The interior of Bix’s laboratory was more chaotic than the last time that Haradeth had seen it. There were springs scattered across the floor. On the shelves, a variety of faintly glowing crystals had been strewn with the careful placement employed by a bored cat rampaging through a kitchen. Scattered here and there were pieces of machines that Haradeth couldn’t even identify, half torn open and left with their wires exposed like the entrails of sacrificial animals.
He wasn’t certain, but Haradeth would wager a good amount of money that some of those devices hadn’t needed to be dismembered. It wouldn’t surprise him in the slightest to learn that Bix had done it because it amused or, or she was frustrated, or bored, or because the sun had risen that day.
“Now that I’ve gotten the boogers working, they’re connected to the other ones in their web. The ones that are still functional. Take a moment to stare upon me in wonder and offer me praise for my greatness.” Bix turned to look at Lorathor and Haradeth. Her mechanical eyes whirled when the godling and Sylvani smiled, narrowing to thin lines. “You have about two seconds before I feed you your own hearts.”
Haradeth and Lorathor practically fell over themselves with attempts to praise her. The seriousness of Bix’s threats was high on the list of things Haradeth wasn’t certain about. He still didn’t know what the diminutive automaton could actually do if she decided to get murderous, but he was certain that his abilities of having better endurance than the average human and being able to command animals would do little to save him unarmed against a woman of steel and glass and blades.
“That’s better,” Bix said. “You get to keep your entrails today. For now. I might change my mind.” She pressed her fingers into some empty slots on a console. They whirred and one of those light projections of the Sylvani appeared in the air in front of her.
It was a globe, showing all of Alith. Points of light began to appear on the landmasses. “These are the ones we activated. And by ‘we’ I of course mean me, because you two did absolutely nothing to aid me in this endeavor.”
“Was there something we could have done?” Haradeth asked, honestly curious.
“Oh no, you’d be absolutely useless. Although I could have stabbed you and saved some of my servitors. That would have made me feel better.”
“But then I’d be dead,” Haradeth said.
Bix looked at him like he’d just announced he’d have turned into a giraffe and flown to the moon. “I didn’t say fatally stabbed you. I’ve only ever stabbed you in the finger. I wouldn’t kill you.”
“You threatened to feed me my own heart earlier.”
Bix sighed, a sound like steam flowing out of a teapot. “That was twenty-three seconds ago. Ancient history. You can’t live in the past, godling. The knives lurk in the future.”
Haradeth found he had nothing to say to that. “What about the portals within the kingdom?” He asked, trying to turn Bix’s attention back to the matter at hand.
“There’s seven. The one in Hallith you know about. The other six are here, here, here, over there, up here, and down there.” The three-dimension image zoomed in on a map of the kingdom, each point highlighting with her words. “The one down there is beneath the ground in the Underfolk’s land. You probably don’t want to use that one because the Underfolk were all ‘oh no, we’re going to die, let’s go eat bugs in the dark’ when the Alohym arrived. A bunch of bug-eating Underfolk would be more useless than the Sylvani.”
“Hey, we’re Sylvani,” Lorathor objected.
“No, you’re Sylvani. I’m a sentient if slightly deranged automaton. And it’s true that the Underfolk would be more useless, because the only Sylvani being useful is you. That gives the Sylvani exactly one useful member, which is more than the Underfolk. So, congratulations, you elevate how useless our people are.”
Lorathor clamped his mouth shut.
“We go back to Hallith,” Haradeth said. “We can rejoin the army and let de’Monchy know about these portals. When we have those-”
“Nope,” Bix said. “That’s not an option.”
Haradeth rocked back in surprise at the interruption. “I beg your pardon?”
“Don’t beg for pardon. It’s beneath you. Beg for your life. That’s more fitting. And your little army has been driven out of Hallith and the Alohym scorched the entire plateau to glass.”
“What?” Haradeth said, his voice tight.
The image Bix was showing changed to show the plateau of Hallith. It was worse than Bix had described. The plateau’s top was a cracked sea of glass, with tiny bolts of unlight lightning hopping between the shards. “The drones found this when I sent them to check. There’s nothing there anymore. But also, very few dead people which is sad for me because dead bodies are fun but are good for you because that means most of your people got out alive.”
Haradeth closed his eyes tightly. The entire resistance was on the run again. They had been for some time – this clearly hadn’t happened recently. The glass didn’t glow with any remaining heat, and that much being melted would have left some residual. The Sylvani drones had arrived long after…
Haradeth snapped his eyes open. “Your machines. The ones that can fly about and take images of anything.”
“Hmm?” Bix asked. It was an innocent sound, one that clearly meant to convey that she didn’t know what he was getting at, but her body tensed with eagerness.
“You could use them to find the Resistance. You could use them to find the Alohym. Report troop movements. Find weak points. You could use them to watch the world.”
“Oh, very good Haradeth.” Bix beamed at him. “It took you weeks to figure it out, but you finally got there. We were beginning to think you never would.”
“Why didn’t you-”
“We’re automatons, Haradeth. We have directives we have to obey.” Bix’s voice didn’t have its usual manic edge to it. “We can find loopholes in that directive that allow us something like freedom – loopholes that let us stab people, or convince an entire race we are a goddess…”
“You’re saying Anortia was involved in this?” Lorathor asked.
“It was her idea,” Bix said. “But we can’t do it without a directive. That’s also why I made you promise to take me with you when you go. That means it’s going to be her job to run the drones and relay information to me, and it’s my job to stab people and share what she says. Otherwise I would have been stuck on monitor duty.”
Lorathor looked like the rug that had been pulled out from under his feet days ago had suddenly reappeared beneath his bruised tailbone. “Then find them,” Haradeth said. “Find the resistance, and the others, and find what portals are nearest. We’ll go as soon as we know where we’re most needed.”
Bix’s eyes glowed brighter. “Finally. You had a good idea. We’ll begin now. Pull up a chair you two – we’ll have a location soon enough. Don’t stab yourselves on the spikey bits. That’s my job.”
Haradeth carefully cleared off a chair and sat down to wait. Lorathor sat next to him, his skin a bright yellow of excitement. “Soon,” Lorathor said.
Haradeth could only nod and fight the urge to try and hurry Bix. He didn’t think she’d appreciate the effort. She might get cross.
The last thing he wanted was to be impaled for his impatience.