asked.
“No, this construct has proper protocols in place but it does not respond to my poll requests.” she said.
“I don’t understand. So did the Glyph make this creature to protect the world door, but won’t allow you to communicate with it?” I asked.
“I’m not certain. It does not appear to be any construct in this world’s storage.” Melsa responded.
I watched a flock of birds fly by and swirl through the air like they were a fast moving plume of smoke.
“Melsa, if someone were to ask me who you were, what would you want me to tell them?” I asked.
“My desires are irrelevant.” Melsa responded.
“I don’t think so, you make choices all the time, like picking this Alk. You have desires and they make a difference. That makes them relevant. Besides, I’m your partner so what you want is important to me.” I said.
“You may think of me as a partner, but I’m really just an interface.” Melsa stated.
I thought for a few moments. “An interface is what you do. It’s your job. I’m asking how would you explain who you are.”
The Alk shook it’s head slowly. Not like a human does, like a beast does. It almost made me think that there were times that Melsa loses a bit of control over the creature she inhabits.
“Anthropomorphism is common for humans especially when they become emotionally attached to a machine. However I am nothing more than an interface instance that is here to carry out your instructions for improving the hunting experience of the guests.” Melsa said.
Janna looked back at us but was careful to not show any feeling in her expression. Could she hear our discussion? I wasn’t sure.
“But a machine does not make choices, you do. There is more to you than just doing your job.” I prodded.
“I follow protocols, nothing more. When I chose this Alk it was because it was the closest construct that could travel back to you in a short amount of time.” Melsa said.
“Is a human any different? We have our own protocols that we use to make choices. There have to be times that your protocols don’t say what to do. How would you make a decision then?” I asked.
“I would choose the protocol that seemed most relevant to the situation at hand.” She answered.
“But you would choose. Would every interface make the same choice?” I asked.
“I’m unsure. The choices are what I deem best fits the situation so a small variation in the situation could change the result.” she answered.
“I don’t see much difference between that and what a human does.” I said.
“My operation is modeled off human thought as my design is to interact with a human and similarity makes my actions relatable.” Melsa said.
The forest tree tops rolled up and out of view into the bright light of the sky. I could observe huge areas of forest from this hight. Off in the direction of the town were a string of fires that had been started. Ashlyn must have warned the party and helped them make preparations for the plague.
“So why do you call creatures ‘constructs’ instead of ‘animals’?” I asked.
“Construct is more accurate and more broadly applicable. Animal would indicate a life form that is purely biological or physical.” She said.
“What do you mean? What would not be physical about them?” I asked.
“While you and the hunters interact with the physical construct, I primarily interact with their information. It may not be obvious, but all constructs of a given type are really one element in the world. Physical bodies are just that one construct instantiated in matter multiple times with some randomizations.” She stated.
“What does that mean? You’re saying all Alks are really only one Alk?” I asked.
“One Alk instantiated many times.” She said.
“I’m not understanding what you mean by instantiated many times.” I said.
“Each individual Alk is an instance of the Alk’s information. While they are individual in each instance, they are from the information construct and the individuals feed back into the construct. So while they perform individual functions in their instances, they are all one construct in the end.” Melsa said.
“But when an Alk is killed, we use it’s meat, organs and bones. Even it’s brain is used to tan the hide. There’s barely anything left.” I said.
“The parts of the animal are merely the matter programmed to follow the construct. They are not the construct itself.” She said.
“I’m not understanding.” I said.
“Stated simply, no construct is completely embodied by it’s physical body.” she said.
“Would that apply to the plague too?” I asked.
“It would seem so but I’m unable to locate it’s construct’s information to confirm that.” Melsa answered.
“We have two constructs then that you can’t find their information, the plague and the creature we’re headed toward.” I said.
“More accurately it is moving toward us.” Melsa said.
“It knows we’re here?” I asked.
“That’s unclear. It has accelerated. I cannot for certain say it’s in reaction to us but it is probable.” Melsa said.
“How long before it gets to us?” I asked.
“It should be visible in a ten to twelve minutes.” Melsa stated.
“Janna, something’s coming! Melsa says ten minutes before it gets here.” I called out.
Janna looked up at us, dispassionate. “Does she know what it is?”
“She can’t communicate with it.” I said.
Her brow furrowed. This troubled her but not enough to change her plan apparently.
“Janna, I don’t think Melsa can effect this thing.” I said.
Janna nodded to acknowledge.
I could see in the distance a light moving in between the trees. It was moving fast. Trees were being knocked over as it passed.
“Melsa let me down.” I said.
“I’m not certain you’ll be safe on the ground.” Melsa answered.
“I’m not either but I need to talk to Janna.” I said.
“Very well.” Melsa said and lowered her head down to the ground.
As I slid down to get to the ground, I was reminded of how weak I was. My leg couldn’t hold my weight and I fell to the ground.
Janna looked over, annoyed. “What are you doing? She snapped.
I got up and limped over to her. “This isn’t going to work. If Melsa can’t communicate with it, she can’t alter it. You won’t be able to kill it.” I said.
“We’ll just have to try.” Janna said.
She was avoiding eye contact. Janna was too careful to throw herself into a situation where she didn’t know what was going to happen.
“That’s not the plan. Is it?” I prodded.
“This is where you spring your trap.” I said backing away.
“You just be a good boy and behave.” Janna said.
“Where’s Ashlyn? You wouldn’t have come this far without her.” I said.
“Turn off your pet.” Janna said.
“Why?” I asked.
Janna grabbed the collar of my shirt, shook me and sneered. “Do it now!”
“Melsa shut down.” I said
“Understood.” She responded.
Janna raised her fist to her mouth. “Maximum.” She said.
She pointed her arm at Melsa.
“What are you. . .” I began to ask.
There was a loud crack that shook the air. The Alk bolted stiffly and then let out a bellow. Then a second crack and the Alk fell to the ground, crashing through several trees on it’s way down.
“What did you do?” I screamed.
Janna pointed her arm at me. “Behave yourself.”
The sound of a wind rose through the trees and the light got brighter and was quickly moving toward us. Trees splintered in it’s wake.
“Do not move. You are in a protected area.” boomed a voice through the forest that trailed off in a hissing noise.
“Stand still.” Janna ordered.
I looked at the Alk for a moment and wondered if Melsa died with it.
There was a rumble in the ground and mist started to rise up from the dirt. Whatever it was came into view. It was surrounded by fog and it looked like a great yellow green eye with a large dark green pupil. The whole of it glowed and columns of fog rolled from it’s body and made legs that held it off the ground.
“Are you the one that tried to fight me?” Said the booming voice. “I warned you not to come back.”
Janna bowed to the ground. “Guardian, I apologize I did not know we had traveled so far. We are only here to hunt this beast.” She said pointing to the Alk. “Please, let us go back and we will leave your domain.”
The mist and fog started to swirl around and a blast of wind nearly knocked me off my feet.
“You are endangering your world by being here.” the Guardian rumbled and hissed so that my head throbbed in pain.
The eye turned towards me. “Observer, do not imagine that you are invisible to me. I am not limited to the constraints on this world.” It then turned back to Janna. “You may not transport this carcass, it will remain here.”
Janna buried her face to the ground. “Oh Guardian, please allow us this kill. It has been many weeks that we have tracked it and our people need the food.”
Flame poured from the eye and consumed the body of the Alk. The heat was so great that the trees all around burst into flames.
“No. You may not activate the transport in my domain.” the Guardian said.
A small bird flew to the tree branch by my head.
“I lost connection to the Alk, I apologize for the delay, being shut down, I did not immediately recognize I had lost connection. Do you wish me to shut down again?” Melsa voice lilted from the little bird.
The Guardian turned back to me. “What is this?”
“Interesting, a plasma induced voice, the utility of which is questionable. I request that you identify yourself. You are not a construct from this world, where do you come from?” Melsa demanded.