PROLOGUE: Tipping Point

Meager's Pub
In a thinning patch of space, adrift in the Steel Realms, far outside of any Corporate influence, there is an Island. This tiny patch of dirt and stone is called Meager's Rock. There are a few inhabitants that reside permanently on the Island, mostly as poor proprietors of any business that can survive on the traffic of couriers, scouts, and exiles. This is a quiet place, nearly empty most of the time, and often forgotten about. Only a few souls travel to Meager's Rock, and even fewer stay for more than a Cycle.

Meager's Pub is a two story establishment, built like an open teahouse, nestled into the bedrock along a street of vendor stalls and matte metal buildings. The Vidscreens and neon outside it's slate gray walls leave a liquid-oil smear of colors on any surface not dingy enough to reflect light. Inside the open ceiling is a relaxing change from crowded and narrow passages of the Rock, often muddled with too many people passing through, carried on rickshaws and Swoops. The air is thick with sweat and the scent of spice rich cooking.

Into the Pub there came two, looking for a third. In one corner was the noted mercenary and armored soldier, Yuri Dragonov. His helmet off, his back leaned against a stout iron support beam, and a cup of something strong enough to varnish a ship in his hand. Meeting him are his companions, the Elemental Priest, Kassad, who's traditional garb mark him as a man of the Seed Realms, and the artificially born Hunter Mark 411. Hunter, found by Yuri and Kassad, is a mystery as much to himself as he is to others. The very folds of space can be bent by the technology that made him. And whoever is responsible for such engineering is now long lost to the Decimation, though other Hunters have been found in the past. Often to less than peaceful exchanges.

Their goal is simple: Sit for a while, and wait for a fourth to join them. The stranger only left one name: Spectre.

Wood and Metal
Spectre did not arrive. Instead the group was interrupted by a memory. Varek, a tall, fierce young man dressed in another Elemental Robe, slapped one hand on Kassad's shoulder. When the two looked at each other there was a moment of quiet that lead quickly to confusion. Before Kassad's companions could react the two took their stances, and a battle erupted. The first blow to leave wounds knocked Varek to the ground…

The Tree That Was Broken
Years before, on the Island training grounds where Kassad took his vows, the first wound was struck. Varek had asked five to meet. A sworn Five, sacred as the Five Elements. Kassad was the first to arrive. The first to learn that the fifth of their group would not join them. Varek's sister was dead, taken in the war with the Drone. If Kassad's heart broke at the news, it did not show. Indeed his resolve did not waver, even when Varek explained his reason for calling the others. He was leaving, forsaking the order, to join a separate sect whose views were more in line with his growing rage. Before Kassad could react the rest of the circle arrived.

Their oldest master, the elder Sai Po, and their now youngest member, the wind-spirited Katrina came to the sacred kairn with the same expectations, though each with different reactions. Katrina, who's heart was given secretly to Kassad, was leaving with Varek. Sai Po, too set in his ways, was willing to allow the rest of the circle to make whatever choices they felt necessary. The elder would remain, the younger would follow the defector. And so all eyes turned to Kassad.

He would not leave. And so those who lived were split in two.

Where Everybody Knows Your Name
If the brawl between Varek and Kassad had not frightened people out of Meager's Pub, the next to arrive certainly would. The waitress screamed for an end to the fighting. And most of the travelers began to flee. But as the room cleared one man stood quietly, laughing, and slowly strode to the edge of the melee.

Looking to the side Yuri's eyes narrowed as his visor identified the primary target. Gravus, noted mercenary and gunslinger, tipped up his wide-brimmed hat and grinned at the soldier.

Dragonov wasted no time. His arms ejected cannons, and the entire room filled with thunder.

The End of a Good Thing
Years earlier. A Drone Dragon rises up over the horizon, black as the starless night and billowing coal-red energy, blotting out the stars and swooping over the rocky landscape of an Island Mining Colony. A small band of heroes running for their life from it's chasing shadow begin to tail behind as two quickened scouts rush back to prep their ship for takeoff. The first is Gravus, followed only a pace behind by Aseeka, who turns to look back to her friends, and shout an encouraging word. But her voice is drowned out by the whine of engines, and before she can scream a warning Yuri recognizes the fear in her face. It is not the oncoming beast that hunts them, it's the smattering of tiny explosives Gravus left in his wake. A series of fireballs billow up, swallowing the ship. Aseeka vanishes in the fire, which lasts just long enough for the crew to stand up, and see their ship, with Gravus alone at it's helm, rocketing into the sky.

Two Houses, Both Alike in Dignity
Gravus and Varek each dance with their opponent, while the ever calculating Hunter Mark 411 observes with analytical interest. Save for the waitress and her barman master, the Pub is empty. But only for a moment.

To one end there appears the elder forces of the Oakenheart family. The father Elemental, Meráthes Oakenheart, has come to the Pub in his Tree Form, bringing with him a great granite boulder, and his most righteous aid, the Archeress Brekka, whose allegiance seems tied somehow to the unconscious Varek. To the opposite end there arrives the trio whose vice called this meeting. Vexetor, slave to the Dronelord Praxemus, held the chain collar that choked Meráthes' daughter, Emerellia, into his submission. With him was the rogue scientest Doctor Bester, who had brought a swarm of spider-drones to help intimidate their opposition. At their side was the greatest mystery of the three. An obvious Hunter Mark. This model older, but still obviously similar to 411. All were eager to protect their companion, Gravus, who had managed to stave off Yuri's attack long enough for the meeting to begin.

The violence paused. Vexetor asked Oakenheart for the exchange. Oakenheart, wary and weary, showed a wooden case with three Elderseeds inside, the price for the reclamation of Emerellia.

The calculations came to a halt. Hunter Mark 411 looked up, and in a sudden movement unpredictable and unstoppable, threw his hat toward the trapped girl. It's cone-shape twisted in, vanishing through a portal within the metal ring that formed it's brim. The portal traveled over the girl, swallowed her, and than returned, to swallow Hunter.

The room was still for only a moment. Then the betrayal was assumed by both sides, and each party rushed to battle.

Favors and Farewell
In the end Gravus escaped into the alleys of Meager's Rock. Vexetor was beaten to broken parts and black blood, buried under half of the Pub, which was nearly caved in. Bester was thrown into a cellar, his spider-drones all but consumed by elemental tree-dogs summoned by Meráthes. Emerellia was in fact safe the entire time, and returned to her father unharmed, by the patient Hunter Mark 411. Brekka carried away the unconscious Varek, with a scowl at Kassad for landing the blow that incapacitated him. And the elder Elemental, Meráthes Oakenheart, used his ancient powers to rebuild the Pub as a place of natural shape and beauty. As a parting gift he gave to Kassad a single leaf, bight green, and imbued with special powers.


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