A new wave of defenses took flight, this time in the form of tarnished mechanical men.
Blindly obeying their attack programs, they lifted their arms. Scythes affixed to the mechanical men sliced the air. Buzz saws whirled wildly at the end of their bubbled wrists, but the spinning blades halted every now and then, to show off crusted blood stains.
I could feel the emanations of the mainspring of the card catalog pulsing through my fingers. Certain that vital information about Valkynne was close, I did not want to give up ground to the onrushing force.
I had not anticipated a purely physical attack. I could deal with it, though it took me by surprise.
I fought the rusty mechanical men with my rusty skills, puncturing brass control panels, ripping off limbs, twisting heads. The enemy consisted of clockwork warriors, with no more cunning than a mainspring. I could feel the wind from the spinning saws, and I could hear the hiss of scythes slicing the air. My breathing became labored. Pressure built in my chest. My heart was racing.
They drew blood. A blade opened a shallow slice on my left shoulder, just below the clavicle.
The battle raged above the needle thin bones of gremlins and fallen mystics. Perhaps the remains belonged to others who had been seeking paradise. Most of the skeletons clustered around the letter V and its equivalents in many languages, all marked in electrical code.
With a desperate hand sweep, I severed a buzz saw weapon in midair as it was poised to strike. The device flew, spinning, until it crashed into the chest armor of another mechanical man. My assailants began to fall, one by one, into the mass graves of their former victims.
At this point, my heart was racing, and I fell prey to the terrible palpitations that plagued me since childhood. A feeling of thickness gathered at the base of my throat. Now each breath sounded with a reedy wheeze, signaling an asthma attack. I could not maintain the effort much longer.
Then, abruptly, the attack halted. It seemed there were no more mechanical men left to continue against me. Surely whatever intelligence powered the card catalog must have realized I was out of breath and on the verge of collapse. Then I deduced that whoever it was, or whatever it was, needed a moment to manufacture replacement troops.
The brief respite gave me an opportunity. Pressing my forehead to the spot marked by the letter V, I merged my nervous system with the enchantments and issued my own commands directly. At once the catalog obeyed, surrendering the information it had fought so hard to keep.
Then I left that spot, seeking an escape route. Signal pulsations led all the way to a parchment scroll wound into a device something like a typewriter.
I rode the top of the scroll, then dodged through the descending forest of print keys as it typed a response to my query.
Some newly created mechanical men took pursuit.
As I ran, I grew, returning to my normal height.
Within moments, I was able to swat away the pursuing mechanical men, now no more a threat than annoying insects.
Plucking up the unwinding parchment as it finished its climb out of the typewriter keys, I learned that a chain incantation could open the portal to Valkynne through a series of increasingly complicated spells.
FRANCESCO NOOGIN AND CROW AGREE THAT SEGMENT NINE FOLLOWS