They called her Mhyrra and they were mostly not wrong. They yelled that name to order her to come out and that she would not do: she had been holed up for a while and she was about to run out of bullets. She thought of her sister and she hoped, hoped, hoped beyond hope that her vessel had safely reached the Path before the Civis managed to intercept her. She sat; the floor was grimy and dusty and she hated that with the fury of a million suns, the whole room, the entire mausoleum: but its walls were stone and the bullets could not get through, not until they finally had enough and decided to bring the armours here.
She almost peeked when a hail of bullets managed to find the tiny crack she opened in the door, the one she was firing through. They struck the glass at the end of the hallway, but the nanoreinforcing would not be defeated by that. It could not be defeated by anything remotely resembling that. "You could, you know—", said whatever was behind the glass; the white of her tattered uniform almost shone in the twilight, bits and pieces of fabric at her feet; looking at her, you couldn't tell if the yellowing was just the passage of time, or if that uniform still held any of its gold inlay. But it was decades removed from the uniform worn by the invaders outside.
The autochthon girl they called Mhyrra peeked, her lips a prayer, and then shot at the Civis siege outside the door until her last clip ran out, and then cursed.
The body of the old Civic hierarch laughed with a crystalline laugh behind the reinforced glass. "You're just like your mother, Teti," she said, calling her by her real name, her intimate name, and not the formal name she used with everyone else, "you hate and you hate and then you come crawling back here when—"
"Shut the fuck up, wretched thing," hissed Mhyrra. "Or if you have to talk, at least say something that will help us, because your fucking grandsons are at the door." And if I go, there will be no one for you to tease and tempt, she thought, and then remembered her mother at the vessel dock screaming at her to run, and Mhyrra leaving her there and running for safety as the Civis vessels dropped their troops, and did some serious work to push it down, down, down, for later. For when she would walk out of here. Alive.
"Oh, Civic soldiers, aren't they?", said the shade into the white jacket, and the tone was not different, but something in it — even Mhyrra turned her head, despite the danger outside — like the temperature in the room had dropped several degrees by steps with each of those words. "Hm. I'd rather not."
More bullets hitting stones, then a shout and a series of metallic bounces — on the door, on the ground, rolling away. Then the grenade, exploding: enough to open the heavy stone doors another smidge and for what little of the shockwave made through to throw her on the ground.
"Kid… now is not the time to be picky," said the mouth of the old body.
Mhyrra looked at it.
"I don't want them here any more than you—"
"What can you do?"
"Let me out a—"
"No. What — can — you — do. If you don't like them you will help me. No tricks, no deals, no questions."
"My, my." The eye sockets narrowed. "I can take them, and I can turn them into dust, provided you — and I — are close enough."
"I do that. I come back here. Then we figure out how to help my mother. Okay?"
The shade chuckled. "But, but, Teti, why would I help you—"
"That or the Civis. And it looks to me you're not keen on them taking you." Outside, the heavy rhythmic crashes of an armour walking started to land closer, and closer, and—
"FINE," bellowed the gestalt, and the dust in the mausoleum jumped despite the glass and the heavy warding. Some of it started swirling, coalescing, congealing, right in front of the glass. "Take me; bring me closer."
Mhyrra sung the song of her mother, and of her mother before her, the song of her people dispelling the trouble, the song of the nanos building a ward around her hand, then took the newly formed black, throbbing stone in front of her, and returned to the door, counting down under her breath — breath, breath, breath, go, and she ran outside, ducking behind more cover, then lobbing the stone like a grenade — it shattered, covering everyone in black, sticky, suffocating dust, making them explode into more dust, the Centurion unit turning from white to streaks of black, like marble, like—
It was later, when this all was done, that she barely heard her personal comm buzz — a call from… her sister's ship? Did it turn back toward the colony?
"Teti?!" The viewport had her sister and her mother in it — thank you spirits, thank you thank you — alive and safe.
MAYA?, she said.
"Teti! Yes! It's— Teti? Spirits, what have— what happened—"
MOM, I'M SORRY, she vibrated.
She turned the comm to show what remained of the Civis soldiers littering the battlefield, bodies piled on each other, their wounds blackened, frayed edges. Then she looked again at her screen. They tried to hold her gaze as she looked at them, but her eyes and mouth were dark and gleaming with swirls of dust, and they hurt to watch, even through comms.
She had spent the better part of two hours pushing the large glass cube containing the rest of the entity her expanded family made a pact with, forty years ago, the dying Civis soldier that crash-landed into their field and died and the thing that sprouted from it — pushed out of its pedestal, then rolling on improvised tumbling logs, out of the mausoleum, closer to a Civic armour that was now black — gleaming, shining in a way that also hurt the eyes—
MOM, I THINK IT'S BETTER IF I GO, Mhyrra said, and her voice buzzed, disquieting. She closed the comms, boarded the armour and used it to lift the glass cube into its cargo attachment in one swooping motion.
It feels better this way. It was a command and a truth and a will and she had to reject it, to remain just herself, and at that she coughed, bending over the console, coughing the rest of the dust out as her will pushed the devil out, turned whatever she had become more into herself. It feels— "No, shut the–" (cough. cough, cough, cough. hack.) "–th-the fuck up."
This unit had nanospace flight, and she thanked the spirits again: a flick of a switch (how did she know how to drive this? a residual from—?) and the unit entered off-atmo configuration, covering the cargo attachment with the flight shell, and they flew up, together.
"It looks like," the body said, "we are together on this one."
"You're wrong again," said Mhyrra. "You are in my cargo hold. One wrong move and I throw you into the closest star."
"… I just thought, and stop me if I'm wrong here, that you're on the run, have taken the one thing your people have kept secret from your little Council for decades, the one thing that protected you from Civic assault, and you have no way to defend yourself out here, T—"
"Mhyrra to you."
"Sure, sure. Mhyrra. You can jettison me. But I can help protect you."
"Well, you better do that, because I'm heading right for the Civic fleet that just attacked us."
The Seta Mahan know the devil; they have known her for a long, long while. Mhyrra of Massi of Mayan had never liked her, had never liked the way the dead one in the glass wormed her way into the adult council's decision. That's why Sirrha, the Sirrha of Massi of Mayan — to her closest acquaintances Maya second-born, sister of Teti, to all the chosen Councilwoman of the colony — never knew about the fact that the Mausoleum of War was anything but an elaborate tomb for inert remains. Very few of them knew the truth: the eldest in each family, and then, only after rigorous training. But they all lost to it, in time. All made this or that pact, all wanted this or that year's crop to survive, and all who did woke up to black lung and darkened eye before passing away.
Mhyrra dreamed of the day she could kill whatever was in there, figure out the way, to end the temptation and the slaughter.
They used to call the devil Anastasi and they would be, at this point, very wrong. Anastasi Samar Vanta was a woman forty years dead: the devil just grew out of her—
"—That's not fair," whispered suddenly the devil into Mhyrra's thoughts, "I did retain myself, in here." And when she smiled — Mhyrra saw her through the cargo camera — the nano she has corrupted, that forms the horrible dust that for long hours was in her lungs shimmered briefly before returning black. "I just want to see how long you last, you know? You're, well, the longest so far."
Mhyrra didn't talk back, that time. She thought, like she was taught, thoughts away from the surface, away from the devil's reach, hoping to trick her again, and perhaps later again, and again, and again, however many times it took to have a hope of doing some damage, and perhaps, she dared hope with all the defiance she possessed, even staying alive.