Part 19: RetrievalWith the monster-infested Grig Orig defeated at last, Edge flies back to his camp outside the Seekers' Stronghold where the dragon pup is impatiently waiting for their return. He wearily slides off Roderick's neck and gives the great dragon a pat, then suddenly remembers that he is not the only one returning from a battle - the seekers had to deal with a monster invasion on their own!
Dashing across the bridge, he enters the stronghold proper, where he immediately sees a confirmation of his fears - three long bundles wrapped in blankets line the walls of the entry chamber, where the healer Ladha is standing, praying over the corpses. He begins to inquire of Ladha who fell in battle, but before he can get the question out of his mouth, Ladha is already speaking.
Edge's heart feels like it is about to rip in half. In the chaos of the battle, could Azel have been...killed?
Ladha: I hope she's still alive.
Wait, what? What's going on? Did she go missing during the fighting? A bit further in, Edge finds Gash - hopefully the seekers' leader will be a bit more helpful.
Edge: What? Where did she go?
Gash: I'm sorry, it's my fault. She left when I was gone. I should have had someone stay with her.
Edge: Gone!? But where?
Gash: She is the key that opens the Tower. She knew we wanted to go there.
Edge: To her, that's the place where Craymen died.
Gash: I know. Do you think she'll do anything foolish?
Edge: I'll go look for her right now.
Gash: Good luck, kid!
Thankfully, Azel turns out to be not dead, or missing - in fact, she's run away. But where? Edge tries to think...if *he* were a reanimated synthetic drone created thousands of years ago whose sole purpose was to operate a device that manipulates enviromental conditions, *he* had just been woken up after said thousands of years by someone who he considered a savior who he had then inadvertently managed to kill while attempting to save his life, and *he* had ended up in the custody of a group of people who wanted to use him to destroy the devices that he is supposed to control...where would he go?
With a snap of his fingers, Edge has it. He'll go ask Zadoc, since he has no fucking clue!
Edge: What makes you say that?
Zadoc: Uru is the origin of our world, and it's the homeland of the drones.
Edge: Drones... Synthetic humans, like Azel?
Zadoc: Actually, drones are not human, but you are correct... There is a drone plant buried deep beneath Uru. She must return to the plant beneath Uru in order to survive.
As Edge walks back across the bridge on the way to Roderick, he realizes that he knows exactly where the drone plant is, and flies straight there post haste:
This spot, in the ruins of Uru. The place where Edge found the numerous data plinths that revealed to him the secrets of the D Units, the Light Wing, and the Drone program. Azel must be here.
Speeding past the plinths this time and through the door, he sees a group of mutants congregating at the far end of the chamber, and dread overwhelms Edge.
With a swoosh of air and a scream from Roderick, Edge engages the mutants, most of which take to flight at the mere sight of our heroes. The few that stick around are mere fodder for the might of the dragon, and Edge, sick with fear, heads straight for Azel.
To his great relief, she is still alive, and responds to his calling of her name. Gently pulling her off her damaged floater, he helps her onto Roderick's back with him and leaves the ruins, heading for his camping spot in the woods, not wanting to return Azel to the Seekers' Stronghold against her will.
Azel: Yes... I'm sorry, I didn't want you to worry.
Edge: Isn't that where you were born?
Azel: That's what I thought... But that, too, is not true.
Azel: I was not born...
Edge: Let's go back, Azel. I won't let Gash hurt you. We can trust him.
Before they leave, Edge wants to talk to Azel for a bit longer, without the influence of Gash or any of the other seekers.
About the Tower
Azel: The Tower... It will enslave the world...
Edge: How do you know that?
Azel: Once I am synchronized, I can sense what the Tower is doing.
Edge: Can you stop the Tower from here?
Azel: No... I must have contact. But... I...
Edge: Yeah, I know...
Azel: The Tower is fully awake now. It's all my fault...
Edge: What do you know about Sestren?
Azel: I know the name, but I do not know any details. My role was to control the Tower.
Edge: I'm sorry about what happened to Craymen...
Azel: Why? Was he not your enemy?
Edge: I thought so at first... But honestly, I don't know anymore. So many people died in these battles. In the end, Craymen's death didn't solve anything.
Azel: He was someone very special to me. I want you to understand that...
Edge: You've changed... You're like a different person.
Edge: Before, you had no emotions. You...even seemed lifeless at times.
Azel: That's normal for drones. But I'm a very special type of drone.
Azel: Yes. Custom made to merge with the Tower. That's why I can feel the Tower's thoughts.
Edge: I see... Someday soon, you may understand your human emotions...
Edge: Oh...did I say something wrong?
Azel: Oh no, I just don't know how to answer that. But I did feel something...
Edge: I see... You'll understand those feelings...some day.
Azel: My thought patterns are very similar to humans. Only my body is different...
Azel trails off, her thoughts (such as they are) off in the distance. After a moment, she finds herself wondering about Edge's particular difference between himself and other humans.
Azel: How do you become as one?
Edge: As one with what?
Azel: With your dragon.
Edge: I can't do anything like that. I'm just a passenger on his back.
Azel: But... There is something special between you and your dragon. Some sort of unique bond exists...
Edge: (It must have been tough for Azel to lose Atolm.)
As their talk winds on the light begins to fade, and Edge appears antsy to return to the Seekers. However, he is also worried that Azel has yet to resign herself to rejoining them. Sensing this with a perspicacity that surprises her, she speaks up to reassure him.
Azel: It's all right...I will not run away again.
Some people were good to me, but they were all killed by the Tower. Now they are all gone...
I slept for thousands of years, until that man woke me. But, in the darkness... I.... I felt as if I had seen you before.
Edge: We met once at the excavation site, when you were still sleeping.
Azel: After that vision, ...no, dream...I... I felt strange...
Edge: What? Are you feeling all right?
Azel: No, that's not it... This is different.
Edge: Hmm... Perhaps, somehow, you became one with the Tower?
Edge: Azel... I'm sorry. I didn't mean...
Azel: It's all right...perhaps you are correct.
Edge: ...And how do you feel?
Azel: It's as if I was awakened abruptly. Maybe even violently. I'm not in any pain... but...I feel so afraid.
I'm still afraid of the Tower... but I can't stay like this forever. I need to know what happened.
Edge: (I've got to end this soon...for her sake as well!)
Returning to the stronghold, Edge leaves Azel at the camp, in order to make sure that things are smoothed over with Gash and the seekers first. Upon arriving, Edge meets up with Ladha, who informs him that a funeral service for the seekers who fell in battle against the monsters is being held soon, and invites him to attend. Nodding gravely, Edge accepts.
We've got to abandon this base, and rebuild somewhere else... Will you come with us?
Gash: Without any fire power, what can we do? All is lost. I can't go after Sestren. Protecting the people of this village comes first. We've lost this time, but we'll have another chance.
Edge is not surprised that Gash is giving up so easily...the attack of the monsters has crippled the seekers greatly, and he still is in charge of those who remain.
Edge, however, has nothing left to lose.
I know the dragon wants to go too...if I go to the Tower, I can lure the monsters away. Gash, you'll have time to escape. When I'm gone...
Gash: Azel is still...
As Gash voices his concern for Azel (and thus, indirectly, for Edge), he is suddenly interrupted by a soft voice coming out of the shadows on the periphery of the bonfire.
Azel: I'm going too.
...I'm not risking my life because it was my duty thousands of years ago. What Craymen believed, and what these men say...I don't know which is true.
As Azel turns to return to the camp, Gash recognizes that the resolve of these two, who are practically children (but who can no longer be considered children), is as strong as he has seen in his years on his world, and are not to be denied. Drawing himself up as tall as his stature allows, he offers a farewell to Edge that he would offer any other man.
Gash: Do you remember the valley where we met for the first time?
Gash: If you live through this, meet me there.
A final, solemn hand pound, and Edge is gone.