“There was a plan. And you ruined it.” To’Aacar said to the beaten man before him.

The slaver knight lay on the ground, arms twisted in horrifying angles, legs shattered. It had been all too easy for the Feather to crush the delicate flesh, relic armor and all. Like cracking into a crab. Squeeze hard enough and the hard outer shell cracks all at once, ripping apart the soft tissue under. Even with only one hand, an insect was still an insect to him.

The human should have known better, reporting failure. What a delightful lack of self-preservation. Perhaps the man might have lived had he crawled away into the wastes and pretended he’d died in the assault like the rest of the insects. To'Aacar wouldn't have cared enough to come looking.

“Well? What have you to say for yourself, captain?” The feather asked, lightly tapping the man’s back with a foot.

Blood spilled from a cough. The man’s voice came out as a deep moan, as if his voice came from the throat rather than his mouth. Considering he’d shattered the man’s mouth a moment ago, it surprised To’Aacar how recognizable the words were.

“P-please. Please. T-thought… faster.”

“Faster? Then where is he? You said you’d get him here faster. The only insect I see at my feet is you. Where is the Winterscar I ordered?”


The man whimpered and To’Aacar pressed his leg further down, the broken relic armor starting to buckle under the pressure, metal groaning. He imagined if he pressed hard enough, blood would be squeezed out of the man’s mouth like paste. That wasn’t how it worked, of course. If the amount of forced he exerted in his foot was enough to crush the relic armor, it would most certainly crush in a straight line through everything else.

“The little Winterscar prances about as bait and you mental invalids all fall for it, tripping over your little feet in haste. A perfectly good plan, thrown out the window because you and your men thought you could do things a little faster. I didn’t order fast, I ordered results.”

He kicked the man with casual contempt. It was enough to send the man flying, crashing hard into the mite-made rock. Likely breaking a few more bones in the process. Not that To’Aacar cared to check.

The feather walked over to him in no real hurry, bare feet stepping over pools of blood, leaving an imprint behind each step. Looming over the man now, he reached down. The floating slats of metal that comprised his left hand wrapped around the soft neck, drawing against the flesh like a snapping magnet. And then the metal hand lifted.

The human began to moan in pain until his throat was far too constricted to say a word. The body was dragged up, slowly. Feet left the ground and began dangling in the air.

“I wonder what part of your body will give out first? Will you suffocate to death? Or will the weight of the armor rip your spine apart? Perhaps a bit of both?” He squeezed the fleshy throat further, careful not to exert too much pressure. He didn't want to cut off the blood flow, that would end things too quickly. “I suppose we’ll have to see.”


The man’s broken limbs twitched, but none lifted to fight back. The armor’s internal musculature had been ripped apart, it couldn’t save him. For all the power, this armor was now nothing more than several hundred pounds of dead weight pulling down against the man’s spine.

Eyes bulged, the broken man's face turned bright red. Then a shade of purple. To’Aacar could hear the little heart beat inside the man, fast like a rabbit. He could almost taste the fear and pain.


The twitching continued even after the heartbeat had stopped, a full four minutes later. “It seems the human spine is more structurally sound than I had thought.” The feather said, letting go of the dead body. It flopped down on the ground, a mix of heavy metal and bloody sounds. “I am impressed by your backbone, captain. You are dismissed.”

To’Accar turned and walked to his throne, where he sat down, as if tired from the minor ordeal. He flexed his left hand. Opening and closing it slowly, watching the dead man’s blood drip away from the metal fingertips, drop by drop. Watching all the circuits correctly move without fault and the floating plates lazily moved in their predictable paths.

His right hand remained limp. Despite the physical shell being perfectly intact.

Anytime he tried to send internal digital probes to scan the arm, it fell away, like sand in his palm. As if the arm wasn’t there. No arm could be recreated, Atius had severed the concept of a right arm from his soul. That would take some time to regenerate.

It didn’t matter now. By the time the Deathless returned, the hand would have healed as well. Two could play at this game of soul cutting. He would have to thank his old friend for giving him the idea. Silly man, thinking he'd won by secreting away his sword right before death. That only spurred To'Aacar to look under every rock and mite until he'd found the secret. Defeat was insufferable. The Deathless had to die, and it had to be in the same manner that he'd insulted To'Aacar with.

At least the rest of the plans had gone well, those had been well and prepared ahead of time, ready to execute at a moment’s notice with no missing pieces. Atius had been cleanly taken out of the picture, even if the wily old Deathless had managed to kill off both his assassins post-death somehow.

Not surprising. That one was clever, but all the world’s cleverness wasn’t going to save an old man forever. Two bugs in exchange for knocking the largest threat off the game board for a half year at the very least. A good trade.

But he wasn’t interested in just killing Atius a few more times. The man needed to suffer.

A smile drifted on his features as he imagined the Deathless’s reaction on his return. Only to find his precious clan crushed to pieces, scattered around, and hunted down like the dogs that they were. He’d cut off his right hand, and so To’Aacar would cut everything the man had ever loved or cared for. And it still didn’t feel like an equal enough trade for his right hand.

The lady’s orders, on the other hand, had been set back. There was far more trouble than anticipated in trying to get either of the Winterscars chained up and brought down before him. The sister had outright vanished under some secret mission, leaving only the boy as a target. The feather watched the replay again of the fight, more out of idle boredom. Despite the number advantage, the little human had managed to beat them all back. And more interestingly, he seemed to have become a sorcerer in the meantime. It’s been centuries since he’d seen one of their kind, dangerous that.

Worse, the boy could fight while casting more complex spells. That was something he hadn't seen since his early years. It would have worried the Feather, except this was a simple human. Nothing like those old monsters from his era.

To’Aacar would need to move faster, secure the human before he began to meddle too much with those fractals. Out on the surface, the clan might end up as a blasted crater without any help from To’Aacar at all - and that would include the boy. The lady had very specifically instructed him to extract everything the two Winterscars knew. Him dying early was not part of his orders, otherwise he’d simply laugh and let the enemy kill themselves with friendly fire.

Well. To’Aacar supposed he would have to hunt down the little runt himself. It would be a chore to put in that much effort for a human of all things, but in the end, he’d rather stoop to that level than to be tortured by the lady’s whims. His left hand twitched, flexing the fingers in a nervous tick. The metal plates spun around faster, reacting to his agitation. It galled him to consider that he needed to exert any amount of discretion but without his right hand, it was… possible for a large number of surface knights to surround and destroy his shell. He'd be forced to use his full fractal suite to fight off humans, and having to tap into weapons reserved for greater opponents would be insufferable. Admitting defeat in all but name. The last time he'd made full use of the fractal powers was against Feathers, true opponents that deserved his best.

Undersiders wouldn’t have troubled him with his martial might, even in numbers. Surface knights however were trained to fight humanoid targets, and his shell was just such a target. Atius was a far more dangerous Deathless purely on weapon skills compared to the Deathless that only learned the imperial style.

Worse if all the surface knights were as fast as this little human. The last time he’d been on the surface and fought against knights, they were nowhere near this quick. The boy was moving faster than Atius, consistently as well. It would be like having to deal with an Imperial imperator, except using spells all the while. A more interesting battle, but ultimately harmless any other day - when he wasn't crippled. If the unthinkable happened and his shell was destroyed, a replacement wouldn’t arrive in time.

The fight paused in his view, and he rewound it back to the beginning, watching again to verify details.

He needed to be careful. Humans were tenacious little monsters. Dealing with the boy personally would require a delicate touch. There were plenty of far more expendable humans for the task, slavers and raiders of all kinds would do anything he demanded if he offered armor in exchange, and they had the same training as the clan knights. Not as religiously militant about it clearly given the skill difference between the boy and his targets, but that was what numbers were for.

He slunk further into the throne and powered down his shell, not needing it for some time. At least, not until the Winterscar was brought to him. Or that he needed to go fetch the boy in the end. He had unfinished business with his little sister. It was time for a family reunion.

The virtual world manifested around To’Aacar, replacing the dim underground of the real world. Simple pillars surrounded him, marbled with no other features. His throne remained the same, all the textures identical, fooling his senses into believing he’d stayed right where he was and the world had changed around him. In a manner of speaking, it had.

Ahead, he saw who he’d come here for. She looked like a nervous wreck this time.

Last time she had been an empty headed machine, filled with nothing but numbers and textbooks, little more than a calculator with pretty wings. He'd hurled insult after insult, and she'd simply been too dim to understand. Today she looked like she’d had that empty head of hers filled with too much. Eyes shifting around, hands opening and closing, breaths not quite taken in good rhythm. Either she’d given too much control to her subroutines without notice or she was trying to fool him into thinking something else.

He didn’t know what game she was playing at and suspected there was no game at all. The little feather was feeling the aftereffects of being killed by a human - again. Given her name, it must be tearing her apart on the inside.

“Why hello, little sister. You look troubled.” He said in a jovial tone. “Did the tiny humans underground scare you? Oh, my poor girl. Would you like dear elder brother to come pick you up? Hush all the demons away and scold the bad humans for you?”

“There was a setback, yes.” She admitted, carefully. “However, I do not need your assistance as of this moment.”

“A setback.” To’Aacar repeated, unimpressed. “You died. To humans.”

A feather - machine forms built to hunt down gods and demi-gods, getting killed by humans. Disgraceful. He had no idea how humans could have killed a feather, but somehow this dimwit had managed it. Had she run headfirst into a cannon and then tripped on her own swords? He didn’t know and he didn’t care to find out, the answer would likely infuriate him further. “It seems your master plan of stealing a human’s skills is shaping up well for you. Good job. I can’t wait to see how the lady will react to this recent chain of events.” He wasn’t lying either on that front. He'd gone all the way as to spare the soul fractal he'd found in that bunker, just for her. And this was what came of it.

Perhaps, in a perverse way, not ripping that bunker into pieces to vent out his frustrations had indeed been the better play. To’Aacar was quite delighted at the prospect of what the lady would mettle out to his little sister. Although, he was upset that the lady hadn’t yet bothered to read his reports. Not a single response from her since the original mission briefing. Such pleasantry would have to wait. Relinquished was far too busy jousting with that annoyance, Tsuya, halfway across the world in some distant fight or another, as usual.

A pity. Mother and her obsession with that human AI.

“It is a temporary setback.” To’Wrathh defended. “I’ll have a new shell soon and will continue my task.”

“Which task was that again?" He asked, in mock sincerity. Then rose his hand to stop her reply. "Wait, don’t tell me, allow your dear elder brother a chance to dust his poor memory.” He gave a surprised gasp a moment after, as if he’d just had the realization. “Was it that task where you’re supposed to destroy the city? The task I specifically left for you to accomplish? The only task I left you to do? That task?” He leaned on his spear, annoyed even inside the virtual world he still couldn’t move his right hand. “Well. How’s that going for you my treasured little sister? Tell me all of your wonderful progress, I could use the good news. I am in quite the mood today.”

She flinched, and darted her eyes away, as if anything else in this barren would could catch her attention. Of course she didn’t need to inform him of anything. The reports were easy to access when he sent out an order for them. The machines on the first level obeyed To’Wrathh now, but they still obeyed his commands as well by right of rule.

“It is all under control.” She said, far too quickly. “Everything is going according to plan. Except for my recent death, which will be rectified.”

“Oh dear, oh dear.” To’Aacar said. “You haven’t even taken a single step inside their city have you?”

“That isn’t yet required according to my plan.” She said. “I have already surrounded their city and taken over their tower fortification. Trade has been blocked, as well as any escape. I intend to demand their surrender, and then--”

“Just slaughter them.” To’Aacar said, waving his hand lazily, as if brushing off dust. “Enough playing games with the humans, squash them out. I left you an army for a reason. I don’t want your vapid prattling, I want results. It’s already an embarrassment that you were killed by mere humans. Destroy this city and get out of my way once you’re done.”

She nodded, still avoiding his gaze. He gave her a lingering glare before turning around and walking back to this throne, sitting lazily upon it again.

She’s acting odd, To’Accar thought. Too meek for a feather. His kind did not do meek. Dying must have shook her to the core, more than he realized. Repeating her history rather than transcending beyond it. Outright going against her name within the first month of her life. No wonder she was behaving like an aberration.

“It will be done.” She said, nearly stumbling over her own words in haste. “The city will be under my command, soon. I will carry out my duties as Relinquished orders. I promise I will not fail again. I will remain faithful to my duties.”

“Of course.” To’Aacar rolled his eyes. “I’m filled with certainty that you won’t disappoint again.”

The world went black as he disconnected the session with disgust.

Begging and pleading for more time, like some human late on an assignment and about to be executed for it. Where was her pride? Where was her anger? Feathers never once doubted their path. Failure simply added to their fury. Anytime he had failed in the past, he had taken it as a personal insult, seeking not only to balance the scale but push it as far the other way as possible. He hadn’t seen any of that from her, only apologies and empty promises.

How such a miserable creature could be related to the glory that was his kind filled him with confusion.

No, he wasn’t going to give any of this a chance. Better to verify than to trust. He wouldn’t let her incompetence drag him further into the shit with Relinquished.

The feather scanned through his timeline and found a suitable window to return down underground and verify that the human city was burned and crushed.

In the end, if he wanted things done right, To’Aacar would just have to do them himself.

Next chapter - Chapter 1 - No time to lose