Styx: 044

Xavier reflexively dodged sideways—realizing only after he did so that he'd moved away from the wall of weapons, but then again he was more likely to hurt himself than someone else if he had gone for one. Princess cocked several vines up over and around his head, poised to strike out. He hadn't meant to move, but although he was expecting to be in some kind of danger, he had not anticipated coming up against someone who radiated such cold, killing intent right off the bat.

The robot or golem or whatever it was simply adjusted its course. Xavier was really bad at split second movements in combat situations, evidently, and had dodged too early.

Then again, although the thing had taken him by surprise, this fight had been won as soon as he walked in the room and saw the absurd glow of nima flowing through the construct. As he sidestepped yet again in a futile effort to put space between him and the rapidly advancing mobile artifact, Xavier stretched out his hand, grabbed at the air in front of him, and pulled. He still didn't have a good way to describe the sensation, even after training at it with Princess for hours on their trip south. It was like there was a campfire a step or two ahead of him, but instead of huddling up close to it himself, he grabbed it with his mind.

The mechanical person skidded to a halt, throwing up an arm, and nima absolutely cascaded out of it, slamming into Xavier in such a torrent that he stumbled slightly. The thing's arm, suddenly devoid of nima, collapsed downward to hang uselessly at its side. Princess's vines quivered, but she made no move to lash out; the creature was still just outside of her strike zone.

«Enough,» said the machine person in a surprisingly expressive voice, raising its remaining hand palm outward. «This is clearly my loss. What a fascinating ability you possess.»

It stilled, eyes dilating slightly as its gaze tracked across Princess and Xavier.

«What are you?» asked Xavier, not rising from the partial crouch he'd fallen into as he stabilized his position. «Who are you? Why did you attack me?»

«I am Guujin. I am the leader of this chapter of the Society for Progress. I attack every potential entrant when I first meet them.»

«Why the hell would you do that?»

The thing—Guujin-sama, he supposed, based on what Kahina had said—cocked its head at him. «Organics tend to react on base instinct under threat. It is useful data, and provides me some insight into the unconscious thought processes underlying their more complex behavioral patterns. It also permits me to eliminate the occasional threat to myself.» It took a step forward.

"Tell him no closer!" snapped Princess, and Xavier reflexively dropped back into the crouch he'd been straightening out of.

«Stop there!»

Guujin stilled, glancing between Princess—who had never dropped her vines—and Xavier. «Is that creature infesting you?»

«No.» Given Princess's hostile attitude, Xavier was reticent to prove the point, however. «You can verify with Orion-san, Kahina-san, or either of my other companions. But she doesn't trust you, and I'm not sure I should, either.»

«Intelligent and with an accurate grasp of non-human psychology. More interesting still.» Guujin abruptly swiveled on its heel, walked across the room, and pulled a chair that Xavier had not previously noticed away from the wall, sitting down. «Come. Approach me as close as you are comfortable. You represent an existential threat to my well-being, but I will not attempt to terminate you.»

"What did he just say?" Xavier muttered.

"He believes we're a threat to his life, but he's not going to kill us."

Right. Because that certainly made him less nervous. "What do you think?"

Princess slowly lowered her vines, but instead of wrapping themselves up near her body as per usual, she draped them over Xavier's shoulders, clearly ready to move at a moment's notice. "I've never seen an artifact capable of speech. From a nima composition standpoint, that thing is drastically more complicated than a human. I haven't seen that sort of nima manipulation outside of the occasional kami. I am unsure if seeking help from the Society of Progress is worth the risk of staying near that thing, particularly since we are uniquely suited to destroy it."

"Do you think it can attack at range?"

"I am unsure what it can do. It was definitely not moving at full speed just now. Based on how the nima was flowing, maybe it could move twice as fast if it wanted?"

"Faster than you?"

"Possibly. I would prefer you stand out of arm's reach, but within range of my vines and with the arm of that chair between it and us."

"Understood." Xavier advanced, looping around slightly so that he was at Guujin's side with the arm of the chair between them. Guujin didn't move, except to turn its head to track him.

«Caution. Tactical thinking. Oral communication in a language I have no record of hearing before. Mental responses. Teamwork. Willingness to extend temporary trust in the face of potential threat.»

«You're still evaluating me?» said Xavier in surprise.

«I am constantly evaluating everything,» said Guujin.


Guujin cocked its head again. Xavier wasn't sure how to read into that. The complete lack of normal expressions or body language was making him jittery, though he thought the gesture was intended to convey interest or surprise. «I am what you might call a very advanced artifact. I do not have millennia of instinctual responses encoded in my basic behavior and thus must operate differently than organics.»

Shit, he'd been right about it being a robot. And based on the way it was interacting with him, it was a far more advanced robot than anything his reality had been able to create.

«So what's your conclusion about me? Are you willing to give me a place to live, help me out?»

«Our interaction has been inconclusive.» Guujin shifted and Princess tensed, but the robot simply settled back against the back of the chair. «Orion was right that you possess many traits which would benefit the Society, and which interest me personally. I am curious about your origin and the language you were speaking to the mononoke. However, I am personally not a threat to you. Orion failed to convey that, or I would have observed you under an alternate source of threat. I am not certain whether you represent long-term gain for the society or long-term danger to me. What are your plans, mononoke?»

"I go where Xavier goes," said Princess, and Xavier relayed that.

«Very well. I will interview your companions, deliberate with the senior members, and provide you further intelligence tomorrow.» Guujin made a slight humming sound, and Xavier saw the nima deep in his chest swirl against its normal current and do—something. He had no idea what.

«Please exit out the door you entered,» said Guujin. «I will remain here to allay your fears, and Hinata will show you to a guest room where you may rest and refresh yourself.»

Well, that wasn't quite as good as he'd hoped, but it was better than having the thing attack him again or throw him out on his ear. «Thank you.» It took a bit of an effort, but Xavier took a deep breath and turned his back on Guujin as he walked to the door at the far side of the room. Princess swiveled her stalk to keep the robot in sight the entire way, though, which made him feel better.

He really hoped he would get a chance to track down Kahina and interrogate her about this whole weird setup. He wasn't sure what he'd been expecting, but the leader of the chapter house being a robot was definitely not it.