Awv stalked along the exterior of the palace walls. It was late in the day, the light golden, but it had not yet begun to cool. His armor protected him from many things, but not the stink of his own sweat. It wasn’t just the heat, though; it was the nerves. He’d been trailing a hunter all day. And not just any hunter: Lady Quant.
Or at least he was pretty sure it was Lady Quant. There was no consensus on what she looked like, or even if she was a woman. But this hunter, Awv had seen her appear at dawn like she stepped out from an invisible door. Just came out of nowhere. No one in the ‘verse, in rumor or in truth, could move like that as far as he knew. No one but that fabled outlaw among outlaws, Lady Quant.
He stood beside the open palace gate and tried to steady his breathing, but it came out in a stutter like a cape flapping in the wind. He’d walked the palace ruins a hundred times, he told himself. He had the home advantage, not to mention surprise. But he found himself unconvinced. Screw it. Awv popped around the corner with his quench rifle up and sidled quickly inside.
There she was, huddled over one of the guards. Dead robot, just like all the other bodies in the palace, rusting away for the better part of a century. What could Lady Quant possibly want with one of those? Awv closed in on the hunter. He was maybe twenty paces away.
“What do you want?” she asked without turning from her task. Awv stopped dead in his tracks. She only had a facemask, not a full helmet—a messy bun of black hair was exposed—but the mask must have had a vocoder because her voice was digitally duplicated with a tritone that made her sound demonic.
“Who are you?”
He could see her head shake. “Is that really why you’ve been following me all day? To check my ID?”
He stood straighter and lowered his rifle slightly. “You knew?”
She laughed, a sound like church bells slamming into each other thanks to the vocoder. “Gods, you don’t fancy yourself a hunter, do you?”
He approached her, slowly. “You’re Lady Quant, aren’t you?”
She kept working, and he crept closer. Ten paces. Five. Two.
“Here’s a hint,” she said, and she spun away in a simple and literal fashion. She just pivoted around and disappeared right in front of him.
And then the dead robot’s eyes lit up for the first time in decades. Awv was surrounded by newly glowing eyes. Oh shit. He started to run as they rose to their feet, but within the clanking and scraping and metallic whining he thought he could hear a digitized, devilish laughter.