Children of the Forge

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If Girda could frown, she'd be doing so right now.

Instead, her eye slits were narrowed angrily at the piece of leather parchment she held in one of her blackened steel hands, and golden light smoldered from behind them. "That glitching bastard said it was here!" She shouted angrily at no one in particular, though that didn't mean no one was around to hear her tinny-voiced ranting. Following not too far behind, Jamie-13 trudged, a weary look on her face. Not being a Deepgear like Girda, Jamie was fully able to express her displeasure with a disapproving frown, as each step made her sink deeper into the sucking muck of the swamp they were currently trudging through. Her thin, segmented hands gripped the straps of the overburdened backpack she had been tugging along dutifully since the two of them started off from Woodhome. With a soft huff escaping her lips, Jamie thought back to the day she'd left the safety of the inn to trudge around in a swamp. She thought of how it was dry and warm back home. And for one damning instant, she let her processors calculate how her situation could possibly get any worse.

It was the moment that they came up with no answer that her next step caused her leg to get swallowed up by the mud around her, her body plummeting forward as the moist earth parted to reveal a sink hole that she plummeted into.

Jamie wasn't always falling through mud-covered caves to her demise though. She used to keep a herd of treaders for a small inn, in an equally small village built around an unimportant Forge in the middle of the woods. She'd been working as a treader-keep since the Forge created her, and she proved herself to be unshakably calm, a trait which helped her when she watched over a herd of irritable cotton balls equipped with powerful treads. Of course, this all changed the day the inn-keeper called her in to meet a guest.

She was out on the hill by the inn one day, sitting with one of the treaders and stroking her hand through its wool while it calmly repeated a rhythmic, rumbling purr when down the grassy hill, the back door to the in flew open and a pot-bellied Hunit with a bushy red mustache called out. "Thirteen!" Jamie sighed and winced, hating it when people used her number. She was sort of considered unlucky because of it, and with her bouts with unfortunate situations being just common enough to gossip about, it'd be hard to argue against. "Make yourself presentable and get down here! We have a guest! A Deepgear guest!" Jamie's eye widened. She'd never met a machine that wasn't a hunit or some kind of forme. She whipped out the metal steel shard she often used as a hand-mirror to give herself a look over. "Uh, one second, Gram!"

Jamie was five and a half feet of scrawny girlbot. Short blonde hair that came down to just below her ears poked out in odd directions. She tried to smooth it down with a few strokes of her gloved hand, but the stubbornly bad hair refused to obey, so she tried her luck at wiping the grime out from the seams going vertically under her bright green eyes to her jawline. When she burned out an optic she could just flip the middle of her face up, the outsides of it folding open to reveal the mechanical bits within. Satisfied that she looked as clean as possible she looked down to her outfit. A baggy white tunic covered her almost-flat chest and was tucked into baggy, light tan pants, which in themselves were tucked into knee-high leather boots. All-in-all, she looked like a boybot at casual glance.

Jamie brushed at her clothes, patted the top of the treader's fluffy body, to which the forme responded with an annoyed grunt, and dashed down the hill to the back door of the inn. As she barreled through the door and into the kitchen, she almost knocked Gram over and was barely able to prevent herself from plowing into the guest... and an intimidating guest it was! "This... is Girda," Gram said, gesturing to the Deepgear that was standing a whole foot taller then Jamie was. This woman (at least she was shaped like a woman, Jamie thought silently) was made entirely of what looked like well-worn black steel. She had glowing orbs for eyes, and though she had a pair of luscious lips, the only articulate part of her metallic face seemed to be the slits built into her optics. Her figure was generous on a level that clearly outmatched Jamie's thin body. Girda's bust, which was marked with shiny silvery scratches like most of her body, had rivets at even intervals going all the way down to her waistline, which exploded into some very generous hips She was featureless between her thick thighs, which each had a line of rivets going along the outer seams as well. Jamie couldn't help but follow the figure with her eyes, forgetting that when you're checking someone out you need to be slightly more discreet then lowering your head to get a better view.

"Eyes are on me face if you're lookin' for 'em, hunit." She said with a stern, but stoic voice. Jamie squeaked and immediately her gaze snapped up to Girda's face. It was then that she noticed a battleaxe, black steel and VERY well-used, seemingly held to the Deepgear's back by some magnetic force. She hoped that she'd never have to see that weapon in action. "Is this tha..." Girda started to say before Gram cut her off with an enthusiastic nod. "Indeed! That's her. She's more then ready to help, aren't you, dear?" Gram's thick hand patted Jamie on the back, aending her stumbling forward a step as her servos whirred from sudden, forced movement. "Uh, Gram, what am I eager to help with, exactly?" Jamie said, a nervous twinge to her voice. Before Gram could answer, Girda leaned forward, placing a well-weathered metallic hand next on the counter. Jamie had to wonder if Girda had sensors like her own soft skin covering did. The deepgear held out a leather parchment in front of Jamie's optics, showing a somewhat crude map. Woodhome was marked on it, as well as the surrounding woods, a trader's road that cut through the forest, and beyond that a circled portion that had the unpleasant title Swamp of Destruction. "Ah got a tip from a merchant that somewhere in this swamp is an old ruin that no one's found yet. Probably from even before tha world Forgot."

Jamie's blinked in confusion. "That's... really old, right? So..." "So if it's from before tha Forgettin' and no-one's been there that means that its goods are mine for the takin'." Girda interjected, too impatient to let Jamie puzzle it out for herself. "Well, I mean, I would LIKE to help but I'm afraid I'm not built for adventuring. I'm barely built for treader herding." Gram chuckled, running his segmented thumbs under his suspenders. "Thirteen, she just needs someone to carry supplies, and to help her haul whatever she finds out there. No one's actually expecting you to contribute." Despite what Jamie had just said she couldn't help but mutter out a silent "I could contribute if she wanted me to." Girda's gaze just flicked between the two of them, her eye-slits narrowing with slight disapproval. "If there were more willin' types in this town ah'd have moved on already. Trust me treader-keep, ah'll keep yeh in one bit. Just carry me oils and tools, and whatever we find in the ruins." Gram nodded and put is hands on his fat hips. "See? Girda will keep you safe, and on top of that she's paying good money to rent you. The inn needs the clink and you need to get out of the field and into the world! I'm beyond taking no for an answer." He reached into his boot, and produced a long, thin dagger, the blade barely as long as half a ruler. "If it makes you feel better, tuck this into your belt. Just don't stick yourself with it." Jamie huffed, but took the dagger. "I won't be sticking anyone with it!"

And so it was. The next day Jamie had packed her satchel with enough supplies to last her the four weeks it would take to reach the swamp, food and clothes, and a long, thin whistle she used to break up treader fights. She bid the friends she'd made goodbye as she walked off with the stoic deepgear into the woods beyond. That was two weeks ago.

Three loud beeps sounded in the darkness of the cave, and Jamie's body shuddered as her systems forced herself to reboot. She'd landed on her stomach, on top of what looked like a pile of heavy stones half-sunken into the spongy soil. "M-malfunction." She said with a mechanical stammer to her voice. She tried to push herself up, but her right shoulder refused to put out any force, and when she turned her head to look it was clear why. It had been smashed, the skin covering torn away to reveal the smooth, shiny joint. The damaged part occasionally wreathed itself in sparks, so she settled with using her good hand to roll over onto her back. "Right shoulder unit inoperable. Substance conversion storage punctured." She then blinked her eyes, which glowed green down here in the dimly lit shaft. "Wait, what?" Tilting her head down, she noted the dagger Gram gave her was cleanly stabbed into her stomach. A look of clear annoyance washed over her face. "Damn it..." She swore to not mention this as she tugged the weapon free, causing her to twitch for a moment as a spray of sparks fired from the new hole in her body. Now that she had a chance to silence the errors ringing in her ears and flickering across her field of vision, she could get a grasp of where she'd landed... and could also hear Girda yelling for her.

"Hunit girl! Ye crazy girlbot, you're gonna get killed by a wild forme if you've run off by yerself!" Jamie winced and looked up, the entrance to the shaft she'd fallen in far too high to even climb out of, even if her right shoulder wasn't scrapped. "Girda! I'm down here in some hole! And uh..." She looked around to get some bearings on her surroundings. "There's a bunch of square stones all pushed into the dirt and... some kinda smooth door with weird symbols on it!" Just then, she saw a head peek over the lip of the hole, and the glowing gold eyes Jamie instantly recognized. "Holy Pit, ye've found it!" This was the first time Jamie had heard Girda sound happy on this whole trip. "I'm coming down!" Jamie wondered how, exactly, the deepgear was planning on getting down.

Girda, unknown to Jamie, had backed up a few feet, brushed off her shoulders, and ran through the mud towards the hole. She didn't so much jump down as step into the shaft, and Jamie barely had time to move before Girda landed with a thump that shattered the stones unlucky enough to be underneath her. She looked towards Jamie, her lower eye slits tilted up to suggest a grin. "Ye found it, treader-keep! Ye must be good luck." Jamie couldn't help but hope the dark hid her proud blush. "But ah... ye've gone and gotten damaged pretty badly." Girda walked up to Jamie and brushed a metallic hand over the damaged shoulder joint. "Ah'm not a doctor but Ah've broken enough humie frames ta know a smashed joint when ah see it. An' th' hole in your converter's storage means until it's fixed yer runnin' an what you've got left in yer batteries." Jamie nodded, and a spark from her damaged shoulder made her body twitch, and briefly whir. Girda put her hands on those wide hips of her's. "Okay so 'ere's the plan. We get ye outta this hole, set up a camp, an' then patch up what we can before we explore this place tomorrow." Jamie was honestly surprised. She'd expected Girda to leave her in this hole while she went spelunking in the ruins. "Now throw yer arm around me shoulder an' I'll climb us out." "O-okay*kzzzt*." Jamie's voice crackling made her worry so she hurriedly reached her arm around Girda's shoulder and held on tight. This of course, meant she was now grasping Girda's right breast and though the orb had no give, it made the deepgear shudder from the touch, and she stifled a pleased sigh. "MMmf, I'll assume yer jus' innocently clingin' ta me." Jamie's proud blush was replaced with a definitely-enjoying-this-more-then-Girda-would-like blush as the deepgear gripped the rocky walls of the cave tightly. It was slow going but several minutes of climbing had them free and back out into the open, if musty, air of the swamp.

Camp was made on a relatively dry patch of moss. Jamie was slumped against a tree while Girda worked on her, the camp illuminated by a firepit pitched close to a brown tent. The definitely-enjoying-this-more-then-Girda-would-like blush was replaced with a holy-Pit-she-made-me-take-off-my-shirt blush, and she was doing her best to use her good arm to cover her small chest. A square panel had been removed from Jamie's naked torso and set aside. Since it had a hole in it, it wasn't terribly useful. Inside her glowed a very dull blue, dimly illuminating the compartment her substance conversion storage was stored. "No point in eatin' without this." Girda mumbled as she lifted the pale plastic box out of Jamie's body. It was connected at either end by thick black tubes that were surrounded by a bevy of smaller, colored wires. With a twist, the part came loose from the connectors of the tubes and wires, and she tuched those away before setting the plastic box aside. "Yer shoulder's not gonna look pretty, but it'll function once ah slip the joint back inta place." Girda placed her hands on Jamie's shoulder and looked at her questioningly. Jamie remained quiet, but nodded in approval. The deepgear jerked her hands in opposite directions and with a loud zap that made Jamie gasp in surprise and bounce on her hips, the joint was back in place. She tried it out, rolling her shoulder and listening to the joint buzz loudly, though it worked well. "I uh... thanks." She said quietly. "I didn't really know you cared enough to fix me..."

Girda tilted her head and her eye-slits clicked. "Cared? You'd think ah would leave yah down there?" Jamie looked down at the open hole in her middle, and the sheet of wires and stacks of circuits that blinked quietly with LEDs, usually hidden by the conversion storage. "N-no. I just... I mean, you're so scary, and you were mean back at the inn. I didn't know you were so nice." Girda watched the hunit silently for a moment, and let out a single 'huh'. "Well. Ah was frustrated with that innkeeper and ah suppose that frustration kinda' showed more then ah'd have liked but I'm not ah mindless forme. Ah have sympathy for fellow bots... even hunits." She then seemed to pause for a moment. "Not the gob-bots though. Little green forme-minded scrap-clappers can rust in the Pit for all I care." Jamie looked up from her panel and to Girda. "Some formes are nice though! Like treaders, when they're not trying to run you down. But I mean... I guess gob-bots are bad. I suppose I was just scared to talk to you up until now. Thanks for fixing me."

Girda nodded, seemingly pleased. "Yeah, jus' don't get to be relyin' on me too much. I can't save your sweet-pad each time somethin' tries to fry it for dinner." She stood up and stretched, which made whatever was inside Girda's body click in protest. Even a hiss of steam was briefly heard. "Now get some shut-down. Tomorrow we figger out how ta get down that hole an' bust open that door." Jamie nodded, excited for the first time on her trip. "Right! Defragment well, Girda." Girda had already slumped down in the tent, and offered only a grunt in return as she quickly began to hibernate. Jamie opted to stay out underneath the stars, the smell of burning wood filtering out the mustiness of the swamp. A smile crept across her face as she eventually found herself closing her eyes, her CPU finally having a chance to defrag the excitement of the day.

When Jamie’s defragmentation cycle ended, she woke up with a soft squeak of a yawn and wearily blinked her eyes open. The first thing she noticed as her optics adjusted for vision was that she couldn't move her arms. As her vision de-pixelated she looked down and saw that she was still upright against the tree she leaned against, but was now bound to it by thick, dry rope that bit into her skin-cover and kept her arms bound. Her audio sensors picked up only muffled, rhythmic chanting and a muffled echoing before they suddenly clicked on to full functionality.

“Stalk and smash and eat the pad! Hunit taste good, but deepgear bad! Smash the circuits, chew the skin! Gob-bots hunt and gob-bots win!”

The chanting was coming from seven of the most hideous little machines Jamie had ever seen her life. They looked like they might come up to her waist in height, if they weren’t slightly hunched over. Deep green scraps of skin-cover hung from the exposed servos and dirty components of their rusty bodies. Their melon-shaped heads were topped with long, torn ears and had glaring red optics that blazed with a fiery, forme-minded glare and white, dagger-sharp teeth lined overly large jaws. Their three-fingered hands clutched makeshift bludgeons and sharp edges and each of them sported a reptilian tail in various conditions, some mostly intact but others whittled down to the clicking, rusted frame.

They were dancing around the campfire, which they’d somehow gotten to burn much more brightly considering the flames were now jumping ten feet into the air and it had burned past the rocks the two travelers had put up to stop the flames from getting out of the firepit. They seemed nonplussed by the small inferno they were dancing around though, the guttural chanting continuing to echo through the woods. As unsettling as that scene was, Jamie’s thoughts jumped to Girda, and she gasped softly as she wondered if the tough bot was okay. Could the gobs even hope to subdue such a tough android? That answer came as Jamie looked into the tent Girda retired into. She was just lying there and at first Jamie suspected she might still be defragging, but then a bright blue spark jolted over her figure and the deepgear groaned. Looking closer, Jamie could see Girda’s limbs and fingers twitching, and her eyes dimming sporadically. Attached to her chest was a silver disk that was glued to her metallic cleavage by some clear, slimy ooze, and the device occasionally pulsed with a charge.

Jamie quietly let out a single whimper, then looked back to the gob-bots as they danced and sung feverishly. She didn’t want her padding ripped out and eaten, as little of it as she had! Quickly, her processors raced to find a way out of this situation. ‘Well, maybe my ropes are loose enough to squirm free!’ She thought to herself. She gave her shoulders a few shrugs, making the exposed servo spark once more as she put too much strain on it. The ropes didn’t budge. ‘Okay, uhm, maybe I can summon from within an incredible font of strength and sunder the ropes!’ With that, she grunted as she flexed her arms, closing her eyes and imagining herself as the most powerful android in Arell. After a moment of trying, her arm’s servos keened and she was forced to stop before they burned out. The ropes remained in place. ‘Well, maybe I’m secretly a spellcaster!’ This time, she wiggled her fingers frantically and muttered a very impressive string of syllables under her breath. Her intended magical spell which she had entitled ‘Hocus-The Awful Gobs Untie Me, Fix Girda, Apologize Profusely And Then Explode Into Bits-Pocus’ seemed to fizzle. ‘…Well those are all my GOOD ideas,’ she thoughtfully lamented.

It was when Jamie had lost all hope that she heard an unholy litany of the most foul curses that she had ever experienced, followed swiftly by a black blur flying from the tent. One of the dancing gob-bots was caught in the forehead by a metallic plate shaped like a large pair of breasts with a silver disk slapped onto them. The gob’s head was ripped clean away in a shower of parts and sparks as the breastplate continued into the gob behind the first one, catching that bot by the neck and decapitating it with a jolt of sparks that fried its body. The other five gob-bots wheeled around to look towards the tent, as did Jamie, to see Girda emerging from the flaps.

She’d disengaged the plate that made up the upper half of her torso and Jamie could only recognize some of the wiring and struts as being like her own. Girda was filled with gears, which Jamie figured made sense given the name. Thousands of tightly woven gear systems, with wiring and tubes of bright yellow fluid woven through them all clicked and ticked away loudly, with her body’s reinforcements built around the complicated mass of springs and cogs. In the center was a coil, and the coil looked to be very, very tightly wound, the clockwork part glowing as fiercely as Girda’s eyes did. She’d thankfully stopped swearing, but the intense look in her eyes showed that she was no less furious as she reached for the large battleaxe still attached to her back.

“The deepgear getted free!” One of the survivors shrieked in a scratchy tone. “We gotsa SMASH it! No one smashes gob-bots!” Yelled another. “No! No-no! We gotsa run! It has strongness and sharpness!” A third cried out.

The other two decided to forgo the argument and ran towards Girda brandishing shivs. Gripping the handle of her axe, she made a fist with her other hand and swung towards the two charging her with a backhand. The blow connected with one gob, who shouted in surprise as he was carried into the other, and when the two collided they exploded into metallic parts as Girda’s hand pushed through the both of them, leaving them a confusing pile of smashed metal. It was impossible to tell where one gob stopped and the other began. Watching how easily she’d managed to dispatch those two, she released her battleaxe.

“Not even worth yer time, love.”

With that, she pounded her fists and approached the remaining three, who were by now quickly backing off. One managed to escape while Girda caught the other two by the back of their heads. She was seething with rage, if her shivering shoulders and the narrow glare she was giving them were of any indication. Her fingers tightened and pushed little dents into their heads while they squealed and begged for mercy.

And then, she dropped them.

The two gob-bots hit the ground as Girda released them, and turned to look at her confusedly. Girda just pointed towards the other junked gobs.

“Leave, scum. Or yer as sure as scrap.”

They didn’t stick around to argue the situation. Their clawed feet scrabbled at the ground as they took off running as fast as they could manage. Jamie had looked away from the fighting, eyes squeezed shut, but when she had heard Girda’s ultimatum, she turned back to look at what happened just in time to see Girda picking up her chest plating and plucking the disk off of it, quickly crushing it in her hands. She pushed the metal plate back into place, and it seemed to align itself with a hiss of pressurized air and a loud click.

“Girda… how come you didn’t kill those gobs?” She said, her voice a bit quieter then usual.

“Ah didn’t kill ‘em because ah didn’t have ta,” Her tone of voice implied that was as much as she’d wanted to say on the matter.

Jamie hung her head as Girda walked forward and gripped the ropes keeping her bound. With one sharp tug the bindings snapped loudly and fell limp, allowing Jamie to stand to her feet… and also to reveal that she hadn't remembered to put her shirt back on. She covered her flat chest up with one arm and the open panel with another as she looked around for where she’d dumped her shirt. “Uhm, you also didn't HAVE to use your breasts like a discus and take two gob’s heads off.”

“Ah was fresh with fury at th’ time so you’ll forgive me if me morals temporarily escape me in the heat of th’ moment. Especially if ahm tryin‘ ta save your useless hide.”

Jamie felt her emotions sink as Girda called her useless, and her eyes dipped. “S-sorry.”

Girda could tell that she hit a sore spot. However, she was still fuming internally and she just couldn’t bring herself to apologize. “Get yer shirt on. We’re still goin’ down that cave and with your gut busted we won’t have to wait around for you to eat for once.” Jamie silently nodded as she slipped back into her shirt, tucked her dagger into her belt, and tried to brush off the mossy dirt that had clung to her backside overnight. As they cleaned up camp, neither of them said a word and even the swamp, normally alive with croaks and clicks from various formes, seemed to grow silent.

When they reached the cave once more, Girda realized that though she was strong enough to squeeze handholds into solid rock, Jamie would need a way down, and if they made a good haul, secure handholds would be required to help get it back up. She grabbed a climber’s kit, complete with chains, pitons and a piton hammer from the various tools Jamie was lugging around in that massive pack and set to work. The first ten feet down the shaft were earthy walls, slippery but manageable to climb down. The rest of the way was solid stone with almost no handholds. Driving pitons into the walls as they went, fifteen minutes of slow climbing found them at the bottom of the cave once more, in front of the ominously smooth stone door covered in cyan symbols.

“Ah recognize these.” Girda said, reaching out to touch the door. It was quite dark and Jamie was having trouble seeing.

“Uhm, recognize what?”

“These markin’s. Ya find them most often with ruins made specifically by th’ Forgemasters.”

Jamie nodded silently and let out an ’ohhh’. She knew very, very little about the Forgemasters, save that they were the great beings that came before formes and androids, and that they were the reason everything was the way it was. The grid, forges, everything came from them. “Uhm, what do you think’s inside, Girda?”

“Do yah haveta say ’uhm’ or ’I, uh’ every time ya speak, girlbot?”

Jamie frowned and crossed her arms. “No! I just… you know.”

“Nae, I don’t. That’s why ah asked.” Girda’s fingers scraped over the stone surface of the door, looking for a catch, or some kind of handle or button hidden in the markings. Jamie hmphed and frowned at Girda. “Well, if I’m useless anyway, what’s the point of even nit-picking at me about stuff?”

Girda narrowed her eyes as her temper flared for a moment. “Jus’ stop whining an’ go… I dunno! Pretend yer herdin’ or somethin’ while ah try to figure out this door.” Girda pressed against the door a few times, seeing if it had any give while Jamie rolled her eyes and mumbled loudly enough for Girda to hear. “Why don’t you just break it down if you’re so tough?”

“Because punchin’ through what might be a foot of stone would hurt like the Pit.” Girda said, exasperated. “…Hurt? Like your feelings?” Jamie furrowed her brows and tilted her head.

“Ah, right. Yer a hunit. Ya don’ feel pain. Well, physical pain.”

Jamie leaned against the opposite wall of the cave and was about to open her mouth to ask what that was, when she felt her shoulders sink into the stone, and heard a noisy clunk followed by a rattle. Girda turned her head to Jamie and narrowed her optics. “What did you-ach!” The stone door slid up with the sound of stone grinding on stone just as Girda was pushing into it again and the deepgear pitched forward and landed face first, her wide backside sticking into the air.

“Uhm, that’s a good look for you.” Jamie said with a chuckle, admiring the black steel rump. “So, am I still useless?”

“Ah suppose you‘ve proven ya don‘t need ta be skilled ta be useful.” Girda said as she stood to her feet. They had revealed a stone hallway that extended into darkness that the light from the hole above didn’t penetrate. Girda rustled through the pack once more and handed Jamie a wooden stick with a clear cylinder at the end. Banging the flat end of the stick made the cylinder shine with bright light.

“Hold the torch, girlbot. Ah’ll be holdin’ this.”

Girda took the handle of her battleaxe and tugged. There was a jolt of crackling electricity as the handle was released from Girda’s back, and she was now hefting the beast of a weapon in one hand as she took point and the two of them descended into the darkness.

Outside the ruins Girda and Jamie had just unlocked and just beyond the edges of the Swamp of Destruction, a hulking, intimidating force marched across the grassy plains. A great, hulking deepgear, his unblemished black steel had been polished to a lustrous shine and reflected the light of the sun off the sharp points his armoring came to. His face was forged into a constant expression of anger, crimson eyes blazing while where his mouth would be was covered by an intimidating beard of razor-tipped spikes. A tattered blood-red red cape hung from spiked pauldrons, concealing an arsenal of melee weapons that were each as sharp and well-kept as his eight-foot tall figure. His gargantuan hands were balled into fists, his knuckles tipped with yet more spikes. Each step he took left a deep imprint in the soil below him, but despite his size he moved almost silently, and with calculated grace.

This imposing figure was accompanied by a group of deepgear that were considerably smaller then he was, and wore the usual scratches and dents of their kind, their black steel faded. Each of them wore a red band around their right shoulder, and they kept a respectful distance from the large android leading them. Two of them were escorting a machine that looked wholly out of place amongst the armed, intimidating deepgear. She was a head smaller then her captors, and wore what once were lovely silken robes of bright blue that showed off her very generous bust and slender legs, but due to manhandling had been stained with dirt and torn in areas. Her cover seemed to be made of ivory porcelain that was once very pretty but now sported cracks across her face and down her cleavage. Short blonde hair fell down to just below her jawline, or at least where a jaw would be on a bot. This woman’s face was utterly devoid of physical identifiers. No eye sockets, no nose, no lips, sculpted or otherwise. Instead her face had a weaving pattern of cyan lines that looked like flowering vines that bloomed from where her chin would be, followed her cheeks in intertwining patterns and ended where her eyes would be, curling in on themselves, the entire design perfectly symmetrical and incredibly complex.

Once the swamp had come into view the crimson-caped leader silently raised his right fist, and the troop stopped. They waited silently for a signal, and the large ebony deepgear lowered his hand.

“Bring me the ceremi.” His voice was cold and echoed deep inside his chest.

“Yes Commander Mardiir!”

The men guarding the porcelain woman dragged her forward. She hardly resisted, her head hung low and her ball joints clicking gently with each movement. She was forced to her knees and one of the men gripped her hair, forcing her to look up at the shining, black behemoth of steel. Mardiir didn’t even bother looking down as he addressed her.

“Merchant. These are the swamps you detailed in the map you sold?” Mardiir spoke with calm detachment.

“I’m not just a merchant. I’m a member of the Services and Exchange Guild and they will NOT allow you-”

She was cut off as one of the guards brought the hilt of his sword against her face. The porcelain cracked loudly and shards of the intricate design fell to the ground as she tumbled onto her side. Exposed holes in her face allowed one to see sparks and shimmering fibers contained inside, and beyond those sensory wires, the delicate circuitry that made up her central processor.

Mardiir spoke again, presenting the same calculating calm. “Your social status and your money can not protect you here. Are these the swamps detailed in the map you sold?”

“Yes! Yes, they are you vile forme-minded automaton! Now let me go!”

Mardiir moved to start walking again, taking the ceremi by surprise. “I am done with you. Leave if you will,” he said coldly as his guards moved away from their ‘freed‘ captive. The ceremi gasped and tried to stumble to her feet but the massive deepgear trampled over her before she could get out of his way. His powerful foot falls crushed her porcelain body underneath his weight, each step splintering her delicate frame. She barely had time to gasp in surprise as his foot pressed into her back and shattered her chest, those sculpted breasts splintering to dust underneath Mardiir, and when her power core was flattened, a powerful surge of electricity made what was left of her body twitch and spasm. “M-m-malllfucnnn crit-criticall…” With the last, struggled error message, her central processor fried, leaving her little more then an inert, destroyed doll. Meanwhile, Mardiir issued another cold order to his men.

“When we arrive at the edge of the swamp, you will wait for her to leave the ruins, if she has found any. Force Girda towards the edge of the swamp. Do not waste resources with an extended engagement. I will handle her personally.”

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Jamie had decided that after ten minutes of walking down a straight stone hallway full of dust in pitch black darkness with a grumpy deepgear, that she didn’t like ruins very much. “I… I REALLY hope there’s something totally cool down here.” She mumbled as she swiped away another web that had brushed against her. The first fifty or so spinner webs freaked her out but she had to admit that after web number eighty-nine, there was probably not a spinner web in this place that was big enough to scare her anymore.

“An’ ah really hope yer voice box shorts out so I don’ haveta deal with yer whinin’.” Girda’s patience had dwindled away again. There was no immediate danger either so she had ended up attaching her axe to her back once more.

“Uhm, has anyone ever told you that you’re very sensitive to stressful situations?”

“Has anyone ever told yew ta shut up?”

Jamie huffed indignantly and stuffed the hand she wasn’t using to hold the torch into her pocket. Her angry glare never left the back of Girda’s head, and Jamie imagined having heat vision and just melting that stupid brain out of her stupid head. Maybe then she’d be nicer. And maybe then she’d be smart enough to… to…

Jamie’s body whirred loudly as her servos momentarily lost power. She stumbled in place and her free hand shot up to press into the side of her head. Girda heard the shuffling stumble and stressed keen of hardware and looked over her shoulder. “Jamie, what’s th’ holdup?”

“I… I’m uhm, starting to run out of power… I need to eat.” She shook her head, and her eyelids fluttered as if she had just come put of a haze. The removed containment system in her stomach was starting to make it’s absence known. “I’ll be fine for a while though.” She straightened her back, and though she shivered one last time, she seemed to have collected herself. Girda tilted her heard and narrowed her eye shutters.

“Just hang in there, treader-keep. Once we get ta th’ end o’ these ruins I’ll carry ya back ta Woodhome if ah haveta.”

“Uhm. I thought you hired me to carry treasure and stuff…”

Girda shook her head and turned back around. “We’ll figure it out when that time comes. Now come on, we’re wastin’ time.” Jamie couldn’t argue. She was sure she had another day’s worth of juice left in her core but she’d start to feel weak well before she fully ran out of power. If she was going to make it through the ruins, it would have to be before her power fluctuations got worse. The two of them soldiered on, scuffling feet echoing through the dark hall as they double-timed their steps.

“I uh, I don’t really understand why this hallway is so long. This construction doesn’t really make sense you know?” Jamie needed to talk about something to keep her thoughts away from powering down.

“Tis’ long. But it’s for a reason. These kinda o’ ruins are designed ta be vaults. A long hallway that eventually leads to a seemingly dead end, but it’s riddled with secret doors that lead deeper in. Although sometimes ya also find traps.”

Jamie would have asked what kinds of traps, but she found herself interrupted as she opened her mouth, her foot sinking down as one of the stone bricks making up the floor sunk in like a pressure pad, and then clicked loudly. Girda turned back to Jamie, who was bent over with her foot sunken into the floor. “Uh, this is not my fault-EEEP!”

The floor opened up underneath the two of them. Jamie found herself plummeting to the ground for the second time in two days, though the reduced height and even floor broke her fall much more gently then landing on a bed of boulders. Girda was unable to catch herself on the edge of the pit trap, but still landed on her feet, just as Jamie was picking herself up off the floor.

Girda shot Jamie a rather cold glare. “Ah understand that ya have this ‘adorable’ character quirk where ya don’ pay attention an’ end up getting inta trouble but do ya haveta drag me down with ya?”

“Oh! Yeah, like I’m totally planning this sort of thing out! ‘I uh, wonder how I can mess up in a way that will get that BITCHY DEEPGEAR TO NEVER SHUT UP!’ That‘s totally what I‘m doing!”

“Bitchy deepgear? Give me one good reason why ah shouldn’t smack the glitch out of yer damaged little head!”

Just then the brick walls of the pit they had fallen into jerked forward an inch, the dust falling off of it in a brown wave and falling to the floor. After the jerky start, the walls started to close in slowly, while the entrance above slid shut and left them trapped inside with nothing but the closing walls and the sound of stone grinding against stone. “Okay, Uhm. Good reason number one would be that we’re about to be crushed to death. Again, not my fault!”

Girda would have rolled her eyes if they worked that way. She flew up against one of the walls and braced herself against it, with Jamie right next to her, the both of them struggling against the same surface, heels digging in.

“Hrrk… Treader-keep, if we’re both pressing against the same wall, th’ other one’s just gonna come up behind an’ crush us!”

“..Uhm! Right! I knew that!” She blushed at herself and turned to try and stop the other wall from closing, Both of them strained their joints, Jamie’s servos whining loudly, as Girda’s gears clicked and ground roughly. Neither of them were stopping the walls from closing. “Girda! I… mmf, can’t stop the wall!”

“Girlbot, listen! There’s no circuits or bodies down here! There’s got ta be some kind of access door ta allow someone ta clean out the remains or somethin’!”

“Uhm, what if we’re just the first one to fall into the trap?”

Girda started blankly as she momentarily contemplated using Jamie’s head to jam the walls. “Jus’ look for a door, ya ditz!” Jamie cringed, but nodded as she got to work smoothing her hands over the walls and floor. She could be mad later, when they were not in immediate danger of being crushed flat. By the time she was checking the floor, the walls had closed in enough that Girda had put both of her arms out and was struggling to prevent them from closing the last two feet. Jamie was on her hands and knees, her fingers catching against a loose brick. She tugged and pulled, Girda letting out a frustrated yell as her arms trembled.

“Girda! The floor! There’s a loose brick, I think there’s an opening or something below us!”

“Ya’d better be right, blondie, or we’re gonna end up as wallpaper in this deathtrap!”

Girda pulled her arms away and the walls moved in rapidly. Jamie squeezed her eyes shut and covered her ears as Girda gripped the handle of her axe, the shaft sparking as it pulled free from the deepgear’s back. She swung it down with all her strength, and the blade bit into the floor, shattering the stone and dislodging the bricks. The floor remained stable only for another moment before crumbling beneath the two adventurers, light spilling up from beneath as the collapsed floor sent them plummeting. As the walls slammed closed, they missed Jamie’s head by inches. The two of them had landed on their back, staring up at the hole they’d made in the ceiling to escape certain doom. This room seemed to be very large, and well-lit by ancient looking orbs installed into the sides of the room. As they stood up and looked around, they got a better bearing on what they’d gotten into.

This large room’s floor was covered in spinner webs, and unlike the old ones up in the hallway, these were rather sticky, and fresh. Large insect formes were piled up against one corner, seemingly hollowed out and partially dissolved. The lingering, bitter smell of acid hung in the air. “I wonder what happened to those bugs.” Jamie asked silently.

“I can answer that question for you, intruders.” A purring, seductive voice spoke from behind the two of them.

Jamie and Girda turned around to face whoever had addressed them. The sight made Jamie squeak in fear and hide behind Girda, who clutched her axe with both hands. “Stay behind me, treader-keep.”

The being spoke again. “What’s wrong? Afraid of spinners, little thieves?” The upper half of this being was a beautiful woman. Unblemished by the time she had spent down here, her perfect, slightly tan figure sported a pair of large, gravity defying breasts tipped with perky nipples. Plush lips smirked on a lively, angular face. Her brown eyes regarded the intruders and wavy black hair cascaded down over her chest, providing only partial modesty. She clutched a curved blade in each hand, but her most intimidating feature was her lower half. From her waistline below, she had a blood red arachnid body. Eight powerful spinner’s legs supported the weight of her huge lower half, and savage black stripes streaked down her thorax. She easily towered over the both of them, her small humanoid body dwarfed by the monstrous spinner body. “If you’re not… I’ll teach you to be!”

Her full lips parted and a tube extended from her mouth, Girda shoved Jamie to the floor and rolled to the side just as the spinner-woman fired a lance of sizzling green acid, barely missing them and singeing the floor where the stuff struck, boiling the webbing and stone.

“Hey! Uhm, can’t we talk this over?” Jamie offered as she stumbled across the floor, blasts of acid barely missing her by inches.

“Sure! Just hold still and we’ll talk out our differences~!” The spinner-woman offered, clearly able to talk around the tube firing acid from her mouth.

“No thank you! I’ve always had trouble sitting still!” Jamie shrieked as the floor just in front of her feet erupted in acid. She had to wonder what Girda was doing while she was dodging bolts of acid, and turned to find that the deepgear was having her own troubles. The spinner-woman was able to turn her head and fire fast enough to prevent Girda from closing with her axe, while taking potshots at Jamie to keep her moving. The spinner-woman turned her head towards Jamie, and was about to loose another accurate shot, but only a soft hiss came from the chrome tube. “Out of acid? Oh well. I suppose I’ll just have to get my fangs dirty.” Even when she was threatening the two bots, the spinner-woman’s husky voice was alluring and tinged with sensuality.

Girda saw her chance to try and land a solid strike and charged the spinner-woman, axe in both hands as she swung in a wide arc. The monstrous woman simply crossed her blades and caught the axe in between them, then turned the strike away before lunging forward with both of her curved ‘fangs’. Girda had to put her arm up to catch the strikes on her armor, and gasped as the sharp sting of pain surged through her sensor-laden black steel. The two exchanged blows, Girda parrying away the spinner-woman’s elegant sweeps while the twirling scimitars kept Girda from getting a good shot in. However, the size of the spinner-woman’s blades, and her longer reach, kept Girda backing up defensively. Soon, her back was up against the wall and she could do nothing but use the shaft of her axe to block blow after withering blow.

Jamie’s mind raced as Girda was backed into a corner. She was just a treader-keep. If a trained warrior, a trained DEEPGEAR warrior, no less, couldn’t prevail in a direct confrontation against this powerful guardian, then what could she do?… That was when she was hit by one of her BEST ideas yet. This was going to put her attempt to escape from the gob-bots to shame! Tugging her jeans up, she looked determined and rushed the spinner-woman from behind. She jumped and gripped onto the surprisingly rubbery thorax, which made the spinner-woman gasp loudly.

“What exactly do you think you’re doing back there?!” She asked, that sultry voice sounding annoyed for the first time.

Jamie ducked her head under a scimitar aiming to decapitate her. Girda took advantage of the momentary distraction to get out from between the spinner-woman and the wall. She had no idea what Jamie was up to but wasn’t about to interrupt should there be a chance to strike. The spinner-woman thrashed but Jamie wouldn’t be unseated as she inched closer to that torso, and once she was cose enough to reach the spinner-woman’s humanoid body…

…Jamie’s hands reached out and squeezed both of those tan, plentiful breasts. The spinner-woman’s eyes opened up wide, and all eight of her spindly legs shivered.

“Unnngh, h-hey, don’t oooh, d-d-don’t do that! Those… haven’t been squeezed in centuries! Ahhn!”

Jamie furrowed her brows as she ignored the spinner-woman’s protests, squeezing and rubbing those juicy tits together. Her splayed fingers caught the hard little nubs capping those breasts and squeezed them in, sending a sudden shiver of pleasure through the spinner-woman’s torso and making her twitch.

“Gnnh! S-sensory data overload in p-p-progress! You little… you… unnfh, I’m g-getting so hot! M-malfunction in cooling systems one and… t-two…”

The spinner-woman started to lose herself in the pleasure, her head tilting back as short, lewd moans escaped her lips. Girda hung her head and facepalmed as the spinner-woman’s ears released a thin trail of smoke and the crackle of electrical components could be heard from inside her torso as she struggled to process pleasure data. Girda was about to yell at Jamie for gofing around when she heard the sudden clatter of metal hitting the stone floor, which made Girda look back up.

The spinner-woman’s arms had spasmed, and she dropped her weapons. The smoke was rising in darker plumes from in between her ears. Sparks danced around her thorax, and her head jerked side to side. “I. Can-cannot process. My. My. My sensors… It’s been so long. So long. So long. Fuck. Getting so… hot… my-my-my tits are-re-rr-aaaaarrreeeee so malfu-UUUF!”

Jamie found that she was now holding up the spinner-woman’s torso. Both Jamie and the spinner-woman’s eyes were wide with shock and they looked down to see that Girda had taken the opportunity. Her axe had shredded through the torso of the spinner-woman severing it cleanly from the mechanical bug body. Jamie had to drop the torso and jump off as the body pitched to the side, the girl catching herself as she landed on her hands and knees. The spinner-woman’s torso had landed on her back, and she panted rapidly as the smoke pouring from her lips and ears started to lessen.

“T-t-thieves… trespassing scum!” The spinner-woman spat out angrily as she slowly recovered from her malfunctions.

Girda stood over the severed torso. “Call me what ye like. I’m not aboot ta get me head cleaved off.” She raised her axe and aimed for the spinner-woman’s head. But was cut short when Jamie shouted. |

“Hey! Hey, uhm, stop!” The blond haired treader-keep dashed over, waving her arms and prompting Girda to tilt her head.

“Stop? Are ya kidding me? This spinner-bitch tried ta boil ya with acid! She was gon’ ta KILL us!”

“Uhm, yeah! But! I mean… this IS her place. And… besides, you said it’s wrong to kill when you don’t have to. And she’s really not going to be hurting anyone like that.”

The spinner woman just watched the goings-on curiously, still smoking a little but mostly recovered. “This isn’t MY place. I simply guard it from dirty metal-forged thieves.” This of course, prompted Jamie to nod and gesture towards the fallen torso. “See? She’s not evil!”

Girda sighed, then realized just how much sighing she had been doing since she met Jamie. “…Fine.” The deepgear lowered her axe. “We’ll leave her torso here to short out and die a prolonged death. That sounds much more huma-”

Jamie cut Girda off by holding up a finger. “Well! That’d be wrong too! I was thinking we could take Ruby with us.”

“Ruby?” Both Girda and the spinner-woman spoke at the same time. Girda glanced toward the spinner-woman… Ruby… and spoke again. “She’s not a pet! She’s some kinda ancient guardian of some ruins from-”

“From before everyone Forgot.” Jamie interrupted once more, making Girda start to lose her patience. “And… I mean, just imagine how much she knows! And Imagine how much that would be worth to some smart guys in Mithril City!”

Girda couldn’t easily argue with that line of thought. If they could get her fixed up back on the surface they could easily make a fortune with her knowledge alone, and besides, they’d need someone to lead them out. “…Okay. But yer carryin’ her.” Jamie nodded excitedly and turned back towards Ruby.

The spinner-woman huffed angrily. “Well. I’d rather not stay down here like this forever so I suppose I shall go along with this. Besides, I AM curious about how the world has changed.”

Jamie smiled and scooped the body up. “Great! And uhm. Sorry about squeezing your breasts like that. And uhm. Breaking into your vault. And… getting you chopped up.” Ruby simply glared in silence as Jamie stuffed the torso into the large backpack, leaving Ruby’s bust pushed up by the lip of the backpack, and her arms free as well. Jamie smiled, quite pleased that she was able to mediate a negotiation between Ruby and Girda.

“There’s a small door in the left corner you can open by pressing into a loose brick. It leads into the storage room, and from there you can access a set of stairs that leads back up to the main hallway.” Ruby said silently. She silently regretted that leading through the storage area was the only way out. It WAS what she was supposed to guard, after all.

“Storage area? Finally, we’ve hit paydirt.” Girda said with a pleased chuckle. “Now, let’s see what we can salvage and get outta this dump.” With that, the three of them walked towards the secret hatch that was pointed out, the door opening with a grinding slide as the catch was activated. Torch in hand, Jamie followed Girda into the hallway beyond, with Ruby in tow.

“Ya know girlbot, ya could have just stabbed her with that dagger of yours.”

“Yeah, but… then I wouldn’t have gotten to feel her breasts.” Jamie snickered softly.

Ruby rolled her eyes and sighed. ”One hundred and nineteen invasions, and THESE are the thieves I was finally done in by.”

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