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Legions of Darkness
by Massacre Studios


Contributed by Wrek.

Introduction.

No single person can lay credit to this story (or others following). It was made possible by the input and ideas of many role-players over the course of several years. They banded together to create an RPG universe of evil and wickedness, to challenge those who would dare call themselves heroes. Thus, the Dark Dominion was born, along with all the diverse characters and allegiances therein. And it is Massacre Studios that delivers the final cut on the tales that involve it. This story is based upon Phantasy Star 4, roughly one thousand years in its future. It holds no connection to Phantasy Star Online, should it be too close to that timeline, because (A) I never played the game and (B) I like to be inventive. A few changes to the PS4 terminology should be noted. Some of these things are a bit misnamed and can cause a great deal of confusion. EXAMPLE: Light Shower, which was an attack used by Dark Force and the Profound Darkness, is being changed to Lightning Shower (since that’s what it basically is) to prevent anyone from confusing it with one of my own character’s similarly-named attacks. Characters used in this story or any other I write may not by used in your own stories unless given permission.

Prologue.

There is another dimension beyond the one you are aware of. Actually, there are many others like it, such as parallel universes, higher plains of existence, and even subspace. In one of these dimensions, the Profound Darkness has resurfaced and grown many times more powerful than ever before. Its influences are becoming multi-dimensional and its demon hordes can be found all across the mish-mash that many refer to simply as Existence. The story, however, is not about the Darkness’ return to power. With evil being an eternal pain in the neck, we can guess that there is nothing in the whole of creation that can get rid of it for good. The residents of the Algo Star System thought they were safe. They thought that everything would be fine from now on. And naturally, they thought wrong.

Chapter 1 - The Hunter and the Hunted.

There has been a great deal of improvement in Algo lately. The environment is more stable these days, quicksand deserts and unceasing blizzards are a thing of the past, and technology has flourished. However, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Bio-monsters are beginning to turn up on Motavia and Dezolis again. But this time, the cause cannot be attributed to any Bio-Plants or assaults from the Profound Darkness (at least not many). They are now part of the new ecosystem. Some are harmful while others simply shy away from people. Since they still can cause quite a ruckus, the Hunter’s Guild was reinstated in Aiedo. Inside the Guild bar, the lights are kept on low power to allow the Hunters to relax and enjoy themselves between jobs. It was actually quite dark, just barely enough light for anyone to see the faces of the people in the bar…except for the Hunter at the third row table, second from the right. Her name is Elyss, a Numan that had joined the Guild six months ago. She could see every feature of the bar patrons. Her eyes darted from person to person while she continued to drink her drink. One of them caught her attention for a minute. Sitting at the counter was a woman with short dark hair wearing a grayish attire that was very similar to something she’d seen in a Clint Eastwood movie. (Recovered from age-old storehouses filled with all that remained of the Earthman starship were large collections of entertainment films. The usable ones were categorized by the people of Earth as Action-Packed Thrillers, Sci-fi and Fantasy, Historical Themes, Comedy, and Westerns.) That wasn’t what caught her eye, though. The woman at the bar counter was wearing sunglasses. Elyss could not think for one minute why anyone would want to make use of a pair of shades while inside a dark room. She was thinking of asking, just out of curiosity. But then again, she figured that Hunters sometimes do weird things. Her break-time was about to end anyhow.

Voice from outside the bar: Elyss! There’s a guy on the phone asking for a good Hunter. I recommended you, so come and take this call, will you?

Elyss: Comin’, Barry.

Barry was the current Guildmaster. He runs a tight shift and doesn’t kid around when someone asks for a good Hunter. When someone wants die-hard, kick-ass monster-slayer, they get just that. And usually, they need that level of service big-time. Elyss left the bar and made for the phone. Her own features were visible in the light of the main office. She was wearing standard black Flexi-Armor, which was specially-designed for Numans who want maximum protection with minimum hindrance in movement, and high black boots. She had all the usual Numan traits; heightened agility and speed, pointed cat-like ears, eyes that are alive with curiosity yet also reserved in a mischievous sort of way. She is 6 feet tall, has green eyes, and medium length black hair. In terms of skill and appearance, many would say that Elyss shared traits with that of Rika, Alys Brangwin, or even Chaz Ashley. Nothing could be farther from the truth. She does not even descend Rika, the progenitor of all the Numans living in Algo. In reality, she is actually another genetic construct created in a lab. However, nobody knows what lab she had originated from, not even Elyss. As far as anyone could tell, she was physically 18 years old, mentally 25, and no clue as to when her life truly began. For a time, she wondered about her origins, but that was all in the past. She didn’t care that much. Right now, duty calls. Elyss answers the phone in a nonchalant fashion.

Elyss: Yello?

Nervous Man: Hi. Y-you’re a Hunter, right? A really good one?

Elyss: That’s what they say.

Nervous Man: Great, ‘cause I’ve got one helluva problem here. You see, my name is Daren and I live in Monsen. The past few days, I’ve been seeing some weird changes in the people around town, people I know and care about. I didn’t know what to make of it until last night, when someone was shot.

Elyss: Someone’s been murdered?

Daren: Well yeah, but not the way you’d think! My friend Zeke got to thinking that the people were being body-snatched and replaced with a whole bunch of lookalikes.

Elyss: Too many late-night movies…

Daren: I thought he was crazy. Later on, I see him gunning a man down with his rifle. He shot the man twelve times in the stomach.

Elyss: Geez… That’s overkill!

Daren: Was it? I’m not so sure. As soon as he went to check the body, it got up and knocked the gun out of his hands! The man was bleeding all over the place with a dozen gunshot wounds in his stomach and he didn’t even care!

Elyss: It could be some freak of nature. Go on…

Daren: Zeke was too afraid to move. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Neither could I, really. I saw the man standing there like a deranged zombie, and the people… Oh, those people…

Elyss: What? What about the people?

Daren: They didn’t spare either of them a single glance. People walked right by them, ignoring Zeke’s call for help as the man grabbed him by the neck. A few seconds later, he got whacked in the chest so hard that his entire rib-cage broke!

Elyss: Ouch…

Daren: Damn right, ouch! The sound it made still gives me nightmares! Anyway, I’m sure that nearly everyone in town has been taken over by bio-monsters. They look and act human enough, but their eyes are always staring at you, like you’re meat on a platter.

Elyss: Stop it. You’re making me hungry.

Daren: Don’t even joke like that!!

Elyss: Sorry. I’ll be there as soon as possible. Where do you live?

Daren: I run the local weapon’s shop.

Elyss: Thanks.

*Click!*

Elyss: This shouldn’t be too hard a job. They’ve probably been zombified.

She walked into the Guildmaster’s office to officially sign up for the job. Barry Hansfield was a heavy-built man, a little overweight but always a strong man. He had a stern face and a balding head. At one time, he was the Number One Hunter in the Guild. Then, as the years drew on, he became its standing director. Members of the Hunter’s Guild were more like freelancers than actual employees, but everyone considered him the boss around here nonetheless.

Barry: Taking the job, eh? Good, good. That man sounded desperate.

Elyss: He might’ve been crazy too. A monster that takes a human form and ignores a dozen rifle wounds? I dunno… It’s pretty far-fetched.

Barry: Stranger things have happened. Remember the giant Sandcrawlers?

Elyss: Don’t remind me. When we found them, they were feasting on a Desert Leach. Each one must’ve been somewhere around ten times their normal size. Then there was the Mega-Slug.

Barry: A giant blob that kept making Metaslugs. Ugh… That one was a mess.

Elyss: And then there were the Blackwave Demons…

Barry: Yeah…

The Blackwave Demons were horrible monstrosities of defilement created by the power of the Profound Darkness. When a small army of them came to the Algo System, centuries of debating over the fate of the Profound Darkness were abruptly ended. The Black Energy Wave (A.K.A. the Blackwave) was present in all of the Demon spawn. They lived for the Darkness. They died for the Darkness. That was the only way they knew how to exist. Since then, there have been no further reports of Demon activity. But now…

Elyss: D’you think they could be…?

Barry: No. A Demon wouldn’t be able to function properly having his insides thrashed around like that. Did the guy mention the color of the man’s blood?

Elyss: He didn’t say anything about it. Anyway, I’m going out there. Do we have any Hydrofoils available?

Barry: Sorry, but that new guy who signed up a few days ago took the last one.

Elyss: Which new guy?

Barry: A guy with a sword. He said his name was Jack. He wanted it to go hunt down "a terrible evil". He sounded on the level so I let him borrow a Hydrofoil.

Elyss: Gee, that’s awfully nice of you, but what am I suppose to use? If that guy was right, then Monsen’s been taken over!

Barry: Use my Land-Rover. It’s still in good shape.

Elyss: Define "good shape".

Barry: It’s not being held together by Duct Tape.

Elyss: I guess that’ll do.

Barry: Just don’t wreck it. I still remember that fiasco with the first Hydrofoil you tried to use. The repair bill… Oy vey… Come to think of it, I think the one I let that Jack fella borrow was the same one.

Elyss: I don’t think we’ll be hearing from him for a while.

Barry: Why not?

Elyss: I checked it last night. The brakes are still shoddy.

Barry: I’d better call the repair guy again, just in case.

Barry tosses the keys to his Land-Rover at her and she’s out the door in a flash. It’s not like there was a big rush. Elyss was always anxious to get out and do a job. She wasn’t exactly very skillful at other things like running a business or operating scientific equipment, and the sum total of her medical training amounted to a Regen spell. (This actually wasn’t so bad an achievement. Only the most devout of healers would ever learn such a technique as Regen.) Fighting, hunting, and tracking were her specialties and she enjoyed putting them to good use. Within a few weeks of joining the Hunter’s Guild, Elyss had risen to the top ranks and thoroughly impressed her peers. (So much were they impressed that they decided to overlook the Hydrofoil incident and didn’t make her pay the entire repair bill.) There were only a few parts of the job she hated, and those parts usually involved some of the bio-monsters she had to fight (like the Blackwave Demons). Still, the hours were reasonable and so was the pay.

Voice: Hey Elyss! Wait up!

Elyss was only halfway out of the Guild door when she heard him calling. This was one of the other Hunters, a friend of hers. His name was Samuel Neocene, a young man of 15 who had risen up in the Guild almost as quickly as her. The time he took to get where he is now was about a month and a half. He was sometimes brash and reckless about things, but never too severely. Sam was about 6’ 5", had light brown hair, and greenish-blue eyes. He almost didn’t look native to Motavia. He wears a gray-white long sleeve top, matching pants, black knee-high boots, and a gray-white jacket. Sam had joined the Guild shortly before Elyss and, like her, he had come with experience. She had to admit, Sam had skill. He also got a head start in training, but then along came Elyss. The first day of her training, she beat Samuel in hand-to-hand combat. They became fast friends while still in training. After that, their first mission came in. She and Samuel weren’t partners, but the Guildmaster (Barry) wanted to see how well they could perform. That was the day of the gigantic Sandcrawlers. Each one had to have been a freakish mutant of some kind. Not only had their size increased, but they had grown a wicked set of talon-claws and burrowed like Sandworms. It was a tough battle, but in the end, only the two best Hunters on Motavia remained. They worked independently now, taking on any assignment that would keep their interest. Sam caught up with her en route to her pad, just South of the Guild.

Sam: I hear you just took a job out in Monsen, a real wicked case by the looks of it.

Elyss: News travels fast. What do you want?

Sam: I want to go with you on this one. I haven’t had a decent assignment since that Grasshound stampede. We could partner up like the last time, a fifty-fifty split!

Elyss: Uh-uh. We split the money sixty-forty.

Sam: Hey!

Elyss: I gave you that rate because we’re friends. Usually, I split it seventy-thirty.

Sam: C’mon, Elyss! I never teased you about the Hydrofoil!

Elyss: You’re the one who dared me to ride it before I knew how to drive!

Sam: And I stood up for you afterwards because of it. Besides, I’ll bet you enjoyed every minute of the ride.

Elyss: He’s right. It was a lot of fun. Okay, you win. Gear up and meet me in front of Barry’s house. We’re taking his Land-Rover.

Sam: What happened to the Hydrofoils?

Elyss: The last one was taken by that new guy, Jack.

Sam: You mean that guy in the bar who never drank anything but herbal tea?

Elyss: Yup. He said he was hunting down some ancient evil.

Sam: He’ll be waiting a long time. The Profound Darkness would never want to come back here.

They split up and head to their respective houses. Elyss stopped inside hers long enough to grab the bare essentials; her weapons and a few Trimates. Being a Hunter of many talents, she carries three different instruments of destruction. The first is a pair of Genocyclaws, which can cause instantaneous death if used right. It was wasn’t common to see them on Motavia, since Dezolis was the manufacturer of the ones that were made. Her next weapon is a sword made out of a substance very closely akin with Laconia. Studies pertaining to the sword revealed that it was made of a high-grade Laconia-type alloy that was superior to anything ever seen in Algo. Last, but certainly not least, she has a Slasher. The crazy thing about this one is that there is no Slasher like it anywhere in the whole star system. It is a blackish Slasher that seems to cut things extremely well sometimes. No investigation could be made on it. All scans that were used on the thing bounced right off of its surface. Whenever someone asks Elyss where she got these strange weapons, her reply is always the same; "They came with the wallet." Nobody ever understood the joke. The truth was that Elyss didn’t know where they came from either. As far as she could tell, she’s just always had them. Now that she finds herself thinking about them again, the inevitable question of her origin also comes up. The more she tries to focus on one of her earlier past memories, the more it all becomes a blur. As soon as she realizes that she’d been standing around and doing nothing, she dashes out the door and heads for Barry’s house near the entrance to Aiedo. Sam is patiently waiting for her, polishing the blade of his scythe and whistling a tune she’d never heard before. (Elyss wouldn’t have known the song because it was an uncommon tune called I Left My Leg in Jaglan Beta.)

Sam: What took you?

Elyss: Something in the back of my mind kept nagging me. Let’s go.

The Land-Rover’s engines come to life and they’re on their way to an uncertain destiny. The Rover’s handling is a bit rough, but still easily managed if you knew how. And by this time, Elyss knew how.

* * *

She awoke to the sound of a klaxon alarm. Somewhere, something had gone terribly wrong. Upon inspecting her surroundings, she realized that she was inside of a stasis capsule filled with an eerie neon-green liquid. Air was delivered via small tubes inserted in the nostrils. She could see outside the glassy exterior of the capsule, but every image was distorted. Arcs of electricity shot from the floor to the ceiling and back as the room she was in began to flood. The need for self-preservation dictated that she’d be better off swimming on out, rather than waiting inside this tank to die. But there was no way to open the machine from the inside and the flood was now getting so bad that the waves would soon crush whatever they hit. Feeling a rising sense of panic, she struck the capsule hard with her bare fists. Surprisingly, a crack formed in the glass-like material. Before she could do it again, a sudden wave blasted by the capsule and wretched the whole thing out of its platform. She and the stasis capsule were tossed about in the rapid currents that had formed in the room and her air supply was running out fast. She clawed desperately at the capsule insides, but there was no hope…no hope…no…

* * *

Elyss: NO!!

She woke up with a start, almost unaware of her actual surroundings. She was in the back part of the Land-Rover, previously attempting to catch some Zs. Now she was wide awake, gasping for air like she hadn’t taken a single breath in hours. In the front seat, Sam stopped the Land-Rover as soon as he heard her scream and went in back to check on her.

Sam: Is everything alright? What happened?

Elyss: Bad dreams… Extremely vivid… Don’t worry. I’m okay now.

Sam: Alright. You may as well stay up. We’re nearly there.

Elyss: Gimme the wheel. I need to clear my head a little.

Elyss takes the controls and drives the Land-Rover right into Monsen territory. She parks it in one of Monsen’s special concrete parking zones, so as not to lose it to a Sandworm. As soon as they get out, a group of Monsen’s residents gather around them, asking questions.

Man: What’s this all about? Those are Guild markings on that Rover. Did someone call the Hunter’s Guild?

Old Woman: There ain’t any monsters around here ‘sides the Sandworms. Go hunt them for a change!

Police Officer: You realize that’s just a ten-minute parking zone, right?

Sam and Elyss push past the frantic crowd and look around for the weapon shop. The crowd of people just stare at them as they leave. No one may guess what is going through their minds right now. Eventually, they find the shop at the far side of town. It has probably seen better days. A couple of the windows are broken and there are teeth marks on the door, inhuman teeth marks at that. Upon opening the front door, they find the inside of the building in even worse disarray. And after entering, the door falls off of its hinges. This place has seen some major decay.

Elyss: Hello? Daren? Are you in here?

Sam: We’re from the Guild! You can come out now!

Either he wasn’t in or he wasn’t buying it. Upon further inspection of the place, Elyss found that he probably hadn’t been in his shop for days. She and Sam search around for some clue as to where he went or if they took him, but there was nothing. Daren seemed to have vanished off of the face of Motavia.

Elyss: He couldn’t have left town, not if things were as bad as he said they were.

Sam: And they just might. The people in that crowd were giving me this hungry look. I think we’ve got a town full of cannibals on our hands.

Elyss: There’s no sign of a struggle or anything. Could he have gone into hiding?

Sam: Maybe… Hey! I’ve got it!

Sam quickly ran out of the building with Elyss following soon after. He stopped in front of a sign that had been placed near a fenced-off area of the town that use to be for the town well. Now there was just a big hole in the ground. The sign read: "DANGER! DEEP HOLE INFESTED WITH BIO-MONSTERS!"

Elyss: You’re kidding, right?

Sam: That’s the only place nobody would ever bother looking.

Elyss: Well, he could survive down there if he’s any good with the weapons he sells.

Sam: Let’s find out, shall we?

Elyss: I’ll take point. You wait ten seconds and then come in after me.

Sam: Okay.

Elyss draws her sword and jumps on in. It’s quite a distance to the ground, but she’s able to manage herself and land feet first. The only light to ever reach this cavern came from the hole itself. Darkness surrounded the spot she was standing in and from every direction at once, there was the sound of creatures awakening from their mid-afternoon siesta. Elyss could think only think of one bio-monster that would live all the way down here.

Elyss: Nightkillers…

She gazed into the darkness, forcing her eyes to cope with the absence of light. It probably wouldn’t help, but at least she would know how much room she had. The monsters that lived here were completely nocturnal creatures. Even a little light can shy them off. It burns them. Nightkillers are vicious predators that had been sealed off in underground tunnels for a few thousand years. Evolution transformed them into perfect killers that could wrap shadows around themselves to remain invisible to the naked eye. The only reason they hadn’t attacked yet was because of the circle of light that she was standing in. But soon, their own ravenous hunger would override their brains and force them to attack, light or no light. They were fairly smart, but mentally trained to attack without mercy should the matter of extreme hunger pop into its head. Elyss couldn’t see them, even though she could now make out the cavern. They were cloaked. She could hear them very well. One trait of Nightkillers were their siren-like calls, which was either communication or echo-location. In making these sounds, she knew exactly where they were. Her ten seconds were just about up and there was one of the beasts coming in from behind…

Elyss: Eat this!

In one quick flowing motion, she leaped backwards and thrusted her sword into the throat of a Nightkiller. The others dropped their guise and took to the offensive. They were humanoid shaped, but had tails and wings as well, plus they had these wicked blade-horns on their heads and retractable bone-spears in their hands. Two threw themselves into the light and almost knocked Elyss out of it. She grabbed one by the horns kicked it sharply in the jaw. The other tried to bite her with its elongated jaw. The only thing it got a taste of was a sharp sword just as Samuel had dropped in. He swung his scythe into the Nightkiller that Elyss had kicked and then thrusted the back part of the handle, which was spear-like, into the mouth of another one. Elyss switched to her claws and took a slash or stab at anything that looked like it was moving in here. She wouldn’t hit Sam of course. People were way different from these things, even in the darkness. She could smell the difference. She slashed at a few Nightkillers, their flesh and bones suddenly degrading as they caught the embedded spell of death her claws contained. Sam took out a few that were trying to sneak in from behind. The problem was that there were a helluva lot of them down here.

Voice: That’s enough!

They stopped in mid-swing. The Nightkillers backed off and slinked into utter darkness again. Sam and Elyss exchanged glances, equally confused and thinking the same thing. Someone had control over these things? From a tunnel that connected to the room, a man with a sledgehammer emerged. He was in his mid-forties, wearing a miner’s cap, and armored leather clothing.

Daren: I take it you’re the Hunters I sent for?

* * *

As they walked further down into the now dimly lit tunnels, Daren explained what was going on. He had actually gone into hiding a long time ago, taking a satellite phone down with him. The people of Monsen were searching for him day and night. He couldn’t outrun them forever. So he hid in the one place people would never think he’d go. And if they did, they’d figure he was a goner for sure.

Daren: What they didn’t know was that I was the one responsible for the infestation of bio-monsters here in the first place. Zeke was my contact to a lab in Piata. He and I were testing a group of Nightkillers that could be tamed. We programmed their brains to listen to commands. That’s why I’m alive right now instead of being the next thing on their menu.

Sam: Couldn’t you have used them on the people you thought had turned into monsters? Those things are vicious.

Daren: Yeah, but not nearly enough. I was thinking about it before Zeke was killed. But then after I saw what kind of punishment they could take, I didn’t think the Nightkillers would be able to handle it. So I faked my death and waited for you to come to my aid.

Elyss: Now that that’s out of the way, tell me everything you know about these monsters. I’m pretty sure they’re just zombies under someone’s control. Have you heard any names mentioned in passing? Any idea what they’re up to?

Daren: The people began to change during one night, last week, when one of our miners came back from an excavation site with a bad wound in his chest. He lived, but there was something wrong about the way he acted afterward. Later, we check the site for the cause and found it covered in blood.

Elyss: Blood? All over the place? Sound’s like a bad horror movie. What color was this blood? I’m just curious.

Daren: Red, like ours.

Elyss: Phew…

Daren: Why is that important?

Elyss: Blackwave Demons have black blood.

Daren: And Nightkillers have blue, but that hardly matters now. I wish it were Demons in our midst, but it’s not! Anyway, the excavation site had collapsed and there was blood everywhere. It was as if a large Sandworm had exploded in there. After that, the party that had investigated the site became ill for a while. Then they too changed, becoming somehow inhuman, yet retaining the form. If you saw them earlier, you know how they seem to glare at you with hunger.

Sam: I did see that. Why are they here, acting like people?

Daren: I don’t know, but I think they’re connected with the old Plate System. It’s been on the fritz again. We sent a repair crew, but they never came back.

Elyss: The Plate System?! This isn’t good. Don’t you realize this whole area’s in danger of collapsing? You could get killed down here!

Daren: I think someone is controlling the system in order to contain these beasts. If they wanted to kill me with it, they’d have to find me first.

As if on a cue, a tremendous rumbling started right under their feet. If it was an earthquake, then it was all due to the Plate System. The walls, floor, and ceiling began to crack and crumble. Finally, a section of the ceiling collapsed and buried Daren and almost did the same with Sam and Elyss. He was killed instantly by tons of falling rock. The two Hunters quickly made their way into the cavern where the hole was. Thankfully, it was still there. However, it was now nighttime.

Elyss: Looks like we climb out. Are you up for it?

Sam: Sure, but did you notice something?

Elyss: You mean that I just lost a client and that I failed to help him or his town?

Sam: No, nothing like that. It’s hardly your fault. I meant that it’s just strange that we’re not being ripped apart.

Elyss: Yeah… I wonder what’s up with them?

The Nightkillers were just sitting there, tending to any wounds they had. It seems they would only attack or defend this place if told to. Sam and Elyss began to climb out of the hole. It was a long way up. And just when they were getting near the very top, they heard a sound from below. It was a voice, but sounded more like a recording. Elyss stops climbing for a minute to listen.

Recorded Voice: This is Daren. If you are hearing this, then I am probably dead. Do not stay here in this hole any longer. You are free to roam as you please.

The message abruptly ends there. Suddenly, they hear all of the Nightkillers in an uproar. The winged beasts leap up and out of the hole and fly into the night. Other sounds, horrible wailing and moaning sounds, can be heard a few seconds later. Something, several somethings in fact, have spotted the Nightkillers and are now attacking them. Neither Elyss nor Sam can see what it is just yet that is causing this cacophony and they aren’t really anxious to find out.

Sam: We’d better wait for it all to calm down. It must be chaos out there.

Elyss: Yeah, good idea. I still can’t believe he was able to control those things.

Sam: It was one hell of an achievement. Something bothers me though. You told Daren this place was in danger of collapsing. And then, he said they’d have to find him first. So how did they?

Elyss: They didn’t know where he was because he’d been mostly silent with his creature pals, but as soon as he started talking to us, they could get a fix on him.

Sam: Echo-location?

Elyss: Uh-huh. They were able to pinpoint his location with sound. We have some scanners like that back at the Guild.

Sam: Wait a second…

Elyss: What?

Sam: Listen…

Everything had gone totally silent, as if the entire town had just gone dead. They climb on out of the hole and look around. Dead Nightkillers lie strewn about town, many ripped to pieces or blown apart. Whatever killed them had to have been something awful. Nightkillers were considered to be extremely dangerous to all forms of life. There was nothing they would not hunt, kill, and eat. Just then, Elyss hears a noise coming from around the corner of a building. It sounds like footsteps…or rather someone trying to disguise their footsteps as something else.

Elyss: Who’s there?

Voice: The Police.

A man in uniform rounds the corner, followed closely by what appears to be a lynch mob, 20 people in all. They are unarmed, but definitely looking for a fight. This made Elyss wonder why they had an officer of the law there in the first place. She noticed that he was the same guy that had been at the Land-Rover earlier that day and that he didn’t have any weapons either. Was he part of this mob as well? And how did they manage to blow away all those Nightkillers?

Elyss: What’s this about?

Police Officer: It’s just this little matter of your illegally parked vehicle. We’re very picky about things like that, you know. I’m afraid you’ll have to come with us.

Elyss: You’ve got to be kidding me. A parking violation?

Sam: I think you guys have had a little too much to drink.

Police Officer: Like hell, I have. Look, I’m the law here and you’d better do what I say or else there’s going to be trouble, understand?

Sam: Get real. You aren’t even armed.

Police Officer: We do not need…weapons.

What happened next was almost beyond description. The policeman and every one of his mobsters began to change. If they had become werewolves, demons, polymorphs - that would’ve been easy enough to deal with, to understand and cope with. But that was not what they became. Each ‘person’ levitated off of the ground, grew into large round pulsating masses of flesh, bone, and muscle - forming a dozen powerful tentacles and inhuman faces (with one larger than all the others) - and growled at them like a horde of demonic savages.

Lead Monster: Feast upon their blood and souls!

Others: Be one with our flesh!!

It was a shock to see them all transform into these massive monstrosities. It was even worse to hear them speak. Their voices were so strained and animalistic that it made the Hunters’ teeth hurt. And something about them made Elyss want to charge right in and keep slashing them open until every one of their horrible faces were wiped out of existence. They seemed to radiate a berserker’s rage. Even Sam, who was normally cool and collected, felt the sting of adrenaline pressing him on into a blind rage. They were so twisted, so corrupt. It was hard enough just looking at one. He vaguely wondered what kind of a sick demented freak would create something like this, but decided to keep that thought on the back burner for now. They were fanning out, preparing to attack.

Sam: They look tough, and probably use magic too. Got any ideas?

Elyss: We can’t take them all on at once. When I give the signal, run like hell.

Sam: What’s the signal?

Elyss: You’ll know it when you see it.

The flying mob of bio-monsters slowly advance on the two of them. Some took to higher altitudes and began charging up energy attacks. Elyss was nearly motionless until they were almost upon her, readying her own attack. Then, while their guard was down, she blasted them all with a Nazan spell. That was the signal. As soon as the spell struck home, the monstrosities were flung into houses and thrown to the ground by the powerful gust of wind. Unfortunately, the Nazan spell didn’t seem to hurt them as much as Elyss had hoped, but it gave her and Sam enough time to ‘get the hell out of Dodge’. They ran down the street as the horrid creatures pried themselves from the buildings and flew after them. As predicted, some were able to do this faster than others, making it a little easier to fight them. Elyss immediately jammed her Genocyclaws into the first one that rounded the corner after them. And much to her delight, the death-strike ability ate away at its flesh until the entire thing melted and degraded into a bloody mess on the ground.

Elyss: Nothing to it. Just divide and conquer.

Sam: Ha! They’re all show and no guts! So much for th- LOOK OUT!

The bloody mess began to stir. It gathered the remains of flesh and blood, attempting a regeneration. It took on a humanoid form made completely out of blood, gurgling and lunging at Elyss. Sam casted Foi to burn it up completely. Apparently, there was more to their enemy than meets the eye. Just then, a few more of them flew in from high above, firing Ray Breath from their largest mouths. Sam sliced at the first two coming in with his scythe and Elyss jumped onto the third with her sword drawn and stabbed right into the main ‘head’. They were only distracted for a minute. Elyss was barely able to escape the thing’s grasp as she jumped off. They were beginning to heal at an accelerated rate, and their tentacles started to change into extended arms with bone-claws at the end. By this time, a fourth and fifth creature had made their entrance right behind the ones that were already here. They were keeping some distance from the two Hunters. They realized that they were not dealing with idiots here, but professionals. Suddenly, the first three charged, swinging their clawed arms. Elyss sprang forward and sliced at them with Air Blade, then threw her Slasher up at the other two. The bladed device bore into the both of them and returned to her hand a few seconds later. The ones she had used the Air Blade on had been cut at their main eyes and the other two now had holes in their sides. They were not discouraged. They seemed to enjoy pain, almost like masochists. It certainly didn’t stop them from trying to heal. The three that had been partially blinded took to the air as the remaining ones dove forward. Sam slashed at them with his scythe and Elyss went to strike one, but then they grabbed the blades! With effort, they pulled their weapons free, slicing off a few tentacles in the process. The bloody beasts didn’t care one way or another. Mere weapons were almost nothing to them, except when used in wicked techniques. Elyss threw her Slasher at one of the creatures, using a Hurricane Slash attack. The horrid thing was cut to pieces. Sam used Foi to permanently kill it afterward. Elyss tried another spell on the other one that had advanced, Nathu. Unbelievably, it exploded! But then, the other three had finished regenerating their main eyes and pulled a badass maneuver. They spun on an axis and launched a flurry of Fire Bombs in all directions. The two Hunters were knocked back at least ten yards by the explosive power of that assault and distant howls gave warning of the approach of more flying menaces.

Elyss: This isn’t working. They don’t die fast enough. We’re going to be overwhelmed at this rate.

Sam: We can’t seem to kill them without actual magic, or at least energy. They can live through our deadliest techniques. Well…some of them.

Elyss: It sounds like you have a plan.

Sam: I do, but it’s risky. I’m going to use the Ragna Blade.

Elyss: Are you sure that’s safe?

Sam: No, but it beats the alternative.

The Ragna Blade and its more powerful version, the Dual Ragna Blade, were a couple of things that allowed Samuel to rise to the top of the Guild. The Ragna Blades were energy strikes that could destroy almost anything they came in contact with. The one drawback was that they were very draining attacks. Sam had used such an attack on the last two giant Sandcrawlers on that one mission and he’d been weakened for an hour afterwards. Still, he was right. This called for some drastic measures. As the three monsters they faced readied their Fire Bomb attack again and more of the beasts came into view, Sam concentrated hard on focusing his inner strength. Then, he lashed out suddenly and a huge blade of energy scythed at the oncoming bio-monsters. It cut through and annihilated the first three and went on to strike the ones that came after. It actually missed one, but Elyss used Nathu on it. The shock blew it apart and made it dry as a bone, a crispy critter. Sam fell to his knees, feeling kind of weak. He got up a minute later, but seemed to be a little unsteady on his feet. Balance would return soon. Sam knew this. He just hoped it wouldn’t be too late.

Sam: How many did I get?

Elyss: Lots. Looks like there were five coming down the street.

Sam: Eight in all? Cool!

Elyss: Heh. You missed one.

Sam: What?! Ah, geez…

Elyss: Don’t worry. I took care of him.

Voice: Die!!!

Another trio of the bastards were coming in from the other side. Ray Breath sprayed from their mouths and their tentacles became electrified. Sam got up again and readied his scythe for another round of bloody massacre. Elyss prepared her Genocyclaws again. If it worked once, it would work again. However, this time, they didn’t have to do any of the fighting. A Plasma Vulcan fired at the beasts from a side street. The monsters had been so focused on killing the two of them, they had never even considered the possibility of someone else being around. The plasma shots chewed them up pretty badly, giving them something to really moan about. The mystery gunner continued firing until there was no trace of life in them. The attack had taken the beasts completely by surprise and made it impossible to fight back. The gunner strode into view. It was a woman. Elyss recognized her as the same person back at the Hunter’s Guild who was wearing the sunglasses. She was still wearing the sunglasses, even though it was in the middle of the night.

Elyss: Thanks, but who are you?

Woman: Well, I’m not with the Guild, really. My name is Kyra Trant, but you can call me Hotshot.

Sam: I can see why. You really toasted those suckers!

Hotshot: Macabres.

Sam: What?

Hotshot: They’re Macabre demons, creatures called from a nether realm into bodies of flesh. The spirit of each Macabre lives in the collective blood of its body, always ready to regenerate.

Elyss: You seem to know a lot about these. May I ask why?

Hotshot: I was told about them some years ago by a friend of mine.

Elyss: I see… You told us where they come from. How about you?

Hotshot: I come from Earth.

Sam/Elyss: EARTH?!

Hotshot: Well, sort of…

According to history, Earth was supposedly where the ancient spaceship controlled by Mother Brain originated from. The people of Earth had built the spaceship, Noah, to escape their dying world and take over Motavia a little over two thousand years ago. Needless to say, they did not succeed and now there was not a single Earthman (or woman) living today. Hotshot wasn’t making a lot of sense.

Elyss: That’s impossible. The people of Earth should be extinct.

Hotshot: That’s where the "sort of" part comes in. I’m not exactly from Earth, but rather…a different kind of Earth.

Elyss: Are you saying there’s a bunch of planets out there called Earth?

Hotshot: No, I’m saying there’s a bunch of universes that have Earth in them.

That was the last thing Elyss had expected to hear as an answer. The people of Algo already knew there was life outside their own neck of the woods, and they figured that there were some other realms in the universe, like where the Great Light had imprisoned the Profound Darkness. This, however, was way beyond that. What Hotshot was talking about was parallel worlds, something that many would still call science fiction. In fact, there were quite a few movies about it.

Sam: Now I’ve heard everything.

Hotshot: Oh no, you haven’t.

Elyss: Let’s say we believe you. How’d you get here on Motavia?

Hotshot: Well, you see…ummm… What’s you name?

Elyss: I’m Elyss.

Sam: And I’m Samuel Neocene.

Hotshot: That’s interesting…

Sam: What is?

Hotshot: Nothing. Anyway, the ship I was on has a machine that basically punches through the barrier between dimensions.

Elyss: I don’t suppose you have any real proof?

Hotshot: Well, there is this.

Hotshot reveals that underneath her Clint Eastwood getup, she’s wearing an unfamiliar kind of combat armor. She also removes her sunglasses and tosses them to Elyss. They appear to be night-vision glasses cleverly disguised as a nice pair of shades. Without the disguise, they can actually see what Hotshot looks like. She is a slim athlete (by human standards, anyway) with blue eyes and a kind face. Hotshot explains that her armor is made of Laconium, a very strong and light material that is super-refined from silver.

Elyss: Laconium? Any relation to Laconia?

Hotshot: It’s the same stuff, but a lot tougher.

Elyss: Some scientists I know told me the same about my sword.

Hotshot: Really? Whoever made it must’ve done one helluva job. I heard they don’t make any Laconium here.

Elyss: They don’t.

Hotshot: I’ll bet there’s someone on this planet who can, some kind of expert.

Elyss: I wouldn’t know.

Hotshot: We should get going. I still have a job to do.

Elyss: Mind if we come along? We have a Land-Rover.

Hotshot: You misunderstand. I came to help you. There’s still the little matter of that Plate System.

Elyss: Right. Someone’s using that thing as a weapon.

Sam: Hey wait! What about those other Macabre thingies?

Hotshot: Oh, them? I killed them already. Someone was nice enough to knock a bunch of them into a building and I just blew them all away at once.

Elyss: That was me.

Hotshot: You two really are something. No wonder they like you down at that Guild of yours.

Sam: Yeah, we’re real experts. We’ve had to take on everything this world can throw at us. Sometimes stuff from other worlds too.

Elyss: Like Blackwave Demons.

Sam: Right, those guys… Man, they were a pain, but we killed them all just the same! Nothing scares us! So, what’s inside the old Plate System?

Hotshot: A King Macabre.

Sam: WHAT?! Oh shit…

Chapter 2 - Quake, Rattle, and Roll!

The next morning, Elyss, Sam, and Hotshot headed out in the Land-Rover to investigate the Plate System. It wasn’t a very long drive, but easily enough for a hungry Sandworm to track them down. However, not one Sandworm was making any trouble today. This was bizarre. Sandworms always made an appearance in Monsen’s area. But as they neared the Plate System, it soon become clear why there hadn’t been a single attack.

Hotshot: A graveyard…

Sam: They killed the whole slew of them. There must be hundreds of worms here.

Elyss: Not that I’m complaining, but damn…

All around the facility, dead Sandworms lay baking in the sun. Many of their carcasses had been torn open while others had simply been beaten to death. The way they’re positioned indicates that someone or something set them up that way to prevent anyone from entering the Plate System facility at all. As soon as Sam exits the Land-Rover along with the others, he immediately covers his nose.

Sam: Geez… Do they smell that way because they’re dead?

Elyss: No, the live ones smell worse.

Sam: So how do we get in? By climbing those things?

Hotshot: Yeah, I’ve always wanted to climb a thousand giant rotting corpses. No, I’ve got a better idea. Watch this.

Hotshot points a hand at the wall of dead Sandworms in a melodramatic fashion. Then, a golden ray surges out of it, bores into the old bio-monster bodies, and burns up a good portion of it in a fiery explosion. Hotshot just smirks.

Elyss: You’re definitely not from around here. I’ve never seen a technique like that and I thought I’d seen them all. Even Megid. What was that?

Hotshot: That was a Light Pillar, pure light and heat energy.

Sam: You’re gonna tell us how you learned that trick too, right?

Hotshot: I’ll spare you the life story, but yeah, I’ll tell you.

So rather than having to crawl over the worm-walls, they just have Hotshot blast through a bunch of them as they head towards the facility. Along the way, she explains the strange abilities she possesses. Hotshot is, what most consider, a very rare breed of person. Of all the other beings in the universe, it was her and a few others that had been chosen to wield the powers of the Great Light. The residents of the Algo Star System were originally part of the Profound Darkness’ lock-up, but none of them ever shared in the Great Light’s true powers. Hotshot was one of the rare few to become what most people called arch-angels, living beings able to wield the Great Light’s strength against all darkness. Suddenly, her story is preempted without warning as one of the corpses breaks open on its own.

Elyss: I had a feeling something like this might happen…

There were giant leech-like Parasites on the inside and outside of a few of the Sandworm bodies. They were very keen on sucking the various proteins, minerals, and stuff like that from any creature, living or dead. The trouble was that they preferred the living. As a small platoon of them slithered towards the three of them, Hotshot readies her Plasma Vulcan.

Elyss: That won’t do any good here. I’ve seen these things. They love to eat energy too. The only thing they listen to is a sharp blade to the brain.

Elyss threw her Slasher at a few of them and weakened their outer shells, allowing Sam to easily run by and slice them open. Then Elyss joined him with her own sword drawn. The Parasite creatures were neither fast nor smart, so beating them all wasn’t very hard, even with how many there were to begin with. Hotshot continued to blow through the ‘walls’, checking to make sure they didn’t contain any more Parasites. A few minutes later, they were able to break through the last layer of dead Sandworm as Hotshot finished up her story.

Hotshot: It’s not an easy life. There are a lot of people out there that want me dead, mostly because of what I’m doing now.

Sam: Someone out there doesn’t want you to kill the Macabres? Who in the world would kill you for that?

Hotshot: You don’t want to know.

Elyss: Don’t look now, you two, but we have company.

This was the home stretch, a lengthy bit of open land straight to the Plate System’s front doors. However, the doors were sealed shut by magnetic locking devices. Two figures were now working hard on some exposed wiring in order to ‘persuade’ the doors to open. As they slowly approached the building, Sam began to recognize who these new arrivals were. He had heard about them, two androids whose jobs were to safeguard Algo’s environmental systems. They were none other than the androids known as Wren and Demi. Wren turned around as soon as he heard someone coming.

Sam: Say, shouldn’t you be in space or something?

Wren: Under normal circumstances, we would, but there appears to be a malfunction in a few of the systems on Motavia.

Demi: Some of the damage has been repaired, but we are still no closer to identifying the one responsible.

Elyss: This isn’t the only one on the fritz?

Wren: No. Several facilities had been creating bio-monsters and lethal robots. A few power plants have sustained a major loss of energy. Someone had entered these places unchallenged and sabotaged the machines.

Demi: Whoever has taken over this Plate System probably isn’t the same person. We had no trouble entering and repairing the damage before. How did all these Sandworms get here?

Hotshot: You don’t want to know.

Wren: Yes, we do.

Elyss (whispering): They don’t scare easily.

Hotshot: Good point. They were carried there.

Wren: That does not make sense. The size a creature would have to be in order to lift a Sandworm is at least-

Hotshot: Twice as large, maybe bigger. It all depends on how much they let it grow.

Wren: If it is that large and in control of the Plate System, then part of the facility has probably collapsed in order to make it fit.

Elyss: We still have to go in. Weren’t you trying to jury-rig the door?

Demi: I still am, but all the circuits are all busy. It needs more power.

Elyss: Well, you’re an android. Use your own power.

The idea hadn’t actually occurred to Demi before now. In a minute, she is tying in a pair of cables with her own generator, giving it a significant power boost. Using this energy, she begins to short out the mag-locks. However, her actions do not go unnoticed. The ground begins to shake and shudder violently. The Plate System is generating an earthquake around its perimeter, starting from the wall of Sandworms and working its way in. The ground seems to collapse and swallow everything that’s on the surface. Soon, the Sandworm-filled areas have crumbled and all that remains is that one final stretch of land!

Demi: Got it!

Everyone piles inside, seconds before all the stable ground fell out from under them. It was pure luck the doors would open properly after being tampered with. Now, they were all semi-safe inside the confines of the Plate System. It smells of death and decay here. Something happened here a long time ago. Something extremely brutal. Wren looks around the room, a grim expression planted on his face. He was expecting security drones to arrive, but none came. Instead…

Wren: I detect trace amounts of mutagenic cells and compounds. Security appears to be offline, so it can be assumed that something else has subdues the automations.

Demi: From what I can tell, the trace cells might have once been native to Motavia.

Sam: Macabres perhaps?

Hotshot: I don’t think they mutate, but why don’t we go find out?

Elyss: That’s fine by me, but do you think anyone will mind if we wreck this place? I mean, this Macabre thing already has, but don’t you need this system?

Wren: This Plate System should have been torn down a long time ago.

With now five capable fighters in this group, the odds of defeating the King Macabre were looking better and better. Wren and Demi’s skills, not to mention their firepower, would certainly make great additions to the cause. They would at least stick around until the dilemma involving the Plate System was solved. As they all proceeded down further into the lower levels, the rotten stench seemed to get worse. Nothing had attacked them yet, which was strange, but there was a certain air about the place that gave off a feeling of dread, like there was someone watching them. This was impossible, though. The security cameras were totally inoperable. Then, outside the nexus of the Plate System, its main control room, a squad of rather uncouth individuals had gathered. They looked perfectly alright except that each one was wearing badly-torn clothing.

Elyss: They look human enough, but they smell awful.

Man: Oh, hello there. Raauurgh!

He’d started out acting normal enough, but he was wrought with changes a few seconds later. His entire body morphed into a misshapen form that suddenly became the color of rotten flesh. The others followed suit. Many sprouted claws and spikes while others became a mass of bloody tentacles.

Wren: They are some form of polymorph. Physical contact is not advisable!

Sam: Unless of course you do this!

Sam slashes one in half, making it grope around for its missing ‘partner’ for a while before disemboweling both parts. Wren blows apart one of them with his Photon Eraser. Elyss uses a Hurricane Slash attack on one that has a great deal of tentacles, reducing it to tiny bits. The rest are taken out by plasma and pulse fire from Demi and Hotshot. After all of those Macabre creatures, these things were a piece of cake!

Sam: Don’t tell me. This King guy ran out of evil juice before he could change them into more Macabres, right? That’s pretty sad…

Hotshot: I’d like to say yes, but I don’t think so! Look!

Every piece of polymorph in the room begins to form into one mass at the center of the room. Soon after, it takes on a familiar shape, though looking vaguely different. It is a Macabre mutation, more biological than magical and a lot uglier than its regular brethren. It roars with a vicious hunger, letting acid dribble from every rotting mouth, and then…

*POW!!!*

Hotshot lets loose another one of her Light Pillar blasts, blowing apart and burning up the entire creature. She thinks for a moment about the kind of vile creature that would think up such heinous beasts and heads for the main control room door. Everyone else just stares in disbelief for a moment, even Wren.

Wren: Where did you find her?

Elyss: Long story. Don’t ask.

Sam: I wonder how many times she can do that without a recharge…

Elyss: Hey, Sam?

Sam: What’s up?

Elyss: We’re definitely going to need that technique of yours. It’s one of our best trump cards and this thing definitely needs a good solid trumping.

Sam: Yeah well, it happens to be my only real trump card and overusing it could tear my very soul apart. Anyway, what’s that leave you to do?

Elyss: My job is to improvise, like always.

The control room door is, naturally, locked down with heavy-duty security shields and accessible by passcode only. Wren knows the code, or so he thought. When he entered it at the nearby computer console, a sentry gun popped out of the wall and fired at him. Fortunately, the damage was light.

Wren: The passcode has been changed.

Elyss: You mean to tell me that there’s no way past that triple-layer armored door?

Wren: There is a way. We simply no longer possess the correct passcode.

Elyss: I’ve got your stinkin’ passcode… I’ll handle this.

Based on the assumption that Elyss might actually know what she’s doing, Wren allows her to go right ahead and give it a shot. There is a certain risk of being shot, but it was an acceptable one. Elyss walks rather calmly up to the computer console, smirks mischievously, and kicks it right in the mainframe. The impact was hard enough to dent the metal plating and also drive the computer bonkers.

Computer: Calaphlibert… This is your captain speaking… Your call could not be completed… Rauzzem…hotep…maggellicutty… Would you like the chicken soufflé tonight? It’s very frosty this evening…

Elyss: Hmmm… I wonder… No, I think we’ll eat in today. Would you show us in?

Computer: Naturally, bio-hazardous mecha-muck. The customer is always bright!

Elyss: You said it.

The triple-armored doors open wide to allow access to the control room. It’s very dark in there, and the only thing preventing them from being trapped inside with the big ugly is a drunken computer. Not very reassuring, is it? They enter to the sound of something breathing heavily. This wasn’t just any heavy breathing. This is what they call power-breathing, which is used deliberately to sound more imposing. The lights were out, at least for now. The strange part about this place was the way nobody could see what was at the end of the room. Not Elyss, who can see quite well in the dark. Not Wren or Demi, whose eyes came equipped with thermal and low-light vision. Whatever was there had wrapped itself up in shadow.

Elyss: Ummm…lights?

Wren: They have been disabled.

Hotshot: Hang on. I’ve got this other technique. I was gonna use it here anyhow. I can sustain it, but you have to act as soon as I cast it. Ready?

Sam: We’re set.

Hotshot: Then go!!

Suddenly, a powerful light emanating from Hotshot filled the room. It was exactly what they had expected, really. It was light and heat (much like the Light Pillar) on a much grander scale, known to Hotshot as the Light Shower. The mega-sized Macabre would definitely feel the sting of that one. As it happened, they could now see quite clearly what it looked like. It was like its lesser kind, but with two differences. The first thing was that it was not a massive beast of flesh filled with horrible twisted faces. This creature was more coordinated, even aerodynamic. It had extra eyes, mouths, whatever - placed just so, as if adhering to a pattern. There was still a very grotesque mug in the middle of it all. The second oddity about the King Macabre was the fact that it was melded straight into the technology itself! This was how it controlled the Plate System, a direct interface! The first thing Elyss had noticed right after gaping at its immensity was that it had been trying to sneak a few of its massive tentacles along the wall to attack them without warning. Hotshot’s blinding light now put a stop to that. The thing probably couldn’t even see right now. Suddenly, the room was in utter chaos as the beast taking up the other end of it began to squirm out of the stationery position it was in. It managed to bend the walls, ceiling, and floor out of shape trying to wedge itself out. And it was still stuck. However, the six tentacles it had brought out now had more room to work. Two of them ended in clawed arms. Two more ended in mouths that spat acid or fire. And finally, the last two ended in spiky leech-like appendages. Elyss’ attitude about all this was less than serious, at least to begin with.

Elyss: I think someone has been cooped up in here way too long. Well, if you want us dead, then let’s rock and roll!

On "roll", she tossed her Slasher into an exposed part of the main computer. The computer bank began to malfunction and sent a shocking feedback straight into the King Macabre’s fleshy body. The monster yelled a gurgling, throaty roar at the sudden pain it felt and fired a Ray Buster shot back at Elyss from its gaping maw. She went to dodge the blaze of energy, but was still caught by its shockwave. The monster’s gaze alone was very unnerving to the whole group. The horrid breath was even worse. But Wren, who could keep his cool under the worst circumstances, began to systematically work on destroying the opposition. His first target was the acid-spitting mouth, which had melted a lot of the floor panels. He blew the tentacle away with a single blast of the Photon Eraser. He shot at what remained of it to make sure it would not grow back anytime soon. Demi had also made herself useful. The leech-like tentacles were blood-suckers, totally unable to do anything to her. Obviously, the King Macabre did not have very much experience with androids. She rendered them useless with her Phonomizer. Sam and Elyss had gone onto slicing at the clawed arms of the giant beast, their blades clashing against the tough bone-claws. Hotshot was firing into the face of the King Macabre with her Plasma Vulcan, but it didn’t seem to harm the thing that much. Likewise, when Wren and Demi started doing the same.

Wren: Aim for the computer!

Demi: Okay!

The two androids fire into the damaged computer bank, causing it to explode underneath the massive monstrosity. Immediately afterward, the King Macabre levels the playing field with a blitz attack, the Almighty Blast. Everyone is thrown back by the force of the ensuing explosion. Even worse, the triple-armored doors did seal themselves up soon after the main computer exploded. Now, they were trapped inside with a humongous Macabre demon.

Hotshot: I have had enough!

Hotshot has always despised these creatures. Their masters tried to ruin her life on several occasions. She didn’t know why this thing had decided to appear on Motavia, but it had to go! Hotshot’s inner strength welled up to maximum power. Arch-angel wings of gray appeared on her back. She was ready.

Hotshot: Stand back! I’m gonna unload on his ass!

Wren: I strongly advise against it! The room may collapse at any given time!

Hotshot: We won’t be able to get out unless he dies first!

Energy rockets off of her body, creating a small torrent inside the room. The King Macabre was about to unleash another devastating attack when Hotshot let loose the power she’d summoned in a technique she liked to call the Dynamic Pulse. It was a massive shockwave assault that tapped into the maximum strength of her arch-angel powers. The blast rocked the entire room as the King Macabre was reduced to a large pile of flesh, bones, and gooey junk. Miraculously, the room did not collapse, but now there were huge holes in the walls and wrecked equipment everywhere. The wings on Hotshot’s back disappeared as she went to her knees.

Hotshot: That was more draining than I thought it would be.

Elyss: That was pretty impressive stuff. Of course, you realize he isn’t dead yet.

Hotshot: He’ll reform soon. He always does. I’ve been hunting him for a long time now and nothing I’ve done has ever managed to kill him.

Sam: Nothing at all? What kind of beast is this?

Hotshot: It was the first one ever used, the first of the many that would follow. The King Macabre had shown up on Earth during a time of great chaos. We had no idea anything like this ever existed. When it was originally destroyed by my son, nobody bothered to check the remains. The burnt-up masses of flesh were still very much alive. Soon, it was able to reform back into its usual form. I only found out about it much later, when it had slaughtered the Western seacoast to fill its belly. It was still weak, so I thought I could take it on myself. It was beaten and injured, but I wasn’t able to kill it no matter what I did!

Sam: But you have the power of the Great Light! No evil creature can beat that!

Hotshot: It’s not like that. The power I have is good enough. It’s me that’s lacking. I am actually one of the least powerful arch-angels, a real late bloomer when it came time to reveal the inner me.

Elyss: Nobody’s perfect. C’mon, Sam. Let’s go burn this thing.

Sam: With a single Foi spell?

Elyss: You’ve got Foi and I’ve got Zan spells. Between the two of us, we’ve got a regular Firestorm in the making.

The blistering mass was starting to gather itself in. Sam casted his Foi spell just as Elyss prepared Nazan. Upon casting the second spell, flames began to spread across the surface of the blob of flesh. The reaction was immediate. It lashed out wildly, swiping bone-clawed tentacles right through the flames. The Firestorm would have continued, but the Macabre’s slash attacks caught them both off guard. Sam was knocked aside by a tentacle composed mainly of muscle and Elyss was hit in the arm by an appendage that looked like a mace. A few seconds later, she dug one of her Genocyclaws into it and the tentacle melted.

Sam: Get out of the way!

Elyss: He wouldn’t… No, not now! We’re underground!

Wren: Several miles underground, in fact.

Elyss: We can’t kill it here without killing ourselves. Let’s get the hell out of here before the room collapses.

All the power in the room had gone out, so forcing the doors open wasn’t that hard. The mag-locks were out of commission. Wren and Demi laid in a suppressing line of fire to keep the Macabre from following them. Since it was rather weak at the moment, it did not mind being left behind. Of course, only a few seconds had passed before the beast began to growl like a pack of hellhounds. It was working double-time on recovery. They could feel it growing in size again, reforming into its natural state. Fortunately, it would take a long time for it to return to full strength. According to Hotshot, it hadn’t been at full since her son obliterated it the first time.

Sam: How did he ever manage to kill that thing?

Hotshot: He didn’t, really. He just hit it with a large beam of energy. It was a lot bigger at the time, so I guess he couldn’t destroy it all.

Sam: I’ve gotta meet this kid…

Soon, they were back on the surface and outside the facility. Somehow, the land had returned to normal, though not a single Sandworm was in sight. That much was a relief, considering the smell. However, the Land-Rover was missing as well. The earthquakes had swallowed everything up. And on top of all that, they could feel a rhythmic vibration under their feet, an immense heartbeat. The King Macabre grows stronger.

Elyss: Hmmm… Hotshot, what’s the fastest way for this King to escape?

Hotshot: By air. It can fly very fast. It would only match a Sandworm’s speed while under the ground.

Elyss: We need a way to keep up with it. I doubt it’s gonna hang around here any longer. Wren, do you have a vehicle nearby?

Wren: Our Hydrofoil is, unfortunately, sleeping with the Sandworms.

Elyss: Damn, we’re gonna lose this thing!

Sam: I don’t think so.

Elyss: Let me guess. You phoned for back-up when we were ambushed in Monsen?

Sam: Uhhh, no. Sorry. That idea hadn’t crossed my mind. I was thinking more along the lines of using the Ragna Blade out here instead of down there.

Elyss: It’d be a little far. Could you really hit him?

Sam: Sure I can! He’s only twice the size of any Sandworm!

Hotshot: He use to be a lot bigger than that.

Half a minute later, the Macabre giant surfaces out of the sands some fifty yards from the Plate System. The sound of floors collapsing on the inside can be heard. Sam lines up his shot and lets loose with the Ragna Blade attack. It hits the King Macabre dead center, burrows into its muscular mass, and explodes violently. There is very little debris, but Wren and Demi decide to check it anyhow, just to be on the safe side. When they come back, they report no signs of life.

Wren: Scans reveal that the remainder of the beast has been burnt throughout and entirely destroyed. There are not even trace elements of its being. My Positron Bolt might have also taken care of this, had I not uninstalled it.

Hotshot: Why’d you take it out?

Wren: It was too dangerous to keep on me while inside Zelan. If I’d malfunctioned at any given time…

Elyss: No more Zelan. Ouch.

Sam: Hey, Elyss. You’re still wounded.

Elyss: What? Really?

Part of her left arm was still bleeding from when that mace swung by. Elyss went to cast Regen on it, but stopped for a second. Something wasn’t right. She could feel it. There was something very odd about that cut. She stared at it for a minute, wondering if the Macabre had somehow infected her. It was a clean cut, nothing special about it in the slightest. Elyss had a knack for knowing when there was something infecting her or doing something unnatural to her, and the idea of being infiltrated by a Macabre didn’t sound very subtle. No, she could tell it was nothing. And yet…as she stared at the cut, she knew something was up. Then she saw it, a movement beneath the skin of her arm that felt involuntary. It felt like having a small metal whip of wire squirming around like a snake. She didn’t know what to make of it. It was just…weird.

Sam: Is there something wrong?

Elyss: No. Nothing at all.

She casted the Regen spell and sealed the wound up. Then, as she fiddled with her weapons, she began to wonder about the whole day. It was all a mess, really. Monsen was a wreck, Daren was dead, the Plate System had been previously taken over by a giant demon of necromancy, and she wasn’t even going to get paid! Those were the thoughts ran through her head now like a swarm of angry wasps, and yet one crept slyly above them all.

Elyss: What’s happening to me?

Wren: We have a serious dilemma on our hands.

Hotshot: What is it now? In case you didn’t notice, we just took down a monster that was almost impossible to kill.

Wren: The problem I am referring to is our lack of transportation.

Demi: We have neutralized the main threat in this area, including the Plate System, but there is a high probability that the bio-monsters have not been totally destroyed.

Wren: We are all drained from our previous battle. More bio-monster attacks could lead to disaster.

Sam: There is no quick way out. The Land-Rover has been swallowed up just like your Hydrofoil. Hotshot, don’t you have some kind of ship?

Hotshot: It’s hidden somewhere near Aiedo.

Sam: No go there. Hmmm… Anyone got a Telepipe?

Elyss: I’ve got something better. I know Ryuka.

Sam: Now we’re getting somewhere!

Hotshot: D’you mind if I hitch a ride?

Elyss: No problem. A frood who knows where her towel is if I ever saw one. Is Aiedo alright with you two?

Demi: That would be fine.

Elyss stood back and concentrated on the town of Aiedo. This was a pretty easy task. Not only was it the site of the Hunter’s Guild, her first and only place of employment, it was also home. In a flash of light, they disappear.

* * *

Later that night, they celebrated their victory in the Hunter’s Guild bar. They all gained from the experience, though it seemed like hell when they went through it. For Wren and Demi, it was a victory over the malfunctions of Motavia’s facilities. For Hotshot, it was the end of a very long battle against a terrible force of evil. And as for the two top-class Hunters, Samuel and Elyss, it turned out that Daren had sent viable credit in advanced through a friend of his and payment for killing off the Macabre population was forthcoming. Now here they all sat, drinks in hand, listening to the music in the background. (Wren and Demi could never drink alcohol, so they were given 30-weight oil instead.) It was a very jazzy tune called the Peter Gunn Theme. Hotshot seemed to know something about it.

Hotshot: It’s a little-known tune from Earth.

Elyss: I like it. It’s nice and easy.

Hotshot: But not as funny as Minnie the Moocher.

Wren: Who is-

Hotshot/Elyss/Samuel: Don’t ask.

Wren: Hmmm…

Elyss: Something bugs me though…

Wren: What?

Elyss: You two don’t care what happens to the Motavian systems?

Wren: Although they are quite valuable and useful at times, we have determined that they are no longer necessary.

Demi: Algo has grown and changed a lot since we vanquished the Profound Darkness. Without its ill effects, Motavia has been able to stabilize itself.

Wren: The sites here on the planet are still used in case of emergency, but they are hardly in dire need. We are, of course, making sure that there is not another attack from Dark Force. He may still wish Algo destroyed.

Hotshot: Do you think he’s responsible for the sabotage?

Wren: Dark Force can corrupt many, enslave others, even create unspeakable minions of evil, but he does not have access to these facilities. The one who did it was never attacked, never challenged, and never recorded for future reference. Can you imagine Dark Force being so subtle?

Hotshot: Not when you put it like that. Your saboteur could be someone from my neck of the woods, but then again, I would have heard something about it by now. They have a sort of calling card for people like me. They like us to know when they’re up to something.

Demi: Why would anyone want to do that?

Hotshot: Three words, Demi. They are crazy.

* * *

In this world, it’s kill or be killed. The hordes of bio-monsters seemed endless. Sand Newts were feasting upon Mini-Worms when she awoke. Then, much to her surprise, the heads of some of the Newts broke upon and spats cord-like tentacles at the others. They were not Sand Newts at all, but Polymorphs! They only took their form to get close to the next meal. As she approached them, Genocyclaws ready, some of them backed away. They had never seen one such as her. Finally, one leaped at her in its Newt-like body, bringing its own claws into play. She blocks the attack and gouges the thing’s stomach. The sensation of killing is pleasing, almost intoxicating. After ripping open the Polymorph’s body, the others attack as one. They flail about and use some of their tentacles, but it makes no difference. With superhuman speed, she takes them all down, one by one. Laughter echoes throughout the desert as she massacres one beast after another. The thrill of the kill and the taste of blood is the greatest pleasure of all. Soon, she begins to hunt for other victims. No one on this planet is safe. Then finally, a single warrior appears almost by magic. He comes to stop the one responsible for all the merciless slaughter. Like all her victims, she cares not who this person is or why he’s here. They battle day and night until finally, the warrior falls. His armor has been breached and now he will die. She strolls over to his prone form so she can carve him up into pieces for trying to stop her ongoing rampage. But then, she recognizes the face of her opponent. It can’t be… She just killed Sam!

* * *

Her eyes came open by sheer willpower, even though she was not actually awake until a few seconds later. They did so almost as if her own subconscious was working overtime to save her sanity. What did these dreams mean, anyway? They seemed to happen at random and take her all over the world. Now that she was wide awake, the only place she was occupying (instead of a stasis pod or something) was her own house. Elyss got out of bed and put on casual clothing, some shorts and a shirt. Today was her day off and she wasn’t gonna waste it on dream analysis. That could wait for another day. Aiedo’s mountain range was said to be the best place on Motavia to climb and Elyss wanted in on that. To her, it would actually be very relaxing.

Elyss: Maybe I can get Sam to join me on this.

Just then, there was a knock at her front door. Judging from the sound of it, the knock came from someone who was fully capable of breaking the door down with one swift kick. Elyss could do that, but she never knocked before breaking it down. The knocking persisted. At this rate, she would have to answer it rather than let whoever it was think she wasn’t home. Elyss opened the door, which had been weakened some by the knocking, and found Wren standing at the doorway.

Elyss: Couldn’t you just call me on the phone and leave a message? I don’t like it when people mess up my front door.

Wren: I’m sorry, but I did not know what your phone number was. In any case, I came to tell you something of great importance.

Elyss: What is it?

Wren: Nurvus has just gone into a Stage 3 alert status. Something is happening in there and I need to find out as soon as possible. The entire facility has been taken over using my own level of access and now I find that I cannot get in myself.

Elyss: I thought places like Nurvus didn’t matter anymore.

Wren: They are not necessary to Motavia at this time, but I had not considered the other possibility.

Elyss: Which is…?

Wren: That it could all be used to control Motavia by making it dependant again. Imagine having the power of life and death at your fingertips. That is precisely why I increased security there to begin with.

Elyss: But now, someone has used your own access to get in and take over. Well, what’re you going to do about it?

Wren: For starters, I am hiring you and Samuel Neocene help us infiltrate Nurvus.

Elyss: You’re hiring me? I didn’t know you actually had any money at all.

Wren: Motavia owes me for over two thousand years of service.

Elyss: Give me five minutes and I’m there! Nurvus will never know what hit it!

Wren: They say she is like Alys Brangwin, but I disagree. She is one of a kind.

Chapter 3 - Dual Matrix.

Four minutes and fifty-nine seconds later, Elyss was at the edge of town with Sam, Wren, and Demi. Hotshot had declined in joining them on the grounds that she was nursing a bad hangover and needed to report in about the King Macabre’s death anyway. Outside, Wren had gotten hold of another Hydrofoil. Elyss jumped into the driver’s seat almost immediately.

Elyss: Don’t argue. I’m the best in Aiedo.

Sam: After months of practice and the biggest damn repair bill you ever saw.

Elyss: Ah, shut up.

Demi: Is it safe?

Sam: Yeah, it’s safe. She’s a lot better now.

Elyss: So Wren, what kind of security did you install anyway?

Wren: I had Demi memorize the exact design specs since she is Nurvus’ usual android on duty. Demi?

Demi: Thank you, Master Wren. The outside perimeter of Nurvus has been fortified with anti-tank guns to defend it from full-scale invasions. Our Hydrofoil should be able to avoid the cannon shots with its superior speed. Once past the perimeter guns, there are very few external defenses.

Sam: How come? Those guns can’t handle everything.

Demi: The anti-tank guns can halt any oncoming heavy-armor vehicles. The cannon shells are specially designed to break down thick metal shielding with acidic compounds. Coupled with the explosive power, this makes it a very lethal weapon. Anything that can get past these guns probably would not have the capability to breach the armored bunker covering the entrance into Nurvus.

Sam: But if something powerful enough did get past it?

Demi: Low-flying Sentry Pods are launched as a countermeasure. Inside, it is like a well-organized fortress. Alert statuses are divided into three stages. Currently, the Nurvus computer is stuck on Stage 3, which is the most secure of the three and also the most dangerous. Normally, we would be able to contact the central computer, but someone is blocking the transmission.

Sam: Not something?

Wren: The ease and precision of the saboteur’s actions implies a human touch. I doubt that it is a bio-monster of some kind.

Elyss: Are you guys through? We’ve got a mission to perform.

Sam: Those perimeter guns are really gonna put your driving skills to the test.

Elyss: I hope they do!

A minute later, they were on their way. Wren gave directions to Nurvus, but Elyss seemed to already know the way. When you’ve been as abroad in the world as her, you get to know all your surroundings. At least, most of them anyway. Monsen and other places nearby were the exception. Elyss couldn’t have used Ryuka to get there since she’d never actually visited the place before. This left her wondering about Nurvus too. She hadn’t been inside there either, but she was pretty sure what it would be like. As the Hydrofoil crossed the desert sands, the bunker that covered the facility entrance came into view. Half a second later, the big guns sprouted out of the sand, firing their cannon shells. Elyss was impressed. Some of their shots came as close as five feet away, but there was no way in hell she’d let ‘em get any closer than that! The Hydrofoil blasted past the perimeter defenses without taking a single scratch. The turret guns couldn’t fire at them now. They would damage the bunker in the process.

Elyss: How were you guys planning on getting in, anyway?

Demi: We are going to hack our way in.

Sam: Now you’re talkin’!

Elyss: Not like that, Sam.

Sam: Phooey…

Demi: The main passcodes have all been changed and encrypted. I must enter the computer system and regain access. Otherwise, Nurvus will never permit our entry.

Sam: You know, we really could just force our way in. We’ll have to fight our way through it all, anyway. Why not take it all down in one fell swoop?

Wren: Because Nurvus’ defense forces have been developing some positively lethal killing machines and we do not want to deal with any of them. They ensure Nurvus’ safety by terminating any intruders with extreme prejudice. Some do not even bother to discriminate between targets and destroy everything in sight.

Sam: Okay, okay. I get the point. Geez…

Demi: You will have to be on your guard while I’m working. The sentries will try to stop me, even though I am Nurvus’ primary operator.

Elyss: That’s what we’re here for.

Demi connected herself via phone cables to the Nurvus mainframe. A simulation of its inner-workings came on display inside her mind. The ‘brain’ of Nurvus was like a giant energy matrix and the sub-system nodes were geological shapes and prisms. The security programs, Watchers, appeared as human eyeballs. This many of them present in the system at once was a dead giveaway that there was something very strange going. Someone had gone out of their way to fool Nurvus’ central computer and to prevent access from either her or Wren. Using a program to mask her approach into the protected systems, Demi made her way to a data-cube had held recent files. As long as she didn’t behave suspiciously, the Watchers would simply think of her as a piece of data circulating from node to node as per some preset programming. The answer had to be in here. She attempted to gain access. Naturally, her passcode did not work. Demi ran encryption breakers to find the correct passcode and the node spat one word at her in an Italian accented voice.

Node: Swordfish!

Demi: Swordfish? It gave up my twenty-seven digit passcode for the name of a fish?

It didn’t matter what she thought of it. The password fit and access was granted. Demi sifted through all of Nurvus’ daily reports until she found what she was looking for. Numerous files covering recent orders and protocol changes stated that Nurvus was put on full alert by Wren. This was the work of the saboteur. He was covering his trail by placing the blame on Wren. Whoever this was had pulled a world-class stunt on the computer and it wasn’t going to realize the mistake it had made because it had never checked out the saboteur with the cameras. Demi checks in further and finds that her access has been cut entirely. However, Wren’s access could not be removed since whoever was in there was using it himself. Demi pulled away from the data-cube and headed for the node that controlled the security cameras. She would see who this interloper was for herself. But as she drew closer to it, the Watchers saw through the masking program and surrounded her. They spoke as one, asking one question after another and making demands.

Watchers: You do not have proper access. What are you doing in this system? What is your format? Where are you accessing from? Provide a viable password now or we will fragment your neural pathways.

Demi: It’s worth a try… Swordfish!

Watchers: No, we got tired of that one.

The eyes began to vibrate menacingly as energy surged into them from all over the system. They would’ve obliterated Demi’s mind completely if not for the flash system she had prepared for just such an emergency. Instantly, a shockwave of light enveloped the Watchers, over-stimulating their senses and paralyzing their higher cognitive processes. Demi slipped away while they frantically tried to ‘blink’ the effects away. She disconnected and found herself in almost the same situation that she’d left behind. They were being surrounded by a dozen flying Sentry Pods. Fortunately, they were not nearly as lethal as the Watchers. Elyss destroyed a few with her Slasher and Sam sliced through a few more that had gotten a little close. As they continued to kill off the sentries, Demi noticed two things. (1) Wren was missing. (2) The bunker’s armored door was now open.

Demi: What happened out here?

Elyss: The door unlocked itself while you were in the system and Wren went to investigate. He said he was clearing a path. I heard some gunshots, so I guess the door was guarded.

Sam: Great work, Demi. You must’ve really given Nurvus what for.

Demi: Did I?

A few minutes later, the Sentry Pods are reduced to large piles of junk and Wren has returned from his recon. He reported the total annihilation of about forty robotic guards. The first stretch of Nurvus’ interior must’ve been packed wall to wall! The others follow him inside and make their way to the first elevator.

Wren: The area we want is C-Block, which contains the most important equipment. Everything from high-yield generators to the main computer itself is located there.

Elyss: If that’s the case, then they’ve stacked their most powerful guys there.

Wren: And especially around this elevator when we arrive down there. That is why we will make a detour that will bypass some of the forces. In this stage of alert, the rooms are all locked down. The robotic forces do not have the access to open the doors, so they are trapped with whatever unfortunate intruder comes across them. We will exit at B-Block and use a service elevator that they are not expecting us to use and get in with greater ease.

At the same moment Wren finished, the doors opened to allow them into the B-Block. There was a tough-looking robot standing guard here. Wren described it as a Deathstalker, a robotic assassin that was swift, intelligent, and vicious. The Deathstalker is humanoid, but definitely not human-looking. The tall, black robot has a larger-than-normal head and eyes spread far apart enough to give it a lizard-like appearance to it. Its glowing eyes could see in the usual binocular fashion or in two different directions. Its hands ended in razor-sharp claws and its mouth was set into a perpetual grin of pure malevolence. The Deathstalker was designed to kill without conscience, without care. If it was provided with a target, it would deal with said target without question. The question here was this…

Wren: What are your orders?

Deathstalker: All unauthorized entities are to be terminated on sight.

Elyss: And are we targets?

Deathstalker: Need you ask?

The robot’s super-deep Demonesque voice was unnerving in the extreme. It was apparent that he meant business and was in fact ordered to kill them. It fired lasers from its eyes at both Demi and Wren. They were heat rays, best used on flesh, so they didn’t really take much damage. The Deathstalker ducked as Wren fired back with his Photon Eraser. Elyss and Sam attack simultaneously with their weapons, forcing the robot to block with its clawed hands. This, however, was only a diversion. Wren fired a Flare into the machine’s chest, knocking it into a wall. It got up and roared loudly enough to create an actual shockwave. Then, the assassin went to work with its deadlier weapons. Wren had heard of the energy-manipulator device codenamed MegaSpark from scientists, but he had never seen it until now. The Deathstalker jumped up and lobbed a sizeable wad of raw energy at the floor. The explosive energy release knocked them all off of their feet. At the same instant that it hit the ground again, a compartment opened in its stomach to reveal its most devastating weapon, the Anti-Matter Pulse Cannon. Such a device could launch a force of anti-particles at a target for a definite kill. It hardly mattered what it was. Anti-matter reacted violently to anything it hit. As the device began to charge, Demi got an idea. She fired her Pulse Rifle right when the Deathstalker launched its attack. An instant later, the anti-matter exploded about five inches from where it had been launched from. All that remained of the Deathstalker was its smoking metal feet. Demi almost snickered at the obvious defect she’d found. The rest of the trip to the service elevator was not as eventful. Not exactly, anyway. A swarm of Insectoid robots (which were ant-like and mantis-like at the same time and used artillery-loaded Gatling Guns) attacked, but they weren’t as skillful as the assassin they’d left behind. The sealed doors had to be blown open, but that was easy for Wren’s Photon Eraser. Finally, they had reached the service elevator and were on their way down to C-Block. It opened up to an industrial section of the C-Block area. Tall machines and catwalks stretched on into the darkness of this poorly-lit room. Just then, a heavy clanking sound could be heard, followed by a mechanical screech that sounded almost animalistic.

Sam: What was that?!

Wren: Something I had hoped we would not have to face, a V-22 Eliminator.

Elyss: Wren, I think you went way too far on your security measures!

Wren: I didn’t design it or the Deathstalkers. Other scientists created them.

Sam: Well what the hell did they need this thing for?!

They could hear it coming. It was on a catwalk, stomping heavily and howling like ravenous mutant animal. At Wren’s suggestion, they decided to run. This Eliminator thing was built for total annihilation and absolute kills. The door leading back into the main sections of C-Block and away from this mess was not locked at all. An override was being used to allow security forces to migrate a little. The room they were now in had several doors within it leading to other parts of Nurvus. Wren locked the door behind them and proceeded to the door on their left.

Wren: This will take us straight into Nurvus’ central core. We will enter the main computer area via the generator room.

Elyss: They wouldn’t dare fire at us in there. One misplaced shot and kaboom!

Wren: I hardly think so. The main reactor is well armored.

Elyss: Oh… Well, let’s get going!

Wren: I cannot. This door has been welded shut.

*BAM!*

The other door, the one they’d just come through, shuddered with the harsh impact. A large dent was in the middle of it. Several more impacts followed as the door crumpled under the sheer force delivered by the Eliminator. They could see what it looked like now. It has a massive upper-torso mounted on a turntable device and is supported by four heavy insect-like legs. The main arms of this thing end in claws and have mounted weapons such as a Plasma Gatling Gun and a high-yield Laser Cannon. Missle Launchers appear on the shoulders and Pulse Cannons are hidden in its chest. The Eliminator’s head looks like the cross between a mantis and a human skull with several eyes on its expanded cranium. It howled at them before letting fly with the Gatling Gun. This was like a big brother of the Plasma Vulcan. It began to blow the deck plates off of the floor! Then it let loose a few missles, but wasn’t actually aiming on its first volley. The blasted machine was just causing chaos and turmoil for the hell of it! Elyss was the first to act, being one who does not scare easily and acts by instinct in battles. What instincts told her now was to keep her distance. So she casted Nathu against the nightmare machine. Sam’s instincts did not work the same way. He decided to take a stab at disabling a weapon. He swung his scythe into the Laser Cannon and was rewarded with the sound of it short-circuiting. Shortly after, he was given a different kind of reward: A punch in the face. The Eliminator obviously didn’t like heroics, so it clocked Sam hard between the eyes, flinging him across the room in the process. At that moment, Demi’s instincts kicked in and she went to help him recover from such a harsh blow. As for Wren, he didn’t have any instincts to rely on. He just acted. Wren activated his Hyper-Jammer and used it against the Eliminator. It immediately began to short-circuit and malfunction. Wren wasted no time with his next move. He shot the Eliminator in the head at point-blank range with his Photon Eraser. This was only able to immobilize the machine. And yet, with all of the armor and weapons it possessed, Wren wasn’t sure if he could ever destroy it. Even the ability he had seen Samuel use might prove ineffective. This machine was a prime example of how science can go too far.

Wren: We should hurry. It might have repair systems. And if it does, we will hear from it again all too soon.

Elyss: Wren, why don’t we destroy this thing? It’s too dangerous.

Wren: How?

Elyss looked over the inert mechanical beast. She was no roboticist, but she could tell this machine wouldn’t go down easily, even when it can’t fight back. Elyss pondered Wren’s simple, yet complex, inquiry until a suitable answer came to mind.

Elyss: Spark it.

Wren: Are you sure that is wise?

Elyss: Could it hurt to try?

Wren: Yes.

Elyss: How so?

Wren: The Spark’s energy surge might accidentally jump-start it into action.

Elyss: I see… Anyone got another idea?

Sam: Actually, I do have a little something here that might help.

Elyss: What would we do without you?

Sam: I dunno. Anyway, I thought we might need to blast our way into here, so I packed some explosives and a timer just in case. I can plant this stuff all over that cheap-shot robot.

Wren: We must hurry to the control center. Set the explosives and follow us there.

Sam: Gotcha’.

Wren, Demi, and Elyss entered the hallway to the generator room. The locked door didn’t give them any trouble now since the Eliminator had blown it to pieces with its arsenal. They walked into the generator area and beheld an awesome sight. First, there was the sheer size of the reactors. They started some thirty feet up from the platform and stretched on down a couple of miles into the planet. Part of Nurvus’ power source was geo-thermal, which explained the immensity of the reactors. Second, one had to admire the fact that this is what powers the very thing that had kept Motavia stable ever since the Great Collapse. Lastly, there was a single guard at the doorway to the control room. It was humanoid and had one red gleaming eye. In its hands were a pair of Slashers, but not normal ones. These were embedded with some kind of technology. Other than that, they seemed like regular Laconia Slashers. As they cautiously strolled across the platforms, the robot shifted its gaze to meet theirs. It was as if it had a growing anticipation of battle welling up in its soul. The Slashers began to charge with an energy that distorted the very air and space around it. Clearly, this was not your typical guard.

Elyss: Wren, what is that thing?

Wren: I do not know. It is not registered in my data files. Whatever it is, it does not belong inside Nurvus.

Elyss: Are you saying it belongs to the intruder?

Wren: That would appear to be a reasonable assumption.

Demi: The energy from those Slashers is somewhat similar to the effect of my Phonomizer device. Direct contact could be fatal.

Elyss: Then how is it holding those things?

Demi: I detect a shield of the same frequency.

Elyss: Wonderful…

Elyss pulled out her own Slasher and kept it hidden behind her back as they began to have a Mexican standoff with the robot. In a way, it seemed like a ninja. For almost two whole minutes, they all stared at each other, silently daring the other to make a move. It wasn’t until a tremendous explosion was heard that anyone acted. The ninja-bot was distracted by the detonation of Sam’s explosives for just an instant, which was all Elyss required. She threw the Slasher at the robot right when it was looking away. Right after that, Elyss pulled out her sword and went in to follow through with her attack. The Slasher was deflected suddenly by a quick maneuver from its intended target. One of the robot’s own Slashers knocked it off course, sending it to the floor. What surprised it was Elyss’ follow-through. It moved aside with superhuman speed, taking a dent in the side from the sword. They had caught it off guard. It would not let that happen again. A kind of energy shield went up and the automation tossed its Slashers at Wren and Demi. They homed in on the two androids, as if directed by the attacker’s own mind. Demi acted quickly upon realizing this. She activated the Phonomizer and tried to deflect the Slashers. It had only a partial effect. The Slashers’ charged energy was released before hitting its target and they simply struck the androids’ armor head on, doing much less than lethal damage. The weird part was that the Slashers remained airborne! Meanwhile, Elyss was going mono a mono with the ninja machine, trying to find a way past that shield it was using and do some major damage. Her spell techniques were just vaporizing as soon as they struck the shield and she was positive that her weapons would do the same. Somehow, her black Slasher had survived, but it still couldn’t penetrate the shield. Just then, the other Slashers returned as if beckoned there by the owner. The robot prepared to strike at Elyss using full power and no mercy. But then, it didn’t count on interference. The robot’s shield became extremely unstable as a Phonomizer blast collided with it. Elyss snickered at what happened next. The shield overloaded itself and collapsed. The energy that her opponent had been using was no longer in effect. It stood there, looking for all the world like it was confused and bewildered, almost unable to fathom what had just happened here.

Elyss: Payback time.

Elyss pulled out her Genocyclaws and attacked the thing viciously with a trademark move of hers, the Claw Devil technique. She kept on delivering one blow after another, deflecting every attack the robot tried to use. Its Slashers weren’t much of a threat now. Soon, the robot was heavily damaged on every part of its body. It pulled out a grenade and tried to blow them all to kingdom come, but it did not get very far as a scythe swung by and cut off its feet.

Sam: Did I miss anything?

The grenade exploded, taking the robot with it. Sam didn’t even want to know what the story behind that one was. He’d had enough problems today, the latest one being the fact that he couldn’t destroy the Eliminator with the explosives.

Sam: I couldn’t believe it. The only thing I’d managed to do was blow it through an armored door. It clobbered a bunch of Deathstalkers on the other side, but I wasn’t able to kill the damn thing!

Elyss: It’s okay, Sam. You tried. Is it still out of action?

Sam: Out like a light and smelling extra crispy.

Elyss: How long will it stay like that, Wren?

Wren: It should remain inactive until the scientist in charge of its programming resets the memory banks and CPU of the Eliminator.

Elyss: Ah, some good news for a change.

Voice: And now, the bad news.

Sam: Who said that?

Voice: I did.

Elyss: Could you be a little more specific? How about a name to go with the voice?

Voice: Step into my parlor if you wish to know.

Sam: Typical villain…

They step inside the control room, ready for anything, even another King Macabre, should one appear. Luckily for them, there was no such beast attached to the main computer. In fact, there didn’t appear to be anyone here! Then, a sound came from the far side of the room. Whoever was here had been monitoring everything from inside the computer’s core. Demi knew firsthand what it was like in there. You could see everything Nurvus saw via security cameras and guards. They were the eyes and ears of this place. The core opened itself up to allow their elusive saboteur to exit into Nurvus’ central control room. None of them had expected something like this.

Sam: He looks just like Wren!

Android: Well, not exactly like him…

It was the same face and the same tall robotic body, but it wasn’t Wren. At least, not the Wren they knew. This android was so similar to him, it was uncanny. Other Wren-series androids had their differences to him, even the others in Wren’s own class. No android came so close to his appearance just to be sure nobody would ever confuse him. This other guy had only a couple little details that made him different. His armor was a darker shade of black, his eyes were red, and there was a hint of attitude in his voice.

Android: Would you stop staring already? I haven’t been waiting around here just so you could gawk at my uncanny resemblance to my ‘little brother’.

Wren: Who are you? State your designation.

Android: I go only by one name, and it is Wrek. I’m not really a part of Wren-series collective. I just have a similar design.

Elyss: Obviously, you’re not from around here. So what’re you doing on Motavia?

Sam: And why take over a place like Nurvus?

Wrek: I came by to check up on some of my creations, to see what kind of progress they’ve made these past few years. I designed the security forces for Nurvus, not those two-bit hacks that work here. Deathstalkers? I stole the idea from aliens. The Eliminator? I built that thing from scratch. And how about that Infiltrator?

Elyss: That thing outside? It wasn’t too bad.

Wrek: I figured as much. It was just a prototype, really. Still, I’m surprised you could beat it. Those Quantum Slashers it had were 100% fatal to the touch. Who are you, anyway?

Elyss: My name’s Elyss. I’m a professional Hunter.

Wrek: Hmmm… A Hunter… Very interesting…

Elyss: What are you talking about?

Wrek wasn’t paying attention anymore. He was now grinning mischievously and snickering. Elyss wondered what the hell he was doing now. This wasn’t what you’d call typical behavior for an android. Wrek was weird. Worse than that, he had a human side to him, which he demonstrated by hitting on Demi.

Wrek: Say…why are you hanging out with a guy like him, anyway? I’m much better looking. Alright, that’s not entirely true, but I have a better personality. Come with me and you’ll get the ride of your life!

This took everyone by surprise, especially Demi. Wrek had access to a full range of emotions and knew how to use them. The way he talked in a normal conversation was borderline human, but for an android to act like this was beyond strange. Wren was confused the most. He was still trying to digest the data that explained how he came to be, which was still incomplete. Someone who had been to Algo and knew of the Wren-series androids had built him, but for what purpose? Wrek had a scientific mind, but he was behaving very strangely. One reason for this might’ve been that he was diverting them from the fact that he was under total control of Nurvus, able to give it any command without question. This gave him dominion over Motavia itself. He had to be stopped.

Wren: You will have to leave this facility, Wrek.

Wrek: Are you going to force me, little brother?

Wren: Yes.

Elyss: Hey Wren! Need a hand?

Wren: I will handle this.

Wrek: Sez you!

Without another word, Wrek pointed his hand at Wren shot a Spark at him. Wren’s systems were suddenly heavily damaged by the shock. As Wrek laughed his head off, he focused on a Recovery.

Wrek: How can you fight someone who’s better than you? I know how you think, Wren. You’re too predictable. Without any emotion, you can’t do anything at the drop of a hat. I’ve got you beat on every front!

Demi: Not quite.

Demi shot at Wrek with her Phonomizer, thrusting him back. If he was damaged any more than mildly, he didn’t show it. He was grinning in a way that was really unnerving and eerie, like he really was crazy.

Wrek: You should really reconsider the offer I made. We’re gonna have one helluva blast taking over the Algo Star System.

Demi: What?

Wrek: That’s right, my dear. It’s all going to be mine. Why not join the winning side and save yourself a great deal of trouble? We can do what we wish with Wren and continue the plan I’d laid out. I’ll even let him live if you so desire.

Wren: You won’t be taking anything over.

Wrek: Say wha- AAAGH!

Wren finished his repairs and shot Wrek in the face with a Flare. He was thrown off of his feet, hitting the floor with a loud clang. Wrek got up and charged Wren with a shoulder-slam. They both clashed in a deadly fist fight, metal against metal. Wren was eventually tossed against the door that led in here. Wrek fired at him with Micro-Missles from his shoulders. It blew Wren right through the door!

Wrek: Hmmmm… I wouldn’t want to be the janitor around here.

Elyss: Hold it, Wrek. I think you’ve done enough.

Wrek: Didn’t he say he wanted to handle this android to android?

Elyss: Yeah, but I’d only let that go so far.

Wrek: Hmmm… Personally, I don’t see why you’re wasting your time with these characters. A person of your particular background could do better in life.

Elyss: Say what?! What does he mean?

Wrek exited the control center and immediately dodged left as Wren fired at him with his Photon Eraser. With superhuman speed, he dashes right up to Wren and kicks the gun out of his hand. Then he tries to bash his head in. Wren blocks the effort and uses his Hyper-Jammer on Wrek. He falters for a minute, but is not as easily damaged as Wren before him. Wren kicks him back and fires a volley of BurstRockets at him. Wrek counters with his own BurstRockets and reveals a new weapon that he’d been saving for a rainy day. A compartment on his chest opens up and slides a Positron Bolt emitter into place! Wren is blasted onto one of the outer platforms by an intense beam of energy.

Wrek: Told you I was better…

Wrek makes his way over to the platform and stands before his enemy, who is still trying to make repairs. He was about to make a snide remark when his back suddenly went ablaze with energy pulses. Demi was behind him, firing her gun at rapid-fire. Wrek was forced to leap out of the way, still smoking from the collective energy blasts. He was near one of the railings, making repairs of his own.

Demi: Wren, catch!

She tossed him his gun. Wren caught it with a quick flowing motion, swung it at Wrek, and fired at full blast. Wrek was caught off guard and blown into the railing. Wren began to fire again, but this time, he actually felt true hatred as he unloaded on this evil version of himself. This caused a few of his shots to be off the mark some, but it didn’t matter. Intense explosions raked the area, damaging Wrek and blowing him straight through the now decimated railing. He fell off the platform and would fall a couple miles to be smashed down next to the main reactor. After he was gone, the feeling disappeared completely. Demi walked up beside him, wondering what going on in his head.

Demi: I checked the systems. He didn’t change any of the programs as far as I can tell. What was he here for?

Wren: …

Demi: Is something wrong?

Wren: It was the strangest thing. I actually hated him, more than my displeasure for the Profound Darkness or anything the like. I’ve never felt like that before.

Voice: Oh, right. Now he starts feeling emotions, right after blowing me off of a stinkin’ maintenance platform!

Wren: Wrek?

Demi: But how?

Wrek shot up from the pit that would have catered his demise, jet-engine devices attached to his back. He’s still damaged, but definitely not throwing in the towel yet. He’s holding a beam rifle of some sort.

Wrek: My creator made a great deal of things that used Quantum technology. This is my prized possession, the Quantum Cannon! Nothing destroys more per capita than this baby! SO EAT THIS!!

Wrek pulls the trigger. The cannon charges for a few seconds and then spews a large beam of energy that generates more of that strange warping effect. Wren and Demi know they have to move and FAST. The beam blows the entire platform and seems to smear it across the expanses of time and space. This cannon is definitely a Grade-A killing machine. Wrek can find no trace of the other two androids. Neither can Sam and Elyss, for that matter. They had seen it all from the control room. There was nothing they could have done.

Sam: Who could’ve built such a psycho machine?

Elyss: Pray we never find out.

Sam: So, what’re we going to do about him?

Wrek’s Voice: Indeed. What about me?

Elyss: What’re you up to now?

Wrek’s Voice: Me? I’m leaving this pit before it cramps my style. I’m through workin’ this scene. By the way… Would you say that the Eliminator I found here was more powerful than either one of you? I’m just curious.

He wasn’t really curious. He already knew. The Eliminator probably would have crushed them all if not for Wren’s quick actions. It was an overpowered death machine. That was the last they heard from Wrek over the intercom. To say that either of them was relieved by his absence was an understatement. After making certain Nurvus’ security was back to normal, Sam and Elyss began to head up to the surface. It was a lonely trek.

Sam: Is there even a chance that they survived?

Elyss: Not if they were in that blast. You heard Wrek. It was a Quantum Cannon. He could smear things across time and space.

Sam: I don’t remember him saying that exactly.

Elyss: It was just like the Infiltrator. Everything it touches gets blown away. I hate that guy… I hate the way he acts.

Sam: You mean, like he’s in on a joke and doesn’t wanna tell?

Elyss: Bingo. He knows something. Something so important that he can’t keep it to himself. Something he can afford to joke about without getting himself killed.

Sam: I don’t follow.

Elyss: When he made that remark about taking over Algo, I think he meant every word. More than that, he’s confident that nobody can stop him.

Sam: Well, he just killed some prime candidates. And he might still wanna come after us too.

Elyss: I don’t think he gives a damn about… Oh no!

Sam: What?

They were almost out of there, only a little ways to the front door of the bunker. Then suddenly, she heard it. It was faint, only audible enough for her own ears to pick it up. It was like a mechanical insect growling and screeching. They were not alone up here. They were being followed. The sound came again, louder this time as a door collapsed several rooms away.

Sam: He didn’t… It couldn’t…

Elyss: It is.

Sam: Oh man… Not again…

The sounds they heard could have only come from the Eliminator. Wrek had asked about it earlier. He probably meant to reactivate it and watch the fun. They could now hear its Gatling Gun blasting away at another door. It was searching for them.

Elyss: Sam, tell me you damaged it with the explosives.

Sam: I guess I might’ve… It was mostly armored with Laconia.

Elyss: Laconia?! That android must be crazy! And if that thing has a memory, then it’s gonna be awfully pissed to find us here.

Sam: I wouldn’t be surprised if Wrek gave him a little 411.

Elyss: Yeah… We need a plan, dammit! That thing has too many weapon and not enough weaknesses! Wait a sec… That’s it!

Sam: What’s it?

Elyss: Sam, do you have any good techniques for penetrating defenses?

Sam: Uhhh…I can Crosscut pretty well. Why?

Elyss: We’re gonna take out a few of its options.

She had an idea going, a sketchy one, but it was better than nothing. From the other side of the door leading back into Nurvus, the Eliminator was howling like mad. Ahead of them was the bunker’s main entrance, a thick slab of Laconia that would slide into place on command. And outside, there was the Hydrofoil. It might just work. The only problem was that the psycho war machine had been playing around the first time. Now, it meant business. Finally, the Eliminator had zeroed in on their location. Pulse Cannon shots rattled the door until it fell apart. Their own personal hunter seemed to grin in anticipation of the merciless kill-session it was about to perform. It stomped through the doorway with the greatest of ease (at least as easily as it was capable), scanning the two Hunters thoroughly and making an estimate of their strengths and weaknesses. Something about the two of them made its sensors act funny. They bleeped inside its head in registry of some very peculiar results. The Wren-type android that had repaired it had said "These two are not your regular garden variety Hunters. They are the very best of the Guild. Show no mercy whatsoever." Of course, it had never seen a Numan before, so the readings were bound to be confusing at first. The data would be analyzed later. Right now, there was work to be done. The Eliminator viciously roared at them and fired its Pulse Cannons. Sam and Elyss reacted instantly, throwing themselves aside.

Elyss: Now!

Sam pulled his scythe out and performed his own variation of a Crosscut on the torso of the killer robot. It didn’t damage the armor much, but its four Pulse Cannons were now totally useless. As the Eliminator turned to face Sam and knock his lights out again, Elyss jumped it from behind and used her Air Blade technique. The robot lurched from the impact, since it wasn’t expecting an attack from behind. But now it saw through their plan. They were trying to confuse it with these tactics until it made a big mistake and left itself wide open. That was not going to happen. From its sides, four lesser arms folded out of hidden compartments. They were all triple-jointed and ended in whirling jagged blades. It swung these arms out at both sides, attacking wildly at first, but then becoming more coordinated. This forced its targets on to the defensive. It would only be a matter of time.

Sam: Do we head out?

Elyss: Yeah, go now!

They ducked away simultaneously and ran for the exit. The Eliminator raged as the bladed arms swung around beside it, finding nothing there to thrash and kill. Its eyes all flashed red as it targeted them for a missle strike, the Launchers responded by swiveling into position, and then…

BOOM!!!

The Missle Launchers mounted on its shoulders exploded right when the command to fire was given. The Air Blade technique had damaged both Launchers badly enough to jam the whole works. However, there was one thing wrong with the result. The Eliminator still stood in one piece. Weapons had been disabled, yes, but the death machine remained. It stalked them once more. The stairs leading out of the bunker were now before it and the main door was closing. Outside…

Sam: Okay, we’ve taken out some weapons, managed to piss it off, and now the only thing between it and us is that door. What next?

Elyss: Well first, that door should hold for a while. The only thing left is the Gatling Gun and it won’t penetrate this door so easily.

Sam: Yeah, but there’s a little problem.

Elyss: What?

Sam: The only weapon it’s got left is the Gatling Gun. That one alone had us all ducking for cover and it wasn’t even trying to hit anything!

Elyss: Listen, I know it’s a kick-ass weapon and that it could blow us away at fifty paces easy, but I’ve got an idea or two that’ll even the score.

Sam: Okay, I’m listening, but talk fast. I know it’s gonna pull something sneaky.

Elyss: Look around. What’ve we got to work with?

Sam: Lesse here… There’s the Hydrofoil, the bunker, and a bunch of inactive turret guns. Hey, wait… D’you really think we can use those guns?

Elyss: We can lure it out with the Hydrofoil and let the heavy guns take care of that psycho-droid. With my driving skills, we can’t miss.

Sam: Well, I hope he can.

They prepare the necessities to their plan with only the night sky to light the place. A radio connection needed to be established with Nurvus in order to activate the guns. The only usable radio device was in the Hydrofoil itself. After that, they prime the Hydrofoil’s weaponry. Seconds later, a strange noise emerges from the depths of the bunker. It sounds like energy being focused on something. A part of the bunker door begins to melt as a laser beam slowly cuts it open.

Sam: Damn! He’s repaired the Laser Cannon!

Elyss hadn’t thought that Wrek would even bother to repair the thing’s damages at all. She figured Wrek would’ve just reactivated it and said "Go on. Have fun." But no, he didn’t just leave it at that. He must be laughing his head off somewhere. Elyss silently cursed him as the Laser Cannon finished cutting open the armored door. Then, with a single punch, the Eliminator knocked it out of the way. It took a step outside, looked around, and received an X-Burst at full blast. That really pissed it off. The Eliminator brought its Plasma Gatling Gun into play and fired at will. Unfortunately for it, the Hydrofoil was a lot faster than the shots. In response to its sudden departure, the mega machine ran full-tilt after the Hydrofoil, firing its guns the whole way. It had regenerating power-cells, so who would care if it wasted ammo? The Hydrofoil maneuvered this way and that, driven almost leisurely across the sands, doubling back a little, and heading out again. The robot would not realize it was being led into a trap. It was acting way too insanely to be able to put two and two together. Everything was going as well as it could be expected, that is until the steering wheel began to act up.

Elyss: What the hell? Where did Wren get this heap of trash…from… Oh no… Sam, I think we’re in trouble.

Sam: Again? I thought we were full-up for the night.

Elyss: I’m not kidding. Wren borrowed the gimmicky Hydrofoil!

Sam: You mean the one from our Guild?!

Elyss: Yeah, that one! Hang on! I’m losing control of this thing!

The Hydrofoil began to pitch and twisted around in mid-air, sometimes hopping off of the ground as the hover engines cut in and out. The Eliminator saw this as an opportunity and worked on catching up quickly. Meanwhile, Elyss was still wrestling with the controls, not making much progress. She could barely keep it in one direction long enough to know where she was going.

Sam: We’ve gotta bail out now! That thing’s getting too close!

Elyss: You bail! I’m gonna hit the bastard with everything I’ve got!

Sam: That’s crazy!

Elyss: Sometimes crazy works! I’ll bail right before it hits him!

Sam: Alright, but no stupid risks!

That line was the most ridiculous thing to say and he knew it. Sam leapt off of the Hydrofoil, rolling as he hit the ground. He kept low so the Eliminator would not see that he’d leapt in the first place. The robot had gotten much closer since Elyss’ loss of control over the Hydrofoil. It didn’t fire, probably because it couldn’t understand what was going on. Elyss managed to swing it towards the machine and cranked the jet engines to maximum thrust. It would become a screaming bullet. No, more like a guided missle. Elyss’ thoughts suddenly turned to something that a scientist had ranted on about once. Something about an irresistible force against an immovable object. Well, here it was. And if it didn’t move, then it was about to take in a lot of force. The Hydrofoil shot straight for the Eliminator at breakneck speed, no more troubles with the steering now, and it wasn’t planning to move. Elyss prepared to leap out of harms way, but then the hover engines cut out and in again, causing the Hydrofoil to bounce

Elyss: Ah, shit.

…right over the Eliminator’s head. Instantly, the robot swung its arms upward and raked the bottom of the Hydrofoil with its clawed hands, causing a total engine failure. The Hydrofoil crashed into the desert ground and became stuck there at a 70 degree angle. The engines were smoking like big cigars and the bottom had caught ablaze from the sheer friction of the claw attack. The Eliminator could detect no movement inside or around the craft. Thermal vision turned up nothing since the Hydrofoil was radiating heat like nobody’s business. Just to be certain, it turned and fired continuously into the Hydrofoil until it exploded.

Sam: ELYSS!!!

The Eliminator stopped suddenly. Even though Sam had put a great deal of distance between them, it had still heard him. The robot turned again and used its thermal vision. It caught Sam’s heat signature and magnified the view with its targeting scanners. It aimed the Laser Cannon, which was best suited for the deadly game of sniping, and fine-tuned it to create a super-powerful cutting beam. For all the anger and rage they had caused it, this one would suffer in the extreme. In the tactical mind of the Eliminator, crosshairs appeared on a section of Sam’s spine, just above his pelvis. Disabled, he would have no escape from the menacing bladed arms it kept stored in its side compartments. Sam was still frozen in shock. Perfect. The Eliminator cackled inwardly. Its own sadistic ways were the very reason it was so good at its job, yet that was also the reason the creators wanted to dismantle it. How ironic… The machine savored one last nanosecond of Sam’s expression and gave the instruction to fire. But at that moment, something small hit the arm it was using for execution and it exploded violently. The Eliminator tracked the device’s flight path to a point behind it. The device was, in fact, heading there now. The Eliminator turned around and its head immediately hit it with warning signs.

Warning! Hostile entity sighted. Contains metallic substance never encountered before. Energy levels increasing rapidly without probably cause. Unknown power signature detected within subject. No basis for explanation of these anomalies. TERMINATE IMMEDIATELY.

The Gatling Gun swings into position, ready to rock and roll in a fraction of a second. It fires unceasingly. Sam cannot see what it’s firing at since the robot itself is blocking his line of sight. He sidles left and stares in disbelief. It’s firing at Elyss! Sam can’t be sure, but she looks like she might be in a trance, and she’s definitely wounded. Something else is happening though, something that takes a moment for him to grasp.

Sam: The shots aren’t getting through to her…

The Eliminator’s gun is firing as rapidly as it can, almost to the point where it would simply have a steady stream of plasma rocketing out of that gun. However, none of this is hitting the target. It perceives a barrier of some sort, so it keeps firing until it is breached. At this time, Elyss has drawn her sword. She looks kind of angry, no, it’s more like primal rage. She leaps aside a couple feet just as the field of energy disengages and charges the killer robot. The Eliminator adjusts its aim and tries to shoot at Elyss again, but it is too late. She reaches it and thrusts her sword into the Gatling Gun arm, disabling the weapon. She delays only for a second before pulling the blade out again. Energy crackles around it.

Sam: A Ray Blade technique… When did she learn that one?

Elyss immediately follows through with the initial strike by swinging hard into the torso of the machine several times before it can even react. The robot pulls out its extra arms and slashes them at her, but they don’t last very long against her. The next thing she does is thrust the sword into the Eliminator’s neck, twist the blade around, and pull out. By now, it has sustained near-terminal damage. Its armor was being compromised repeatedly and systems were shutting down. One of the last thoughts to cross the machine’s mind was a paranoid belief that the android from before had set it up to take a fall, that he knew this would happen…somehow. Then, all of its processes ceased entirely as Elyss stabbed into its power core. She stood back and watched as the core overloaded and blew the once-feared Eliminator into scrap metal. Sam ran to her, curious as hell and wanting to know what just happened here. How could she destroy that behemoth robot so easily?

Sam: Elyss! Are you alright? What happened?

Something was wrong. She shifted her gaze towards him and he froze. The expression was lifeless, and yet the eyes spelled out more of that primal rage. To his utter surprise, she drew out her Slasher. The way she held it, she meant to throw it hard and fast. At that speed, that thing could take off his head. Sam didn’t move. There seemed to be a certain amount of indecision in Elyss’ mind about what she was about to do. Sam could not even guess what was going through her head right now, but he was relieved when Elyss lowered the weapon. After that, the pain of her injuries came flaring back with a vengeance and she fell unconscious. Sam knelt down beside her and went to examine the extent of the damage done to her. Had the crash damaged her brain? Sam hoped that that was not the case. She didn’t appear to have any head injuries, which was a good sign. From what he could tell, Elyss had been wounded badly. Several lacerations and cuts were there, some cut straight through her armor. Those had probably been caused by the plasma barrage. She had been bleeding badly before, but the cuts seemed to have sealed themselves up soon after they were made. Very strange. If it were Regen, there wouldn’t even be a mark right now. It was as if she’d casted Regen, but its effects had been abruptly cut off somehow. Did she even cast the spell, or was there something else at work here? Sam had found that at least three of Elyss’ ribs were cracked, and yet she’d performed all those swift Ray Blade slashes without even wincing. And why hadn’t the other barrage from the Eliminator even stunned her? This was getting stranger by the minute. Sam wished she would wake up so he could ask her himself, but from the look of things, she wasn’t getting up any time soon. Sam worked on some of his own healing magic while he waited. This way, she wouldn’t have to wake up in utter pain. He casted the spell and noticed something out of the corner of his eye. He looked. Then he looked again. Finally, he fixed a solid gaze on what had caught his attention before realizing what exactly he was looking at. It was a Slasher, Elyss’ Slasher. She’d told him about it, of course. That black-colored mystery weapon of hers. Some notable scientists thought it might be made of condensed Dark Matter, what with the way it resisted scans and all. But now, it had changed. The weapon he saw now looked like a slightly bigger version of the Slasher he’d noticed lying around back inside Nurvus. It was a Quantum Slasher. Wrek’s own words, Elyss’ too, came back to him with the horrific realization of their meaning.

"It was just a prototype, really. Still, I’m surprised you could beat it. Those Quantum Slashers it had were 100% fatal to the touch."

"Hmmm… A Hunter… Very interesting…"

"Personally, I don’t see why you’re wasting your time with these characters. A person of your particular background could do better in life."

"By the way… Would you say that the Eliminator I found here was more powerful than either one of you? I’m just curious."

"I hate that guy… I hate the way he acts."

"He knows something. Something so important that he can’t keep it to himself. Something he can afford to joke about without getting himself killed."

It wasn’t curiosity he was after, and it sure as hell wasn’t simply for a good laugh. Every move he’d made, every word he’d said - it was all deliberate. Wrek used ridiculous ploys to cover his schemes, which in turn shrouded his more subtle intentions in total mystery. Algo wasn’t what he wanted, and it wasn’t the lady android either. He’d made his intentions clear from the very beginning. They say that the truth hurts. Sam believed it. If he felt this bad now, he could only imagine what Elyss would think.

"I came by to check up on some of my creations, to see what kind of progress they’ve made these past few years."

Chapter 4 - Gods and Devils.

The belief in any form of god is having faith in the abilities of an all-powerful being. Just because it’s not totally omnipotent and infallible doesn’t mean that any believer thinks less of it. The type of god depends on who is believing in it. The Profound Darkness is a god to the Blackwave Demons, but a menace to those who do not serve under it. The God of Earthmen is a less-provable one. With proof also comes definition of form, power, and limits. Therefore, that god’s omnipotence remains. To be considered a god, you must be superior to all who surround you by leaps and bounds. To be awarded such a title, you must first be proven worthy. Sam wondered if there was a god watching over Algo.

Sam: If there was ever to be one, it would at least be its own creator.

In truth, the Great Light was the one responsible for Algo’s creation, and the Profound Darkness its destroyer. A god and a devil, two sides of the same coin. But now, neither of those beings stuck around anymore. The Profound Darkness still managed to survive after its defeat and the Great Light hasn’t actually been back since Algo’s birth. Their system had been effectively abandoned and left wide open for others to step in and play as god themselves. The King Macabre’s masters were doing it. Even people had done so from time to time.

Sam: And then came along Wrek.

Dawn approached Nurvus’ outside perimeter. Sam had been thinking about all the things that had happened so far. He was trying to put the pieces together. It didn’t make sense. As far as he could tell, Wrek had visited Motavia some time ago in order to influence technology a little by planting ideas and creating things. Sam had accepted the likelihood that Wrek was Elyss’ creator, but why did he bother to come here just to create a Numan? It seemed like a waste of time, really. Wherever he came from must have better facilities. There was more here than meets the eye.

Sam: Damn… What the hell is going on?

Elyss: Ugh…Sam?

Elyss woke up, her head swimming as she sat up. She felt sick, and her head throbbed like someone had used a jackhammer on it. Every movement brought on another twinge of pain and to top it off, her vision was blurred. Whatever magic Sam had cast upon her last night didn’t seem to be helping right now. This went beyond the usual curing methods. She felt drained.

Sam: How do you feel?

Elyss: Don’t ask. You don’t want to know.

Sam: Fine by me. Just as long as you’re alive.

Elyss: And I have you to thank for that, I guess. My plan really screwed up. What did you do to that thing? You didn’t use a Dual Ragna Blade, did you?

Sam: She doesn’t remember a thing. Uhhh…no, actually. You killed it.

Elyss: Not a chance. The last thing I remember is being knocked out of the front seat of the Hydrofoil. And I knew that I’d missed! So how could I have killed that walking tank?

Sam is hesitant at first. He doesn’t want to tell her what he saw or what he’s figured out. Slowly, he pulls out the Slasher. Elyss’ eyes widen with shock as Sam goes on to tell her about the way it and the Ray Blade techniques utterly destroyed the Eliminator. Sam says nothing further as Elyss begins to realize the same thing he’d figured out the night before.

Elyss: Those dreams… The things he said… What the hell did he do to me?

Wrek had created her. That much was obvious. Not only was this Slasher something you couldn’t find in Algo, but also her sword. And Genocyclaws? They are very rare indeed. Elyss knew all her life that she was a lot different from any other Numan, but she never understood why. Now she did. She was engineered by a looney android. But how and why did he do it? And when? As her vision slowly began to clear, she saw a trio of Sentry Pods heading their way. Then one of the spoke. It was Wren’s voice!

Wren (via radio-link): We have re-established control over Nurvus. All systems are nominal. Do you require assistance?

Sam: Yeah! Elyss is hurt bad! Do you have any medical centers in there?

Wren: Yes. I will send Browrens to collect you.

* * *

Later, in the medical lab, Elyss is lying down on an examination table with a dozen scanners hovering over her to determine her exact ailment. Of course, Sam knew that they would also tell him exactly what procedures had been performed on her and any other particular he would want to know. Come to think of it, he didn’t know very much about Elyss. The first time he saw her was in training at the Guild. And only after that did he find out that she lived in Aiedo. But before then, who knows? Elyss never liked to talk about her past. There wasn’t very much of it to tell anyway. Her life thus far had been very short. So now, Sam wanted to know everything he could find out before something went terribly wrong, and he had the feeling that it might. Right now, he had two not-quite-dead androids on his hands.

Sam: Wren, I saw that cannon blast. There was no way you could have escaped. So how did you do it? Jumped?

Wren: We did jump, yes.

Sam: Nyah! I was only kidding!

Wren: The only reasonable way to avoid the Quantum Cannon at that time was to dive into the generator’s depths and figure out a way to escape destruction from there. Even at our terminal velocity, we had plenty of time.

Sam: So you jumped down a mile-long shaft.

Wren: It was longer than that.

Sam: Whatever. Then what happened?

Demi: We both grabbed hold of a passing control rod for the reactor. We had 0.8 of a mile to spare. There was one problem, though.

Sam: What’s that?

Wren: I don’t come equipped with a jet-pack. So we had to climb back out.

Sam: Well, at least you two got out alright. We had that blasted Eliminator on our tails! It almost killed us!

Wren: It is a miracle that any of us survived this ordeal.

Demi: Scan complete. Wren?

Wren: Yes?

Demi: You have to see this for yourself.

Wren checked on the results as Elyss got up from the table. She felt a whole lot better now and her armor had been repaired as well. Wren examined the data from the scans with great interest. Were he truly capable of displaying emotions, he would be astonished by what he was looking at.

Elyss: Okay doc, what’s the matter with me?

Wren: Doc? No, medical treatment is Demi’s field of expertise.

Elyss: You’re the one doing the scans, so what’s wrong with me?

Wren: I have not been able to determine that as of yet. All of your physical injuries have healed and there is no sign of mental illness. By Numan standards, you are fit and extremely capable. I have been able to determine that your biological age is somewhere between 3 and 5 years.

Elyss: How could you find that out? Nobody knew how long I’ve been alive. Not even myself…

Wren: The original Numan files were lost when the AI computer, Seed, destroyed itself, so any scientist on Motavia would be without a benchmark to work with. But since I had been in the company of Rika, I was able to make an estimation based on your rate of growth in abilities. Though you do not battle constantly, your strength and abilities have grown significantly.

Elyss: Alright, enough of that! Get to the point!

Wren: Your battle with the Eliminator had unlocked a hidden potential within yourself when you were injured and in danger of being killed. Something allowed you to make use of techniques that you are not completely aware of.

Elyss: You know what it is, don’t you?

Wren: Not as such, no. The scans revealed that, temporarily, your body contained a metallic substance that seemed to aid in your healing and protection. I do not know what they are. You also became stronger during the trance described by Samuel.

Elyss: Wait. You said temporarily. Are you saying that it disappeared?

Wren: Yes. It has vanished, leaving the scanners to believe that you are like any other Numan. How it did this, I do not know.

Elyss: Only Wrek would know the answer… Where did he go, anyway?

Demi: Security tapes show him activating something called a Phase-Shift and then disappearing. We are certain that it was a matter-transporter device.

Sam: An android’s Ryuka, perhaps?

Demi: Maybe, but we have no way of knowing for sure.

Elyss: God… I feel so…violated… Wrek’s turned me into some kind of monster.

Sam: Elyss, you’re no monster. You can get cranky and stubborn at times, but that doesn’t make you like the things we hunt for a living.

Elyss: Think so? I’ve been having dreams, disturbing ones. In one of them, I was a savage murderer who killed for pleasure…and it was you who had to stop me.

Sam: And…did I?

Elyss: No…

Voice: It sounds like you’ve got the same problem I hear a lot about in my profession. I’m not surprised. Many people use to think Numans were monsters a long time ago, when the first ones were made.

There was only one person they knew that could make such a claim. Hotshot stands at the doorway of the medical center, giving off a slight smirk of amusement. Of course, she doesn’t really find it all that funny. It was just an odd coincidence, Hotshot steps inside and explains herself.

Hotshot: I told you before that I had a son, right?

Sam: Yeah, you said he was very powerful for his age. How old is he?

Hotshot: Around twelve, but he acts a bit older.

Sam: Whoa!

Hotshot: Anyway, he has as much power as he does because it was inherited from both myself and his father, though he takes more from his father’s side at times. The power my son wields is derived from good and evil. I want you to meet the man I vowed to stand beside through thick and thin, no matter what. He’s been through a lot of rough times but still manages to stay on top.

Elyss: You really think this’ll help?

Hotshot: It couldn’t hurt. I have to meet him on Dezolis anyway, so you can tag along for the ride if you want.

Sam: Let me come too. I’ve gotta meet this guy. What’s his name again?

Hotshot: Zero Tolerance.

Sam: Zero Tolerance? That can’t be right… Okay, now I’ve heard everything.

Hotshot: Not by a long shot.

Sam: Easy for you to say, Hotshot.

Elyss: Sam, don’t take pot-shots.

Hotshot: Hey, cut that out!

Elyss: Boy, I’m feeling better already.

Hotshot: Maybe this was a mistake… Wren? Demi? Are you coming?

Wren: We must respectfully decline. There is a great deal of work ahead of us.

Hotshot: Alright… C’mon, you two. My ship’s double-parked outside.

Sam: How did you manage that?

Hotshot: Well, there were these Browrens…

* * *

With the proper equipment, or at least a good magic spell, you could stay anywhere in space, completely undetected. Wrek’s own rogue satellite, Raklon, had the former. It was designed to be able to handle any form of detection whilst also being the best observer in the known universe. While its eyes and ears watched over the planets, intercepted signals, recorded television shows - nobody was truly aware of its presence. Most sensors and scanners could be fooled by a simply cloaking device. Others were tricked by jamming the area full of cosmic radiation. Even something like a mass-detection unit could be worked around. All the remaining scanners simply believed that another Gaila space station had been erected to replace the one that had crashed into Palma (now referred to as Parma) long ago. Inside Raklon’s bridge, Wrek sat in the command chair surrounded by several humanoid robots working over the controls with great efficiency. He thought of its main control room as a bridge because Raklon was only like an Algo satellite. In reality, it was a large space vessel equipped with bio-labs, robotic centers, all of the observation tools it would ever need, and great defensive capabilities. One of the robots working at a console spoke, using a synthesized human voice. It was called a Clyde, after the Earth gangster. Wrek had created them during one of his more humorous moods and even equipped them with Laser Tommyguns!

Clyde 417: I’ve got a confirmation on Subject-23A, the Numan. It has exhibited some of its hidden potential.

Wrek: Excellent. I knew she wouldn’t stay off track for long. All she needed was a little nudge in the right direction. Pray continue, Clyde 417.

Clyde 417: Numan subject’s energy levels rose dramatically when almost destroyed by Subject-13, the Eliminator.

Wrek: That is to be expected. It triggered her defenses. They come second nature to her. Why did those scientists give that robot the V-22 designation, anyway? Go on.

Clyde 417: An energy shield formed, following the use of the Slasher weapon. Then the subject wielded the Laconium Sword, using Ray Blade techniques.

Wrek: We inserted that one, right?

Clyde 417: Yes.

Wrek: This is getting good. What happened next?

Clyde 417: Subject collapsed from exhaustion and reverted to a pre-awakened state.

Wrek: WHAT?!

Clyde 417: Subject collapsed-

Wrek: I KNOW!!

This wasn’t right. Once the power hidden inside of her was released, it was suppose to sustain itself. The subject, who referred to herself as Elyss, didn’t seem to recognize who he was exactly. She thought of him as another Wren clone, which he wasn’t. Wrek was his own series, radically different from any android from the old Wren series in a very subtle way. Just because his own creator used the same body-shape didn’t make him like Wren. The whole ‘little brother’ thing was just a gag, something Wren would never get anyway. This whole ‘Elyss’ problem angered him in the extreme. She wasn’t suppose to have an actual personality yet. He was going to provide that. Somehow, the program he had set in motion all those years ago had gone terribly wrong and now there was an out-of-control rogue on the loose, acting as a Hunter of all things.

Wrek: Why? Why take a name, or move into a residential habitat? Why bother with that small-time Hunter’s Guild? She was designed for all-out military forces. See how she so easily destroys a heavily armed and armored death machine! Of course, it was made by substandard parts, but it was still impressive. Hmmm… Clyde?

All Clydes: Yes?

Wrek: Whoops. I mean, Clyde 417?

Clyde 417: What?

Wrek: Does the Numan’s unapproved personality and mental state persist?

Clyde 417: With only slight fluctuations in attempting to cope with the events involving Subject-13, the Numan remains in a pre-awakened state.

Wrek: Now, it starts to make sense. It’s a classic case of schizophrenia. When she got off track, her present personality locked away all that I had done for her. The part that I want has been suppressed, but how? When did she get released?

Clyde 417: We have no information on that.

Wrek: Of course not. I need to visit the ‘birthplace’ in order to find out. If anyone needs me, I’ll be in touch. Continue normally.

Wrek presses a few buttons on his wrist and disappears in a flash of light. The Clydes pay his absence no heed. They work at their consoles, observing all that happens around Raklon. Presently, one of the Clydes is tracking a ship en route to the snowy planet of Dezolis…

* * *

Dezolis and Motavia actually have numerous spaceships these day, along with spaceports and designated parking zones. The only reason Hotshot had ever bothered to hide her own is because she feared someone would steal it or something would smash it. On Dezolis, she didn’t have anything to worry about. The small vessel she piloted now originally belonged to a much larger ship that was currently parked at the Dezolis spaceport and equipped with automatic defenses. It was called the Knight’s Gambit and the owner was none other than Zero Tolerance, who wasn’t in right now. After landing inside a cargo bay, they exited the comparably small craft and for one of the ship’s outer hatchways.

Sam: Man, I’ve never been inside a vessel this big!

Elyss: You’ve never been in one at all.

Sam: Oh yeah…

Hotshot: This is Zero’s ship, the Knight’s Gambit. It’s not like that Noah vessel that use to be here, but it’s a tough nut to crack.

Sam: His name isn’t really Zero, is it?

Hotshot: No, but that’s the only one that Earth left him with.

Elyss: Huh. How’d that happen?

That made Hotshot stop for a moment. It happened years ago, but she still recalled it like yesterday. Elyss could tell that that they must have gone through a lot together, just by the expression on Hotshot’s face.

Hotshot: It was some time ago, back when things still made sense. Back then, there were no monsters, demons, or spirits. Not even aliens. Just humans and their killer machines. And then the Black Talon emerged…

As they continued towards the outer hatch and eventually left the ship, Hotshot told them about her own universe and what had caused it to treat Zero so badly. In it, humans rode inside giant machines of war, some built like humans and others that were more animalistic. Her own mech was a giant scorpion equipped with two of the most powerful Beam Cannons you ever saw. Zero had piloted several different kinds of mechs until finally settling on one that he had designed, a perfect fighting machine that was humanoid, werewolf-ish, and part dragon in likeness. It was first used when an organization called the Black Talon appeared. They were space-born humans seeking domination over all other galaxies. They had the manpower and plenty of weapons on their side, but the worst part was their base, a self-propelled mechanized planet called the Nemesis. It served as their base, a mobile fortress, a production plant for giant mechs, and even a planet-killer. The idea of a planet destroying other planets seems amusing in the movies, but having the real thing on your doorstep was not funny in the slightest. The only reason the Black Talon wasn’t going to destroy Earth was because they wanted it themselves. During the war, Zero had infiltrated the Black Talon in order to sabotage the Nemesis. He succeeded, but never returned as the final battle ensued. In the Black Talon base, they had given him his latest mech, one that he gladly fought against them with. Then, when their leader had discovered his betrayal and how far it went, Zero’s fate had been sealed.

Hotshot: Their leader was actually a Demon of the Profound Darkness in disguise. He fired on Zero with the Blackwave energy and critically damaged his mech, causing it to fly out of control into deep space. The battle continued, with no hope of rescuing him, and eventually the Nemesis was destroyed. The Black Talon retreated later and the remains of their fallen troops and the Nemesis fell into the sun. Zero was reported as missing, presumed dead.

Elyss: That’s awful…and all because of a Blackwave Demon…

Sam: What about Zero? How’d you ever find him again?

Hotshot: I happened upon him out in space sometime later. He was working for an interstellar corporation that was run by some of the worst creatures ever to be seen since the Profound Darkness. They were the ones who created the Macabre demons. They were using Zero, playing with his very anatomy.

Elyss: Who are ‘they’? You’ve been trying to evade talking about them every time ‘they’ come up. I know you think we’re not ready to hear all that you know about them, but give us some credit. I’m the one being haunted by a crazy android from another galaxy!

Hotshot: I didn’t want to talk about them because of what they stand for and who they are. The sheer magnitude of what they represent is even beyond me.

Elyss: So who are they? Give it to me in a nutshell.

Hotshot: The Brethren of the Dark Power. They are what the Darkness fears.

It was then that the cold weather of Dezolis crept upon them. But it wasn’t just the weather that made them feel that way. There was also a certain amount of fear in the air. It came from Hotshot and migrated like a bad case of the flu. The meaning of her statement said quite a mouthful. She was only human - powerful in her own respect, but still human. These Dark Brethren, however… They were in a league of their own. If they were as terrible as Hotshot said, then meeting one would be like the Apocalypse. After seeing Sam and Elyss’ reaction, Hotshot spoke again.

Hotshot: You see why I keep saying "Don’t ask"? There are some things you just do not want to know. And that’s one of them.

Sam: They can’t…really be that powerful…can they?

Hotshot: You can ask Zero that question. He almost became one.

Sam: Yikes! Well, where is he?

Hotshot: I dunno… Maybe he’s in Tyler. That’s just a little North of here.

It just so happened that this spaceport use to be the one that the Landale had flown to and from back when the Profound Darkness threatened Algo. They only stopped in Tyler for a little while before one of the townspeople said that he’d seen Zero heading for Ryuon.

Elyss: I don’t suppose you’ve got a Land-Rover or something in that ship, do you?

Hotshot: Nope. We’ll have to hoof it there.

It’s not like it would take long to walk there. It’s just that it was FREEZING OUT HERE!!! Anyway, the walk to Ryuon is largely uneventful. Dezo Owls tend to shy away from people carrying Plasma Vulcans. And by the time they reach the intended town, the cold weather doesn’t seem so bad after all. The Dezolis climate is still a cold one, but not nearly as bad as when Garuberk Tower was here. They find Zero in the bar sitting at a table with some other guy, presumably a local. Zero is around 6 feet tall, if not a little taller. He is wearing black jeans and a green shirt with semi-long sleeves. His shoes are high-tops and he has a pair of leather gloves on. He has short black hair and dark blue eyes. Elyss just barely notices that there is something peculiar about his right eye, but she can’t tell what that is exactly. The man sitting at his table is most likely either Palman or from Motavia. He’s about Zero’s height, built for speed and stealth. They are both athletes, but this guy has it more so than Zero, who has a fair amount of muscle on him. The man is better dressed for the weather than Zero. He has on a lined jacket with what appears to be a Laconia Vest underneath it. His coat is a light shade of brown and it looks like it’s holding onto a great deal of daggers and knives. He has dark red hair and blue eyes that are lighter than Zero’s. His expression is one of interest. He looks around, seeing what people are doing. Zero is more laid back himself. He’s just killing time like he’s never had a care in the world. Hotshot, Elyss, and Sam head for the table, immediately getting his (and the other guy’s) attention.

Zero: Kyra! Good to see you! How’s Motavia?

Hotshot: Safe, I hope. The Macabre’s out, but some android’s causing a ruckus.

Zero: So I heard. People here have claimed now and then that they’ve seen a Wren-type android doing some strange things, like hunting for bio-monsters.

Hotshot: How is that strange?

Zero: He takes them alive.

Hotshot: Oh.

Zero: Who are these two?

Hotshot: They’re Hunters from Motavia, Elyss and Samuel Neocene.

Zero: Neocene? Huh. I think I’ve heard that name somewhere before. Wouldn’t you say so, Kyra?

Hotshot: I thought so myself.

Sam: What’re you two going on about now? What’s the deal with my name, anyway? Every time I mention it to one of you guys, you start acting funny.

Zero: It just seems like a remarkable coincidence. I know a guy by the same name.

Sam: What?! How?!

Zero: He calls himself Tempest, but I heard that his real name is Samuel Neocene.

Sam: That’s weird. But then again, aren’t you two from another universe?

Zero: Yeah.

Sam: Then couldn’t that guy just be another me?

Zero: Good thought, but I don’t think so. Anyway, we have more important things to talk about than silly name games. First of all, I would like to introduce the man on my left. They call him Reggie Malone, the Thief of Time.

Reggie: Hiya.

Elyss: Does that mean you’re a very quick thief or do you really steal time?

Reggie: I like the ears. Errr…both, I think. Sometimes, I’ll walk into a room and things just start disappearing. Turns out that I was actually slicing time in half without even realizing it.

Hotshot: Okay, so what are you two doing here?

Zero: There is a Palman business man here that’s hiring for a couple of high-rate jobs. He says that they’re important to the survival of Algo. Since that’s why I’m here, I might as well get paid for it.

Reggie: A friend of mine is trying to find this guy now so he can give us the details.

Elyss: And you’re working with Zero…why?

Reggie: Ummm… Well, you see…

Zero: I caught him stealing my wallet.

Reggie: I couldn’t help it! He looked like he was loaded!

Zero: I was.

Reggie: Then I got robbed by a fella called Boris "The Bandersnatch" Muldova.

Zero: I really couldn’t blame him for being so naturally light-fingered. It took me a while to realize that my wallet had just vanished. After catching him, he agreed to help me with this upcoming pair of jobs.

Reggie: All things considered, it’s not that bad a deal.

Zero: Now, if I could only find out what he did with that drink trolley…

Sam: You stole an entire drink trolley?

Reggie: Wheels and all, kid. They’re never finding that one.

Sam: Don’t call me a kid. Nobody else does.

Reggie: That’s because nobody else here is nearly as drunk as me!

At that moment, the business man they had been waiting for arrived…along with a Muskcat. He’s an aging man wearing an all-black attire (including a pair of expensive shoes that must have cost him a small fortune) and has an expression on his face that make him look like he was just told the funniest joke in the world. He only goes by one name, and it is Trent. The Muskcat following him is like any Muskcat you come across these days. Being a cat, it prides itself on acting reserved and dignified while at the same casting a sly look at anyone who’s watching.

Elyss: Is this that friend you were talking about earlier?

Reggie: Well, he ain’t the business man with the jobs. Nice work, Myow.

Myow: No problemo, meow.

Trent: I wasn’t expecting to see a Muskcat around here. I thought they had all gone into hiding.

Myow: I’m on vacation, meow. Gimme a break already.

Zero: Alright, Trent. We’re here…with a few extra. Let’s hear about those missions you were talking about earlier.

Trent: Very well. Er…these are friends of yours?

Zero: Yeah, they are.

Trent: I guess I’ll have to prepare a larger payment then.

Zero: Do what you like.

Trent explains in detail the layout of the two missions. They are not your basic run-of-the-mill jobs. These are extremely dangerous and hazardous crusades to say the least. The first of the two problems is occurring on Dezolis itself, very far South where most people do not dare to tread because of the things left behind by the self-styled warlords of Dezolis.

Trent: They tell me that some time ago, measurable in years, two powerful monsters appeared in the Southern region. Those who lived to tell of these beings said that they took the form of elements, stone and fire, able to combine at will. They burned and crushed everything in their path until someone finally defeated them.

Zero: I know this story. Go on.

Trent: Nobody knows who beat them, but the people of Dezolis do know that the two creatures resurfaced a few months later as rains of fire began to change the weather. The warlords left the world, but their onslaught had created beasts of magic, stone golems that breathe fire and poisonous gas. They live on death, yearning for dominance of Dezolis.

Hotshot: They’ll burn the surface of the planet and live off of the remains…

Trent: That’s nothing. Listen to this…

The other mission is just as disturbing. Scouting space vessels have located Ryucros on its way through the Algo Star System. It is destined to do this every thousand years or so, though usually going undetected. Its cover has been blown, and for good reason. Most of the tower structures on the planet’s surface have been destroyed. Scans of the areas in which the towers stood reveal the presence of some rather familiar creatures. Throughout Algo’s history of fighting the darkness, many of the notable monstrosities had been examined and recorded in files for later use. On Ryucros, they had spotted various forms of dark priests and dragon-like creatures, as well as half a dozen things that couldn’t be identified.

Trent: We think that a minion of the Profound Darkness has been stationed here.

Zero: That could very well be. One Demon was able to organize the Black Talon. This could be the same deal. Trent, we’ll take the jobs, but it gets done on our terms, which means we decide who does what and when.

Trent: If you insist.

Zero: Right, now we’ve got five people here and-

Myow: Meow!

Zero: Alright, six. We need to divide this group so we can handle the situations we have here properly.

Zero shows an impressive leadership ability, being able to discern who is best suited for what mission. In the end, he chooses Hotshot, Sam, and Myow to head South while he, Reggie, and Elyss check out Ryucros.

Zero: I don’t want you out of my sight.

Reggie: Hey, don’t blame me. My ancestors were really great thieves.

Zero: Right… You three probably have the easy job. They’re just elementals. This Blackwave problem might be a doozy.

After departing, the two groups head their separate ways. Zero’s group takes off in the Knight’s Gambit, which can be classified as a warship, making its way to Ryucros. Hotshot and company end up renting an Ice Digger to make the long trip South a lot easier. Neither group is quite sure what they’re really getting into, and only Trent has the gall to laugh as they ride on into an uncertain destiny.

Trent: For the right amount of money, I could get Alys Brangwin to do these things. And she’s dead! Ha ha ha ha ha!

* * *

The Southern region of Dezolis was much warmer than the rest of the planet, primarily because of the creatures that inhabited this area. The Ice Digger ran over a few of these golems, each one measuring over six feet tall with magma for blood. Fortunately, the Ice Digger’s armor had been fortified against extreme heat and the drills were three times as strong as the earlier models. According to a file from Trent, the stone creatures referred to themselves as the Hellstones, being creatures made of fire and stone. Some were also toxic, but that would be the least of their concerns. Now entering an area totally devoid of cold weather, they knew they had arrived in their main sphere of influence. Sam, Myow, and Hotshot got out of the vehicle and immediately threw off their winter coats.

Sam: Why does that Digger have air conditioning?

Hotshot: I haven’t a clue. Uhhh…Myow?

Myow: What is it, meow?

Hotshot: How are you going to fight these guys?

Myow (grinning): I’m a whiz-bang psycho-kitty, meow!

Sam: So is Elyss.

Hotshot: I’m telling her you said that.

Sam: Wait! Don’t do that! She’ll tear me apart!

Myow: Ha ha ha! That’s what you get for teasing!

Sam: Oh man…

Myow: Anyway, I’m also good with magic and stuff.

Sam: How much magic?

Myow (death glare): More than you, pal.

Sam: Eh? What kind of Muskcat are you? They don’t all talk like that, do they?

Myow: Of course not, meow.

Hotshot: It’s because he’s a guy, and rowdy one at that.

Myow reveled in that remark. If he were a regular cat, he’d be an alley cat for sure. Sam gave him this funny look before he heard a sound coming from under the ground nearby. The three of them prepare for battle, wary of the possibility of an eruption of lava or any number of sneak attacks. However, no funny business is given as the hunting party of Hellstone warriors surface. But no! They are not the golem creatures that were expected! They are…thralls of the undead, human skeletal figures clad in grayish-black armor who wield curved katana-like blades. They spoke in strained vicious tones.

Lead Skeleton: We are the shadows of Death himself.

Others: The winds of time flow through our bones.

Hotshot: Karaks…

Sam: What?

Hotshot: Karaks, undead soldiers.

Lead Karak: Ah yes, the arch-angel. The Shambling Hordes know thee well.

Hotshot: You serve the Dark Brethren.

Lead Karak: Aye. ‘Tis steady employment that. That being said, we must kill you now for interfering with the master’s plans!

There are only six armor-clad warriors. Hotshot smiles and prepares to burn and blind the lot of them. The lead swordsman is the largest of them all and is wearing the toughest armor. Seeing him go down first would make the other Karak soldiers uneasy. Hotshot simply aimed her hand in the right direction and let fly with a beam of light. The beam struck the undead creature dead center…and then it fizzled out! The Karak just laughed.

Lead Karak: I’ll have to tell Nightmare about this. His dark runes really worked.

Hotshot gapes for a couple seconds, not just at the mention of that foul abomination she and Zero had run up against in the past, but also at the blood-red runes that she failed to notice on the soldier’s chestplate. The runes were some form of enchantment using the dark magic her enemies possessed. The effort of binding the power of her foe to these armored soldiers must’ve taken some time. Normally, it was not possible to block the Great Light with a simple spell. You had to be one of the Dark Brethren or maybe one of the Greater Blackwave Demons. As the Karak in charge stopped laughing and poised to strike with his blade, Hotshot surprised him with the Plasma Vulcan. The undead had been ready to strike without fear, never thinking once that Hotshot was armed with other weapons. In other words, he was an idiot. And now, he was in pieces, his body only held together by the armor, which had quite a few burning holes in it.

Sam: They’re only protected from the Great Light?

Hotshot: Yup.

Sam (evil grin): Goody.

While there was still a bit of confusion among the Karaks, Sam leapt at the nearest one and performed a scythe-bladed Crosscut. Though the blade met some resistance when slicing the armor, it was able to severely damage and re-kill the undead warrior. Their armor was good, but not that good. Sam quickly advanced to the next one, but the element of surprise was now spent. The soldiers swung their blades in defense, preventing any further loss of unlife. Suddenly, Sam found that he was now surrounded. The Karaks moved like astral winds, faster than even air itself. The other four undead creatures fought as one, the ‘death’ of their leader not deterring them in any way. Sam swung wide and hard to deflect as many blades as possible, though he knew he couldn’t stop them all. Right after he swung the first time, he felt a blow to his back. His armor held, but he didn’t know how long it would stay that way. A couple of the fiends were about to close in on him to attack. Sam rushed one to his right, slicing his head off and knocking the skeletal body down with his body. He was out of the circle now. The whole exchange had taken seconds. He turned to face them again and found that something wasn’t right.

Sam: Hang on… There were five, plus the leader. I killed two, so there should be…

Four. The one he’d decapitated had reattached his head. These guys could pull themselves together. In fact, he could see their leader and the other one trying to do just that, which explained why Hotshot and Myow weren’t helping him. They had to find a way to keep them dead…or whatever.

Myow: Stay down, you stupid pile of bones!

Lead Karak: Get off my back! And give me back my finger!

Their weapons could take them apart, shoot them to pieces, but they couldn’t keep them down. Hotshot’s power would be able to incinerate them instantly if not for their armor. Sam puzzled over this while keeping an eye on his enemies. They were content to stay put for now, one keeping an eye the Karaks that would soon be at full strength again. They were also powering up for an attack. That bothered Sam, but he knew that charging headlong into their ranks wouldn’t solve things this time. He was about to unleash one of his Ragna Blade attacks when Myow suddenly came up with the elusive answer they’d been looking for.

Myow: I’ll burn ya!

Lead Karak: Oh no… Not that…

Myow suddenly went alight with a fiery magic. The slowly recovering leader, who was at ground zero of this infernal blast, was burnt to cinders. The Karak that Sam had sliced apart was also burnt to a crisp. Needless to say, the others were now ever so pissed off. They all faced Sam and unleashed the fury of their magic.

Karaks: May the astral winds take thee!

The Karaks breathed a mist at him, one that seemed to have life of its own. It was both gray and translucent. It came at such a speed that he could not avoid it, not even as he pulled every muscle in his body to get away. The mist enveloped him and began to tear at him like acid. This was the essence of spirits and ghosts, things that desire only two things above all: power and life. The mist now sought both from him. It burned like crazy and there was know way to stop it. Then, all at once, it vanished. Sam risked opening his eyes and found the area bathed in light. Hotshot came through again, using her Light Shower as a way of purifying the area around him. The Karaks were unaffected of course, save for the fact that they were blinded by the intense light. Suddenly, their coveralls bursted into flames. Myow was radiating heat that was equal to that of a volcano. He simply had to leap at the Karaks’ armor, which wasn’t even made of Laconia, and it would be burnt beyond recognition. Hotshot’s light did the rest, blowing the skeletal creatures away in an instant. The light faded afterward. The were safe…for now. However, Sam was not in the best of conditions. He still felt the acid-like sting of the mist, though it was no longer eating away at his life essence.

Hotshot: Are you okay?

Sam: No, but I’ve felt worse. Ever been inside the belly of a Mega-Slug?

Hotshot: I don’t even know what one is.

Sam: You’re lucky. I was the first to find that thing…and the first one eaten by it. The only way to survive at all was to hold my breath. I thought I’d die in there, but I was lucky that day as well.

Hotshot: How’d you get out?

Sam: Elyss… She’d organized a team of Hunters to destroy the monster, saving my life in the process.

Hotshot: She means a lot to you, doesn’t she?

Sam: Elyss is one of my best friends, the only one I have in Aiedo. We watch each other’s backs in a situation, even if one of us caused it in the first place.

Myow: You sure you’re just friends? Heh heh heh…

Sam: Watch it. The last guy who made that remark got socked so hard that he couldn’t see straight for three days.

Myow: Meow?! She did that?!

Sam: Yup.

Myow: Ummm… I didn’t mean it!

Sam: Good.

Hotshot: Sam, I have a feeling she’s going to need your help now more than ever. I’ve seen people go insane when faced with the horrible reality of their existence. Some have even tried to commit suicide rather than deal with it, charging blindly into battles without any real desire to come out alive.

Sam: Did…Zero ever…?

Hotshot: Yeah…he did. It comes with the territory. Some of the Dark Brethren loath what they’ve become. They try to fight against the urge to slaughter, but they can’t resist forever. They were once…human. And now…they’re caught halfway between human and specter.

Sam: And your son?

Hotshot: He’s still human. They never tried to change him. It’s a long story and we really don’t have time for it. So if you’re ready, we can get this plan underway.

Sam: What plan?

Myow: Yeah! What plan, meow?

Hotshot: We’re gonna get ourselves captured and infiltrate their base.

* * *

The Knight’s Gambit landed near the last remaining tower on Ryucros, the Anger Tower. It was obvious why the structure still stood intact. The master of the tower possessed Algo’s most destructive technique, Megid. Zero, Elyss, and Reggie exited the craft and proceeded into the tower’s main hall. Nothing halted their entry. They began climbing the stairs until the top floor had been reached. Much to everyone’s surprise, nobody was there. Then, much to Elyss’ surprise, she suddenly found herself alone.

Elyss: Hey! What’s going on here? Show yourself!

Voice: Very well.

It was deep and ominous, yet not that morbid at all. It carried the tone of one who possesses great wisdom and power. History spoke of this being, the great guardian of Megid known as Re-Faze. Out of nowhere, a person appeared. It was Sam! He was holding his scythe, ready for battle. Elyss was reluctant to fight, not knowing whether or not this was the real Samuel Neocene or just a fake.

Elyss: Sam is on Dezolis…right? What are you trying to pull?

Sam: Why are you trying to kill me?

Elyss: What? What are you talking about?

Sam: You’re dreams. Didn’t you tell me earlier about your dreams?

Elyss: Yes, but…

Sam: You dreamed that you had killed me, and for pleasure no less.

Elyss: I would never do that!!

Sam: You almost did once.

Elyss: I did not!

Sam: You did. It was after you destroyed the Eliminator. You had that Slasher of yours poised and ready to strike.

Elyss: What?!

Sam: At that range, it might have taken my head off without the Quantum effect.

Elyss: No… I couldn’t have… I wouldn’t… I…

Sam: You don’t remember, do you?

Elyss shook her head weakly. She couldn’t believe that she was already so far gone that she would try to kill one of her only friends. Of course, she knew it would have happened sooner or later. Elyss hoped that she would never go through with such a deed. Her expertise is in bio-monsters, not people. Elyss decided right then and there, I’ll never let it happen. Just then, the image of Sam disappeared and was replaced by the fiery figure known as Re-Faze.

Re-Faze: Your rage and anger fulfills the will of your killer instinct. And in that instinct, you find yourself out of control. I suggest you try to put it to good use.

Elyss: And how will I do that?

Re-Faze: You shall wield the power…of Megid. However, there is a condition.

Elyss: What is it?

Re-Faze: I’m sure you’ve noticed that Ryucros is in shambles. I want you to kill the creature that is responsible for it. You and your companions will find it in a cavern where the Silence Tower once stood.

Elyss: We’ll do it.

Re-Faze: Good.

There is a flash of light, and suddenly Zero and Reggie are back from wherever they had been willed to. Reggie had a sly grin on his face for some reason. As for Zero, something appeared to be bothering him, something about Re-Faze.

Re-Faze: You heard?

Zero: Yeah, we heard you.

Elyss: You heard everything?

Zero: It’s nothing we didn’t already know.

Reggie: Well, I didn’t.

Elyss: I hope you don’t find that funny.

Reggie: No, it’s not that. It’s just that I’ve been a thief for a long time and I thought nobody was as good as I am.

Elyss: And?

Reggie: You just beat my record, getting Megid at a steal and everything.

Elyss: You’re not gonna try to steal it are you?

Reggie: That’s the other thing. I don’t know how!

As they descend Anger Tower, Re-Faze ponders the Numan he had just scanned the mind of. She is not what he expected, like no other Numan of Algo in fact. He began to wonder if what he’d done was such a good idea when the room darkened with the presence of a sinister force. Something had broken through his barrier. It was not the creature from the pit. That much he was certain of. In fact, there was something strangely familiar about this presence. It was closely akin to himself, a thing of great power. It spoke then, from all directions at once.

THAT WAS NOT WISE, LITTLE SPIRIT.

Re-Faze: Who are you to say?

LOOK DEEPLY INTO MY AURA. I WILL ALLOW YOU THAT MUCH BEFORE YOU ARE TO ‘DIE’.

Re-Faze: This… This can’t be!

The aura Re-Faze had sensed was not the same as his own power. At least, not exactly. It was more than him - more powerful, more volatile, more destructive, and more dangerous than he could ever become. Megid would be completely useless against his foe. The dark being had spoken the truth. Despite his power, Re-Faze was at its mercy.

* * *

Zero’s head suddenly jerked up as he sensed a familiar presence. It was cruel, violent, destructive, twisted, and insane. A mere three seconds after he felt it, Anger Tower exploded from within. Fortunately for them, it had been so utterly destroyed that no debris would come flying their way. In the aftermath, Zero was sure he had seen a kind of mist hanging in the air, an unnatural mist.

Reggie: What was that?!

Zero: The tower was destroyed by an awesome force of energy.

Elyss: And…Re-Faze?

Zero: He’s gone to wherever spirits rest eternally.

Reggie: No way! I heard that he was impossible to beat!

Zero: Re-Faze could cast Megid with rapid succession, making him a formidable fighter, yes, but he can be beaten. And in this case, he met the ultimate foe.

Reggie: Who? What?

Zero: The Dark Power.

Elyss: That was what Hotshot told me before. She mentioned the Brethren of the Dark Power.

Zero: Well, in this case, it’s not the Dark Brethren. I can sense them when they’re at work. This is simply the Power itself. It has an avatar.

Reggie: An avatar? You mean like Dark Force?

Zero: Nah. Not like that. If I’m right, then it’s an old buddy of mine.

* * *

Sam: Well, it worked. So now what?

Getting captured was easy. All they had to do was walk right up to the one of the busiest spots in Hellstone territory and cause some havoc. Thanks to a few of their blade attacks, a number of the earthen beast had been…disarmed. When the guys who acted as police came around, they simply gave themselves up so the could see the big cheese of this place. As they entered the sauna-like prison, which was always kept hot by the natural thermal vents, Hotshot noted a few details that would become important later. Most Hellstones were either humanoid or animalistic. The humanoids were simply bald armor-wearing, muscle-men with lava for blood. As for the animals…they were heavy shellback creatures that look like they’ve had a pair of Lava Cannons, the native firearm, welded to their backs. Their cell was formed from hardened magma, which the guards were able to control. "You will stay here until Mitzorgan is ready to see you", said one. Immediately after, the other guard explained, "He is the High Minister to the Shrine of the Gods.’ And with that, they were left alone. The idea that they might escape did not cross the Hellstone’s minds since their Lomanx beasts, the shellbacks, were on patrol. That was when Sam asked the question.

Sam: Well?

Hotshot: We wait. The boss of this place will surely tell us what we want to know, and then we can solve the Hellstone problem.

Sam: They mentioned a shrine for gods. What gods? The Profound Darkness?

Hotshot: No, it’s much simpler than that. They only think that their creators are gods. In reality, they are just a pair of elementals.

Sam: Elements? Stone and fire, right? That makes sense…

There is a noise like a dozen golems marching. And as advertised, a large group of golems, actually Hellstones, come stomping through the cell block and stop in front of the cell they were in. One of them appears to have chiseled in markings that pertain to either rank or status. He now spoke.

Elite Guard: Excellency Mitzorgan will now see you, flesh creatures.

Their captors were wise enough to disarm them, but not nearly smart enough to realize how much of a threat they could be when even unarmed. If they had, then there would be more troops. The guards marched them to a subterranean lair with some peculiar marking on the door. They were shown in and followed by all of the guards. It was clear that no trust was to be gained here. Mitzorgan was burly and possessed a great deal of nozzle-like holes in his body. Hotshot had some suspicions about what the holes could do, but he would say nothing. So instead, it was the giant Hellstone who broke the silence, his voice giving off all the indications of one whose depth and wisdom was immeasurable.

Mitzorgan: I have heard…that you are on…a mission of sorts. You are here…to kill all that you see in this place. Oh, don’t look surprised by my knowledge. I only received such information a few hours ago from a spy.

It seemed that the bigshot leader of these golems was a creature of high intellect. Hotshot had bets on a militaristic level of intelligence. Mitzorgan’s best decisions would come from his battle experience. He continued speaking.

Mitzorgan: The Northern people would do anything to rid us of their world, even though they might be better off after we heat the planet up a little. How can anyone live in this cold all the time?

Myow: Meow!

Mitzorgan: Besides using a fur coat. We, the disciples of Canute and Mars, do not tolerate cold weather. As we are the kings of fire and brimstone, it is we who are destined to control the world.

Hotshot: Canute and Mars… I was right.

Sam: Who are these guys?

Mitzorgan: They are the warlord gods of Dezolis, Canute of the eternal stone and Mars of the undying flame.

Hotshot: Gods? Yeah right…

Mitzorgan: You would deny them when my kind, their great creations, stand before you? Don’t you think that’s unwise?

Hotshot: I know what they’re about. Canute and Mars are elementals, not gods.

Mitzorgan: You must be joking.

Hotshot debated with the Hellstone for a while, obviously trying to keep him occupied for a while. It worked like a charm. Even the guards were lost in their argument. And when Hotshot was ready, they would give the lot of them a surprise like no other. They’d discussed it earlier, so it would all go according to plan.

Mitzorgan: All their power and you still think them as nothing more than spirits? You cannot deny the strength of Canute or the power of the Mars. They have ultimate power over all other being.

Hotshot: They aren’t the only ones. NOW!

Sam and Myow reacted instantly. As the Muskcat casted Hewn, Sam used a Wat technique. The result was a Blizzard attack. Each and every Hellstone in the room was frozen solid! Sam kicked a few of the guards into pieces while gathering up his scythe and Hotshot’s gun. Myow began to laugh.

Sam: What’s so funny?

Myow: They’re rocksicles!

Hotshot: Oh no… He’s as bad as Raja…

*Crack-ack!*

Though the guards were basically killed by the quick freeze, Mitzorgan was still showing signs of life. In a matter of seconds, he had managed to break out of his icy prison. The ambient heat from his body melted everything else that was frozen, including his comrades. Mitzorgan spat flames in all directions, using those holes that were covering his body.

Hotshot: Anyone have a cork? If we plug him up, he’s bound to explode.

Sam: I don’t think that’ll work. Everything he’s touching is melting.

Myow: I know! Shoot the ceiling!

Hotshot: Why…? Nevermind.

Hotshot aims the Plasma Vulcan high and fires at a large group of stalactites on the ceiling. They fall and hit Mitzorgan a few times in the head and shoulders. This seems only to anger him further. Hotshot gives Myow a vexed look, almost as if she were saying "Why did tell me to do that?" The Muskcat just shrugs.

Myow: You didn’t hit it hard enough.

Sam: I’ll take care of it.

A quick swing of the scythe fires a Scythe Beam at the crumbling ceiling. It looks just like a scythe blade except that it’s energy. Sam apparently made that one up so he wouldn’t have to get wasted for using a Ragna Blade attack. Much of the cavernous ceiling collapses onto the giant Hellstone, though it hardly actually hurts him. It just buries him for a while. Sam flashes Myow a vexed look of his own.

Myow: Now let’s get out of here! This place is history!

They didn’t get it immediately, but as soon as Hotshot realized what was going to happen, she had to agree with Myow. This place was history. Sam follows the two of them out, also understanding why they had to get out. Soon after they reached the entrance to Mitzorgan’s cavern, they heard him yelling in anger. He was trying to break free. Of course, that would not happen. The angrier the golem became, the more heat he would put on. And when he reaches a certain point…

Myow: The entire mountain he’s under will melt, trapping most of his kind under tons of molten rock.

Hotshot: They won’t be killed. Canute’s endurance, Mars’ firepower - not a chance.

Sam: So what are we going to do?

Hotshot: I’m gonna turn this whole area into a crater once it cools down a little.

Sam: The Dynamic Pulse again?

Hotshot: Nope. The Knight’s Gambit has a few good cannons.

Sam: You’d use those huge cannons…on a planet?

Hotshot: Only if I had to. This place will take a while to solidify. Let’s go wait for Zero and the others to get back.

Sam: I hope they’re alright…

Hotshot: I hope so too, Sam.

Myow: Of course they’re okay! They’ve got the Thief of Time with them!

Hotshot: Around Zero, I’d say he’s living on borrowed time.

Chapter 5 - Ultimate Power.

Reggie: Whoa…

Elyss: What is it?

Reggie: I think someone just walked over my grave…

Zero: Do you suppose it was a Yeti?

Reggie: A what?

Zero: Nevermind…

Elyss: Ha ha ha ha!

Reggie: What’s so funny?

Zero: Nothing that Rassilon couldn’t cure.

Reggie: Eh? Who is Rassilon?

Zero: No no no… Who is The Doctor.

Reggie: What?

Zero: Not what, Who.

Reggie: Who what?

Zero: Who is The Doctor.

Reggie: I don’t know!

Zero: Third base.

To Reggie Malone, this was the most ridiculous conversation he’d ever had, but that was because he never watched that many Earthman films. However, Elyss knew exactly what Zero was doing. First, he joked around a little about Doctor Who, then he switched to Abbott and Costello. He did this to pass the time as they made their way to the place that use to be the location of Silence Tower. Now there was only a deep crevice that led into some kind of temple built directly into the cliff.

Reggie: Looks like our work is cut out for us. That’s a small army down there.

The crevice was filled with rogues created by the Profound Darkness during its stay here. There were Chaos Mages, Blade Rights, Haken Lefts, Crimson Heads - the works. Some of the ones they had not seen before were giant leeches, Basilisk creatures, spidery vampires, and a massive horde of undead creatures ranging from humanoids to wild beasts. The undeads were mindless killers and berserkers. Another way of putting it was that they were cannon fodder. The Chaos Mages were the ones in charge of their movements.

Zero: This is a smalltime operation.

Reggie: You’re kidding, right? That’s a small army out there.

Zero: Yes, a small army, and no Demons. These guys are monstrous and evil, yeah, but they’re basically useless against an army of Blackwave Demons.

Elyss: He’s right. I’ve seen them in action.

Reggie: You mean to say that those uglies out there…are weaklings?

Zero: Against us? Most definitely.

Reggie: Heh heh heh… I guess it’s not so bad after all.

Elyss: Then let’s give them a show they won’t forget; their last.

The only thing that had prevented the rogues of evil from spotting Zero and the others was a pile of stones nearly the entrance to the crevice. They were awfully convenient and Zero wondered if they were always there. He shrugged it of as a simple coincidence as they stepped out from behind them. Instantly, the three of them were noticed by the enemy.

Chaos Mage: Intruders! Why couldn’t I sense them?!

Without another word, the Mages called forth their magic and gained control of the undead hordes. Possessing no actual will, they were hardly any good in fights. They were simply conveniences. The Chaos Mages formed them into a wall of opposition against the three interlopers that dared to challenge their blockade, but they had forgotten to include Zero in their carefully planned equation. He had a very simple, but effective strategy for situations like this.

Zero: Show-off time!

Zero raised his left arm, as if signaling someone from above, and crimson sphere of energy appeared right where his hand is. He lowered is empowered fist and, with a snap of his wrist, fired a powerful beam of destructive power, Positron Bolt style! The entire ‘wall’ burns, melts, and incinerates at the mere touch of the blaze of energy. The Mages were aghast by this sudden move.

Chaos Mage: How…?

Zero: It’s easy when they don’t have any power themselves. Without it, there’s nothing to resist the ultimate Dark Power.

Elyss: That was the power you were talking about before?

Zero: Yeah, it was. I’m a low-end user, though.

Chaos Mage: Kill them!!

Reggie: Back to work…

It was a massacre…for the bio-monsters. As Elyss drew her sword and Reggie prepared some daggers, Zero unleashed his own melee weapons. He dealt in cybernetic devices. His right hand was actually a very convincing replica that was able to project plasma and his left arm contained something called a Heat Rod, which was a whip-like weapon that charges with energy. Through this, he was able to pump Dark Power and instantly kill any beast or machine that wasn’t strong enough to resist such power. Indeed, Zero was geared for all-out war. It was very fortunate that he’d managed to stay on the side of humans, rather than the Dark Brethren. As soon as he was ready, he went to take care of the Mages, since they would become a real pain later. Elyss began slicing at the leeches and Basilisks, knowing full-well that they could be very lethal if left unchecked. She attacked a group of Basilisks first. The creatures seemed to be very surprised that they would be attacked at all. These lizards were wholly unprepared to do anything except sit around give people a stony glare that would petrify the most powerful of barbarians and the cleverest of wizards. For once, they were the ones that were frightened. And thus, they died very quickly. Reggie’s own battle was almost as easy. He was being relentlessly attacked by the vampiric spider-beasts. Every time one got near him, he would throw a dagger at its head, its neck, and its heart. This not only ensured a kill, but he could reclaim his knives later. Elyss could see that Zero was hardly in need of assistance. The Chaos Mages had more protection against his abilities, but he had all the firepower. From where she stood, at least three dead Mages were visible. However, while he was busy fighting Mages, Zero did not see the Blade Rights and Haken Lefts transforming into Twin Arms creatures. Elyss wanted to call out a warning when suddenly, the entire contingent of Crimson Heads came after her. Elyss put away her sword after killing the last leech and drew her Slasher. It was time to see what this thing was really made of.

Elyss: I must stay focused. I can’t let the power inside of me take over.

Remembering how the Infiltrator had been able to control the Quantum Slasher before, Elyss threw it at the Crimson Head platoon and willed the device to go straight, rather than try to round such a large group. It worked! The Slasher traveled straight into the heart of the group and burrowed into a few of the floating monsters. The effect was both disturbing and beautiful at the same time. To see something that was once alive and deadly getting its body smeared across time and space is definitely an awe-inspiring sight. The other Heads saw this and began to slowly back off…just as Reggie snuck up from behind and lobbed some killer blades into the back of their skulls.

Reggie: Say, can you teach me that?

Elyss: Sorry. It came with the wallet.

Reggie: Then how ‘bout we give Zero a hand?

Elyss: Are you sure he needs it?

Truthfully, Zero was having some complications. The remaining few Chaos Mages were blinding him with Shadow spells and the Twin Arms were attacking without hesitation or fear. There were three Twin Arms left now and the same number of Mages. The ambush had apparently not worked. Reggie and Elyss got in close enough for Zero to hear them.

Elyss: Need some help?

Zero: Just tell me where they are.

Elyss: Just a second…left!

Reggie: And right!

Zero understood immediately. His fists went out and grabbed the necks of two Chaos Mages. As they were choking, Zero heard a Twin Arms beast closing in. He pulled the two Mages in front and had them skewered on the monster’s blades.

Chaos Mage: Idiot…

The towering bio-monster didn’t know what to do with its added cargo. The dead Mages were stuck on his arms! Meanwhile, the third and final Chaos Mage was trying to sneak away in the confusion. He had almost made it inside the temple when he felt the sting of a dozen knives piercing his back. As he fell to the ground…

Reggie: Don’t leave yet! You’ll miss the floor show!

*THUMP!*

Reggie: Nevermind.

As soon as the last Mage hit the ground, Zero’s sight was regained. And the sight he now saw before him was hilarious! The trio of Twin Arms were all caught up in the dead Mage bodies, their bladed arms getting themselves stuck here and there, twisting around another blade arm, and almost impaling one of the other bio-monsters. When the first Twin beast snagged the two Mages, his comrades decided to help him out of that mess, except that they were equally incapable of doing so!

Zero: This is pathetic… Who wants ‘em?

Elyss: I’ll do it.

Again, Elyss drew her sword as she leapt into combat. There wasn’t any hurry. She just wanted to be sure not to miss. Her prey couldn’t defend themselves, but maybe they could run. In any case, she took no chances, Air Blading the lot of them until they were chop-suey. The temple now lay before them, wide open and unguarded as far as they could see. After Reggie collected all of his still usable daggers, the three of them entered, still wary that an attack could come from anywhere and anything.

Zero: Funny… I’d’ve expected some kind of dark priest.

Reggie: Oh yeah. I know the kind. They’re the ones with the unpronounceable names like Gi-Leux-Thou or something like that.

Elyss: And they’re always behind the scenes, manipulating something or someone.

Zero: Except the one guy that Dark Force takes care of personally.

The inside of the temple dark and strangely mystical like Zio’s old church. Every pillar seemed to be a storehouse of knowledge or power, as they thrummed with an ominous force. There were statues here of creatures well-known to have been in league with the Blackwave in some form or another. Indeed, there were dark priest statues lining the walls, and two different statues near the back.

Reggie: Zio…and Lassic.

Elyss: Powerful magicians, the first and last of their kind here in Algo.

Zero: I heard Zio was a phony.

There was something wrong with this picture. Torches hung off of every pillar in this room, yet the walls were not illuminated. Elyss had the feeling that they were not alone here. Somewhere, something was watching. Zero got the same feeling too. He began to look very closely at the walls, using what appeared to be a cybernetic eye. It was his right eye and it was very well disguised as the real thing. When he was down looking…

Zero: The walls are covered with a living shadow material. That’s why the light doesn’t affect them.

Reggie: Are they hostile?

Zero: Not yet, but they could…

Reggie: Just as long as we know- Hey! Look!

Between the two larger statues in the back was a long, dark tunnel. At the doorway of this path, a swirling mass of Blackwave energy was forming. Were the dead magicians of Algo trying to tell them something? Zero and the others crept closer, keeping an eye on the shadow-filled walls as they went. As they did, a rather large sentinel rose up from the energy field, towering a good five feet above their heads as it materialized completely. The stench of defiled corpses and wretched filth filled the air as the excess energy departed. The beast that stood before them was a much higher-ranking servant of the Profound Darkness, a Prophallus.

Zero: Definitely the work of a powerful Demon or worse. These things aren’t easy to conjure.

Prophallus: N.o.n.e…s.h.a.l.l…p.a.s.s…

Zero: Or teach plain english.

Of course, that single line of speech almost dislocated the creature’s jaw. It wasn’t built for speech. It was an enforcer. Still, it been told to brush up on a little english so it could put its opponents off guard. The ploy was working, but it was getting very impatient. Without another word or slightest bit of hesitation, the towering Prophallus swung a mighty arm down upon them, an attack that would knock them all off of their feet. The Prophallus swung hard, and it did throw all three of the intruders tot he ground, but not without a wound. Its hand was burnt by a force it had not perceived.

Zero: Ha ha! Gotcha!

Zero’s right hand had collided with the fist of the Prophallus and ignited a burst of plasma. He gave the giant beast no chance of reprisal as he fired a barrage of plasma pulses into its mouth. As predicted, it had opened its maw in order to spit some kind of energy beam. Unfortunately, the Prophallus chose to go beyond its conventional attacks and went straight to a Blackwave Pulse. Its own strike plowed through the plasma assault missed Zero by only a fraction of an inch, since he had been intelligent enough to move right after attacking, unlike his opponent, who was basically sitting there and taking pot-shots. Was it really that brain-dead? Or perhaps it simply wasn’t allowed to move from the doorway. Elyss decided to put the theory to the test. She readied her Genocyclaws and dove into range of the monster’s massive arms. Before it could react, she began to use her Claw Devil skill, which would see her striking hard into this abomination around twenty times before giving it a rest. Though the claws did not penetrate very well, Elyss was nonetheless rewarded with several grunts of pain from her victim. As soon as her attack was through, she leapt out of harms way and waited to see what would happen. The Prophallus didn’t move a single inch from where it stood. It fired another Blackwave Pulse, but it would not leave its post.

Reggie: That’s pretty cool. He won’t come after us. Kinda’ makes it easy.

Elyss: Not really. These things are built like tanks. We’re barely getting through to that thing.

Reggie: I know. None of my daggers are any good, even when I aim for something vital like his eyes.

Its eyes were a pair of glowing holes, nothing to disable. More than that, this Prophallus seemed to be supercharged in a way. The damages it had taken weren’t even close to deadly and it was relentless in its counterattacks. Zero finally became fed up with this and called upon the Dark Power again. Crimson energy shot into his hand and blasted the beast right in the chest and head. The explosion echoed for several long seconds inside the temple chamber. The force of the explosion made visible to all what was making the Prophallus so resilient in its defense.

Zero: There’s a shield covering its body…and power flowing into it on the astral plain! Whatever power was controlled here by Le Roof is being transferred into this room!

Elyss: And that power is shielding him? Great… Well, in that case…

Ancient power or no, this Prophallus was going down. Zero’s power was able to weaken it, despite the heavy shielding. And what Elyss was planning could not fail, not if she understood the level of strength her Slasher represented. She threw the bladed instrument straight at the Prophallus, right where the beam of Dark Power had struck. The shield went up, collapsed, and the Slasher embedded itself into the chest of the giant bio-monstrosity. Then, as it entered its body, Elyss willed it to stop right in the middle and spin like crazy. The result was astounding. The Prophallus’ chest warped and wavered, then it exploded as the Slasher drew in the rest of the body and pulled it inside out before finally vaporizing. Though she hated the fact that Wrek was responsible for all this, Elyss had to admit that this was one dynamite weapon. As she reclaimed the Slasher, a horrid feeling of anger and resentment filled her mind. It was not her own, but from another source. Reggie and Zero could feel it too.

Elyss: You guys go on ahead. I want to check on something.

Zero: Are you sure? I get the feeling that we’re not out of the woods just yet.

Elyss: I know. I can feel it. I’ll catch up as soon as I’m ready.

Zero: Okay…

Reggie: Be careful, Elyss. The walls have eyes.

For a moment, Elyss thought he was speaking metaphorically. But as he and Zero disappeared into the dark tunnel, she realized that it was in fact the walls that were giving off that strange resentful feeling. And yes, they did have eyes. Lots of them. The walls of living shadow had become restless. They were held at bay by the Prophallus and now they wanted nothing more than to feed on the one that had ended its unnatural life.

Elyss: Well, I’m not going to hand myself over. Come and get me!

A menacing shriek from all the shadowy creatures emanates from all around her, amplified by the acoustics of the chamber. Then they tore themselves out of the walls as one and charged Elyss with only one single-minded purpose: To kill and devour all that made her exist. However, they were unprepared for what happened next. One moment, they were but a few yards away, and in the next, a powerful flash and flurry of explosive energy filled the chamber. The Megid technique was every bit as effective as it had always been. Every last shadow creature fizzled out or vanished when struck by the awesome destructive force granted by Re-Faze. All the statues had crumbled, the walls were scorched instead of shadowy. Only the pillars remained, as they were physical manifestations of Le Roof’s stolen power and perhaps that of other guardians. It didn’t take her long to catch up with the others. They were standing near another doorway, one that led into a room that was much larger than the chamber they had just left.

Elyss: What’s the hold-up?

Zero: We’ve just uncovered the first piece of evidence that confirms my suspicions. I know, without a single doubt, what creature would come to this planet and kill its guardians for power.

Zero’s Heat Rod came out of his left arm and straightened like a flagpole. Then, as he raised it high, it became alight with crimson energy and illuminated the wall above the doorway. Though the Dark Power was never intended for this kind of use, it was on par with a torch. And since none of the ones from the first chamber could be removed, it would have to do. As soon as Elyss saw what was carved over the doorway, she instinctively backed away a few steps.

Elyss: So it is Dark Force… He’s probably been here for centuries.

Zero: Naaah… More like decades. Dark Force gets around a lot. It’s only lately that he’s been laying low.

Elyss: Why’s that?

Zero: Why don’t we ask him?

The idea of asking such a demonic creature about his little habits seemed to be on the border of insanity. Dark Force is listed in the Hunter’s Guild as the Scourge of Algo, a being of ultimate evil. As they entered the cavernous interior that lay outstretched before them, Elyss was having some lagging doubts in their abilities. Dark Force has obviously been pumping himself up and they were but three against this twisted foe. The cavern had a long flight of stairs leading down to a rocky shore that rested next to an underground lake. The pool of water glistened with every ripple. And for the first time, Elyss noticed that there was light here. Wedged into various parts of the were glowing crystals and stones. They gave off a dull blue light, which made everything look as if it were alive with magic.

Zero: Hold it.

Elyss: What?

Zero: I sense something. It’s him.

Reggie: You mean Dark Force?

Zero: No, the other him.

Reggie: Who are you ta-

Zero: Show yourself, Dracan!

As they had descended the last of the stairs, a single noise penetrated the silence that followed. They heard…clapping. A man stepped out from the shadows. Zero was surprised that there was any shadow to speak of. In truth, it had been conjured there by this man Zero had called out to. This Dracan was a tall man with dark gray clothing and armor on, Caucasian skin, and dark brown hair. He seemed human, but there was also an inhuman quality to him. He looked arrogant in the extreme, also mentally disturbed by something. Aside from that, his eyes gave off a faint glow of energy.

Dracan: Bravo, Zero. Your instincts are as good as ever.

Zero: Stow the chit-chat. How’d you get in here?

Dracan: The astral plain, of course. I’ve been able to infiltrate this place undetected and unchallenged. I suppose I owe you some thanks, since your attack kept them from trying to look into spirit realm.

Elyss: Who is this guy? You’re worse than Wrek.

Zero: Oh, that’s simple. He’s the guy that destroyed Anger Tower.

Reggie: That was you? You’re crazy!

Dracan: And how. I always love showing off. And frankly, Re-Faze had it coming.

Zero: You wouldn’t be able to do that level of damage without that cosmic monkey-on-your-back. Without the Dark Power, you’re just another hired thug.

Elyss: Don’t tell me. He’s just another Zio?

Zero: Not quite. Dracan’s just got severe power-envy.

Dracan: Fool! You haven’t seen my true power!

Zero: I’ve seen a lot worse. Now tell me what you’re doing here before I let Dark Force know that an age-old nemesis of his is here in the flesh.

Dracan: And that is what it’s all about. You want him dead, so does the Dark Power. I’m going to help you destroy this irritation.

Zero: Uh-huh. And then what? I know you, Dracan. You’re up to something.

Dracan: Not this time. I was told to seek out Dark Force and exterminate him.

Zero: Right… And I’m a Greek philosopher.

Dracan: It doesn’t matter what you say. I’m going to do it whether you like it or not, so get use to it.

Zero: Whatever. Just stay out of my way.

There was definitely an unruly past between these two. Elyss and Reggie made the wise decision of staying out of it. Dracan and Zero were obviously at opposite ends of the stick, though both empowered by the same energy. Their argument had ended only half a minute before Dark Force decided to make his grand entrance. The lake must’ve been very deep for him to take so long to reach the surface. But then, as it reached a shallow area, Elyss realized another reason for its gradual appearance. Dark Force was HUGE! In the years of his dormancy, he had been siphoning the natural energy of Ryucros dry as well as that of its guardians. The form that Dark Force took now was almost like a giant scorpion. The lower body has six insectoid legs that end in gripping claws for wall climbing. There is a long tail at the end that has not a stinger, but a mass of claws and a ‘mouth’ for energy attacks. The semi-humanoid part is composed of a massive torso, fully articulate arms, and of course Dark Force’s own terrible head with a menacing Predator-like jaw. The arms end in three-fingered scorpion claws for gripping, cutting, slashing, and stabbing. The area where its chest meets the rest of the body has three clawed tentacles on it that whip out and tear beasts asunder. Zero and Elyss exchange a look of mischief as Dracan steps forward to confront Dark Force. Reggie caught this and stepped back, also grinning. Then, Zero and Elyss shove Dracan hard and toss him into the lake! Dracan lands with a sploosh and immediately surfaces. The look of anger and surprise he gives off is precious.

Dracan: What are you doing?!

Zero: Union break! See ya later!

Dracan: You can’t take a break in the middle of a battle!

Zero: Sure I can, but you can’t!

As Zero and the other two head for the stairs, Dracan catches what he meant. He stank heavily of the Dark Power, but not Zero, who was strictly low-end on the evil spectrum. Therefore, Dark Force would be much more interested in him, since he was the avatar of the Dark Power. Dracan sneered as he came to realize the full impact of the situation. Now he would have to kill the Darkness’ lackey and Zero Tolerance, rather than capturing him for conversion into one of the Dark Brethren again. Dark Force, meanwhile, charged a combination Blackwave and raw power attack that shook the entire temple area when it struck. It threw Dracan into a wall that subsequently exploded from all the force, though he wasn’t badly hurt. He had the real power, and this low-life would see it soon enough. Him and Zero.

Dracan: Prepare for extermination…

* * *

By this time, Zero, Elyss, and Reggie had reached the primary chamber and were about to leave this place for good, as it was bound to collapse very soon. Elyss slowed down as soon as she laid eyes on the pillars again. Even now, with all the shaking and rumbling going on around them, these stone spires were completely unharmed. It confirmed the possibility that they contained the distilled power and maybe even souls of the guardians of Ryucros. Dark Force had subdued them, one by one, gaining more and more strength from those he had conquered. And then, using their powers, he drained life from Ryucros itself. With the exception of Re-Faze’s power, everything came back to these pillar.

Elyss: We have to destroy these pillars!

Zero: How come? They don’t seem to be harming anything.

Elyss: Dark Force used them to contain Le Roof’s power and that of the other guardians as well. They made him easily ten times stronger than normal. If we let Dracan find them…

Zero: I see your point. Okay, we’re bringin’ ‘em down!

It was not an easy task. First of all, they were the supports for this room, so they had to be done from a distance. And second, it would take a lot of power to destroy them. Zero flexed his body a little before beginning. Then, he summoned his strengths and drew in a vast amount of the Dark Power, as much as he could take before losing control. His entire body shimmered with the crimson stuff. It made him look almost demonic himself.

Zero: Stand back. This could get ugly.

Once he was sure he was ready, Zero let the power flow into the room. He redirected the energy into a pair of beams that looked for all the world like rivers of power. They crashed into the first pillars, smashing right through. Then the second pair…which was incinerated. Third pair: Gone the same way. Fourth pair: Toast. Finally, they hit the last pair and a deafening explosion follows, annihilating just about everything in that area. Only seconds later did the ceiling collapse.

Reggie: That was some trick…

Zero: No, I can’t teach you, and I don’t do encores.

Reggie: I wasn’t asking.

Zero: Good. Now let’s get out of here. If I know Dracan…

* * *

The tail of Dark Force spat its acidic ray, again and again, with the deadly arms tearing the ground asunder as well. Dracan was able to leap out of the way, but his patience for it was wearing thin. Dark Force was more than just relentless in his attacks. He was obsessive. It was the because of the Dark Power that he had been removed from his almighty avatarhood. The Darkness had given him up for another, a demon known only as Kain. And in that action, his power had decreased a great deal. Even worse, he once assaulted a planet that neither he nor the Dark Brethren liked, and the leader of the Brethren decided to kill him anyway out of spite! It was maddening. They had to pay. The human that Dark Force had seen was nothing, a minor player in the grand scheme of things. This other creature that they called Dracan… He was different. He was linked to the hated Dark Power that had caused this mess. Dracan himself was a rogue, but nothing too important. However, there was a danger…

Dracan: I’ve had enough of you! DIE!!!

* * *

The explosion following Dracan’s outburst could be felt for many miles, even in the air. Dark Force’s temple began to disintegrate as the ground beneath it cracked apart, showing a crimson light from within the underground cavern. Only a few seconds later, the entire area detonated again, giving off the force of a nuclear explosion, though without a fallout. The crater that was now the epicenter of the destruction was very deep and filled with molten rock. Whatever had once been alive in this area was now scorched beyond recognition, ruined in body, mind, and soul. Fortunately, Zero and company were safely aboard the Knight’s Gambit. To say that they were disturbed by the devastation would be an understatement.

Elyss: How could he be so powerful? He was a pushover down in the cavern.

Zero: Dracan has power, but not that much. Since he’s connected to the living Dark Power, he must have let it take over and destroy everything. Normally, he’s like any tough guy. Any arrogant tough guy, that is.

Elyss: Could he survive that blast?

Zero: That’s the bad news. Dark Brethren aren’t regularly affected by their own attacks. Dracan’s still down there…somewhere.

Reggie: So Zero, would you say that the debt has been paid?

Zero: Why? What did you do the whole time?

Reggie: Well, aside from helping you take out that army outside, including the last Chaos Mage, I smuggled this out.

Reggie held out a small packet of some sort. Inside were a dozen vials of a gray substance that seemed alive with energy. Zero was amazed by what he now held in his hands. With this stuff, I guy could do almost anything. With enough it, any average Joe could become almighty, able to utilize powers similar to Dracan’s own natural abilities and endure great amounts of pain.

Zero: Where did you get this?

Reggie: It was in that Dracan guy’s pocket. I don’t remember which one. Why?

Zero: This is…Chaos Matter.

Reggie: Say again?

Elyss: You’ve lost me.

Zero: It’s ultimate power collected from distilled lifeforce and astral energies. Anyone who’s exposed to this stuff can become extremely powerful, go insane, or both. Supposedly, that’s how Dracan came to be. So, this is what he does with his spare time. He takes a little Chaos Matter from his blood now and then, but for what? His body’s filled with it, so it couldn’t be for himself unless…

Reggie: Unless his purpose is for something besides power.

Zero: Yes, but still…why?

Elyss: He probably doesn’t like being stuck with the Dark Power like that.

Zero: That’s it exactly! He’d rather be more like me, powerful and in control!

Reggie: You realize that he’s gonna go ballistic when he finds it missing.

Zero: He’s probably just noticing now.

There was suddenly another rumbling. The crater that was once the temple split open to allow more of the crimson light flow. However, this time was different from the last. A hole was blown and a gigantic worm composed of a dark mist shot out of it. The creature bellowed as it sought to block the path of Zero’s vessel. This turned out to be a less-than-brilliant move.

Zero: Fire!

The twin main cannons of the Knight’s Gambit charge up and blast the mist creature into atoms. Zero figured that Dracan had to be in there somewhere, so he fired almost everywhere. Afterwhich, the spaceship was Dezolis-bound.

Zero: Lunch is on me!

Reggie: So, is my debt paid?

Zero: With this little tidbit? You betcha’!

Reggie: Good. Now I can get back to business.

Elyss: You don’t really just steal for a living, do you?

Reggie: Mostly, I’m for hire. Like your Hunter’s Guild. Anyway, it beats the other job I had. Much more honest work, too.

Elyss: What did you do?

Reggie: I sold insurance.

* * *

On the ground lay a man whose body had been burnt, beaten, and battered. It would heal very quickly, but for now, he was groggy in the extreme. The man stood up with effort, cursing the interference of that blasted anti-hero mech pilot.

Dracan: I’ll make you pay, Zero. You and that cat-woman thing…

* * *

Upon returning to Dezolis, Zero was given a signal from Hotshot to proceed South and destroy the molten area that use to be the city of the Hellstone creatures. The cannons of the Knight’s Gambit eradicated everything in the area, excepting Hotshot, Sam, and Myow. They had taken the precaution of boarding the ship first. Finally, they landed the ship near Ryuon and confronted Trent.

Trent: Well, I must say that I’m glad to see you made it back in one piece. You completed the missions, yes?

Zero: We have removed Dark Force and other evil creatures from Ryucros, though I have to report the loss of its guardians, including Le Roof.

Hotshot: The creatures from the South, known as the Hellstones, have been utterly destroyed. They had a plan to take over Dezolis, but we thwarted it.

Trent: Wonderful! I knew I had chosen the right people for the job, though I didn’t realize that I would have to pay for so many.

Reggie: Yeah, but we know you can afford it, Trenty. Our business in the past proves that you’re a man loaded to the brim with cash-ola.

Trent: Guilty as charged. You did what I asked and I will thus pay you all for it.

* * *

Later that night, the crew had rented rooms at the inn for the night. All of them were asleep, utterly spent from the previous battles. Well, not all were asleep yet. Elyss was restless, not allowing herself to slip into unconsciousness for fear that another maddening dream would appear. The part of her that wished to follow whatever Wrek had set out for her was demanding control and she didn’t want to relinquish it at any given moment. So instead, she watched the stars from outside the inn. Though kind of cold, she was adapting to this weather fast. Just then, she heard movement from behind. She could tell, just by the way the footprints lay down upon the snowy ground, who it was.

Elyss: What’s up, Sam?

Sam: Whoa! You’re good.

Elyss: It’s a gift. So what’s on your mind?

Sam: Actually, I was wondering the same about you. I’ve noticed that you’ve been getting kind of distant lately.

Elyss: Me? I’ve been wondering about how I fit in this crazy universe. I was created by this lunatic android and given destructive weapons that would make me tougher than anyone on Motavia. And yet, that’s almost nothing compared to these Dark Brethren guys. If Zero is one of the lesser guys from that group and Dracan is an uncontrollable avatar, then what are the masters like?

Sam: I don’t know, but they must really be something else.

Elyss: That’s what I mean. What chance would we have against them if they decided to attack? Zero and Hotshot won’t be around forever. They have other places to go and a son to take care of.

Sam: Now that, I can answer. Zero told me about a friend of his, name of Kash. He works with the most powerful technology around and was the developer of the first Quantum Cannon.

Elyss: You don’t say.

Sam: Your Slasher is one of the most powerful weapons on this planet. I’m sure you’ll use it wisely. Even the Dark Brethren can’t beat this quantum stuff. It can distort just about anything.

Elyss: I suppose it can. You’d have to be very careful with one of these.

Sam: Yeah, I heard what you did to that Prophallus. What a mess!

Elyss: Right… Hey, Sam?

Sam: What is it?

Elyss: What were your parents like? I never had any myself. Not real parents.

Sam: I don’t remember them too well. I know that my mother was very dear to me and always caring. But soon, she left and I was stuck in Kadary until I was old enough to join the Guild. I’ve always wondered why they left me and…Elyss?

Elyss wasn’t paying attention. Her ears twitched like mad as if straining to hear a distant sound. Then, whatever it was suddenly became more intense, making her cry out in pain. She stumbled to the ground, grasping her ears like they were going to explode. Something was being beamed directly into them using a very high frequency. Elyss tried to force out the awful noise, but it continued to penetrate into her skull. Sam knelt down beside her, feeling helpless as she screamed once more. The intensity was being raised a few notches at a time, causing whatever suffering Elyss had to endure to go beyond her normal threshold. If it was left unchecked, the sound that was driven into her head might kill her!

Heh heh heh ha ha ha ha…

Sam: Zero! Hotshot! Everybody, get out here!

By the time the rest of the group had made it outside, the sound began to fade, leaving Elyss to deal with an outrageous headache and to fight hard against unconsciousness. Sam breathed a sigh of relief and looked at the concerned faces of the others. They had no idea what had just happened. Only Elyss would really know what it was that assaulted her ears.

Zero: Is she okay, Sam?

Sam: Maybe. I can’t tell just yet.

Reggie: What happened to her?

Sam: It was some kind of sound, too high for anyone else to pick up. It must have been pure hell for her.

Elyss: You got…that right, Sam.

It was hard for Elyss to even think straight, but she had managed it somehow and was trying to sit upright without losing herself in this horrible daze she was in. It took effort, but she was able to do it. Thankfully, there was a wall to lean against.

Sam: Elyss, are you alright?

Elyss: No, but I think I’m getting there.

Sam: You had us worried. I thought it might kill you.

Reggie: You’re serious, Sam? It could have killed her?

Sam: Yes. I’m just glad it didn’t.

Hotshot: Can you tell us what happened, Elyss?

Elyss: Yeah… I think it was…a transmission, one that used ultrasonic sounds to make it across empty space. I’m sure it was tailored especially for me, though I’m sure it turned a few heads in the Numan population.

Zero: So it was Wrek, then.

Elyss: I’m sure of it. He’s calling me… He’s calling me back to Motavia.

Chapter 6 - Sins of the Father and Daughter.

They could stand idle no longer, not while Wrek was on the loose. Zero and Hotshot gave them a ride back to Motavia aboard the Knight’s Gambit. During that trip, the ship’s scanners detected a metallic structure amidst the usual things found in Algo. It was a ship, probably Wrek’s ship. He had made it scanner proof in most cases, but the systems aboard Zero’s ship were more intelligent than the normal Algo scanners. Shortly after it had been detected, however, the Raklon space vessel vanished. Nobody knew where it had gone and nobody cared…yet. Another odd thing that was picked up by the scanners was a single asteroid that gave off some powerful emissions. However, this was not something that could be bothered with right now, so the ship’s computer simply logged the info and went on. Well after the ship had passed, several appendages drilled out of the rock and formed partially organic thrusters. Dark Force, the former avatar of the Profound Darkness, flew silently into the depths of space, searching for a new source of power.

* * *

Although there was a spaceport, Zero liked to park out of the way and far from crowded areas. The Knight’s Gambit came to land just outside Zema. This caused a few heads to turn, since nobody had expected a gigantic interstellar craft to appear out of the sky and land nearby. Of course, they didn’t worry as much when they saw the kind of people that were aboard it. It wasn’t an alien invasion, so there was no need to panic. Aside from that, the people of Zema had a different kind of problem. They were being haunted by an eerie high-pitched sound that was loud enough to make every man, woman, and child in town grit their teeth at once.

Zero: Another killer sound? It can’t be a coincidence.

Elyss: Definitely not. Wrek must be around somewhere…

She stopped short as a high-pitched screeching sound began to fill the air. It was the same noise that Elyss had heard before, except that it was a little tamer this time. The sound merely annoyed her, rather than almost killing her. The others heard it as well, but they did not hear what she did. There was something hidden within the noise itself. Something that only Elyss was able to discern. As the sound faded once more, she understood its intent.

Zero: So…what was it?

Elyss: It was definitely a transmission. It was made up of soundwaves with a message embedded in it that only certain people can hear. It was meant for me, but I’d be willing to bet that it was originally used on robots.

Hotshot: Can you tell where it came from?

Elyss: No problem. That was the purpose of the message. It came from the North-East area, pretty far away too. I think I can get us there, though.

Sam: You? How?

Elyss: By using Ryuka.

Sam: What a minute. I thought Ryuka took you places you've already visit-

Too late. Before anyone could stop her, Elyss casted the spell of Ryuka, transporting the lot of them to an island that was far across the ocean, North-East of Zema and far from any mainland area. In front of them is a military site, sealed by thick Laconia doors and defended by automated cannon turrets. It was lucky that they had not been delivered into the range of those devices. Such a terrible fate… Zero didn’t like the look of them, though. He had a paranoia about things like this. And so, without giving the consequences a single thought, he began nonchalantly blasting the turret guns with his cyber-hand’s plasma emitter while muttering something about it glowing with an awesome power.

Hotshot: Where are we?

Sam: This is…Valhal Fort. I’ve heard rumors about this place, but I thought they were all made up.

Elyss: It’s no sci-fi story, Sam. This is real. But how did I know to come here?

Two security cameras swivel into position and spy the group of intruders. Moments later, the main doors unlock with a heavy CLUNK sound and open up very slowly. The doors are easily six feet thick and use complex latch mechanisms rather than maglocks, making them infinitely tougher to penetrate. As they enter, the fact that the power is running is not lost upon them. The place should be dead, shut off by Wren a long time ago. Wrek must have infiltrated Valhal Fort and gotten everything up and running. They head for the main elevator and enter it in good faith, believing that Wrek would want them to live to see what he had in store. It was a good bet, because the elevator ran very smoothly. It came to rest on a floor marked as Section 2B. The doors stayed firmly shut. Then, without warning, there was a flash of energy. Hotshot and Zero disappeared!

Sam: What was that?!

Elyss: Didn’t Wren and Demi mention Wrek using something called a Phase-Shift?

Sam: Oh yeah, that matter-transporter thing. Great…

Reggie: I’ll bet he knew what kind of threat those two would be, so he beamed ‘em out into who knows what kind of trouble.

Elyss: You’re probably right, and that makes our own need for caution that much more important.

Myow: I’ll watch yer backs, meow! They’ll never know what hit ‘em!

The doors slid open and there was a hail of plasma and laser fire. It was lucky that they had decided to take refuge in either side of the elevator car. Elyss took a careful look outside and sighed with great displeasure.

Elyss: It’s the Wren Regular Army out there.

Sam: What do you mean?

Elyss: Sirens, Warrens, Browrens - they’re all waiting for us to make our move.

Reggie: We can take those tin-cans easily.

Elyss: Just keep a close eye on the Browrens. They’ve got the best weapons and armor. More than that, they’re a crack shot. You guys follow me and we’ll get out without a scratch.

Sam: How do you know where to go?

Elyss: I just…do. At least I think I know. Hard to tell sometimes.

* * *

Zero and Hotshot materialized outside Valhal Fort. It seemed fairly obvious that Wrek didn’t want interference from either the Great Light or the Dark Power. Of course, he couldn’t keep them out forever. Eventually, one of them would get impatient and blow more holes through the fortress than a crate of Swiss cheese. When they tried to enter again, they found the door sealed shut again.

Zero: I hate a party-pooper.

Wrek: So do I.

The android double of Wren stood behind them. He wasn’t there the whole time, so he must have transported himself there to greet them. Why he would do such a thing was unknown…so far. Wrek grinned as the two of them approached him, unruly scowls appearing on their faces.

Wrek: Hi there.

Zero: Just what are you playing at, android?

Wrek: This is a critical moment in the evolution of my creation. I can’t let outsiders like you spoil the experiment that I’ve set up here.

Hotshot: You’re calling us outsiders? Your as alien as we are.

Wrek: Not quite, arch-angel. I was based off of the Wren design, but you two are far different than the people of Algo.

Zero: We’re not alone. Now are you going to tell us what you’re up to or am I going to have to beat the info out of you?

Wrek: The Numan, Elyss, is not at harmony with her own self. Her body strives to accommodate two separate beings; the one you know and the one she is. In essence, Elyss has developed a severe case of schizophrenia.

Hotshot: And this is why she almost attacked Sam without realizing it?

Wrek: The entire Eliminator incident was done by an alter ego, one that is currently based on primal instincts. This isn’t exactly what I had in mind.

Zero: Why did you create her in the first place?

Wrek: Why did the Brethren create you?

Zero: How’d you know… You work for them!

Wrek: Oops. Me and my big mouth. Oh well…

The android presses a small button located on his wrist and teleports out of Zero’s reach. They knew where he was going; deeper into Valhal Fort to personally oversee whatever was in store for those who were still inside. Zero was about to force the door open with his power when he felt a disturbing sensation.

Voice: Zero…

A harsh voice echoes through the air. It felt as if it were nearby, but out of sight. When a large boulder exploded, it became obvious where the voice had come from. The smoke cleared to reveal the disheveled form of Dracan. His armor had been torn in several places, especially around his left shoulder. His flesh blackened in that area. Zero spotted what was there only an instant before Hotshot did. Upon the shoulder of Dracan was a single eye, nearly as big as one of his fists. The eye was red like blood on the inside and ever-watching as it perched on Dracan’s limb.

Dracan: We have a score to settle, Zero. You, me, and this observer here. He remembers you well. Do you remember him, Zero?

Oh yeah. He did, alright. Zero knew what that horrid eye signified. It was the proof of Dracan’s avatarhood. This eye was a small representation of the Dark Power embedded in his body. It willed Dracan to fight, even if he didn’t feel like it. However, they were cooperating rather well at this point, both of them striving to kill Zero. What made Zero shudder about all this was the fact that he’d seen the physical beast of the crimson aura in its own layer, when it had drawn him in to be eaten. Of course, Wrek had only brought Dracan to this location to keep them busy. And unfortunately, it would do just that. Elyss and the others were on their own.

* * *

The Wren Regular Army had fallen rather quickly. Sam and Elyss diverted their attention and sliced up a few with their respective weapons while Myow and Reggie took out many more with some blitz attacks. Myow charged all of Reggie’s daggers with electricity so they would give the androids a nasty zap every time one of the blades struck home. Sometimes, this had the effect of Spark. There was also a moment where Sam and Reggie picked up a few Browren weapons and shot up a good deal of them into scrap metal. They headed through some winding tunnels that seemed to lead in circles at times, yet always took them somewhere different. Sam had the notion that Wrek had hit this place with his Quantum Cannon, but it wasn’t likely that Valhal Fort would be intact after such an attack.

Sam: Are you sure you know where you’re going?

Elyss: I have some idea about where I should be heading, but I don’t know why.

Reggie: Instincts? Déjà vu?

Elyss: Could be either one…WAIT!

Sam/Reggie/Myow: What?

They had come to the entrance of an old laboratory. Much of its equipment has been removed, but you can tell that research was done here just by looking at what remained. On one side of the room, there is a line of old disused stasis tanks. Many of them are broken, shattered beyond repair, but Elyss could see them as the they were. She could see the entire room as it use to be.

Elyss: This was a lab for creating…bio-monsters. There were…there were several computers here, blood-testers, energy meters - everything you would need for genetic research.

Sam: How does she know all this? What happened here?

Elyss walks in, nonchalantly. She remembers something about her past. This is where it all started. Her life had begun here in this isolated and completely secret laboratory. Wrek had set it up with his own resources and got to work. Elyss spent a great deal of time in stasis without an identity or independent thought.

Elyss: This is it… I’m…home.

Voice: Then let me be the first to welcome you…sister.

It was a voice filled with mischief and intrigue. Elyss spun around, as did the rest of the posse, and beheld a sight they weren’t expecting. Clad in a navy blue armor made of Laconium was another Numan. This one was different from Elyss, but still nothing like today’s common Numan. This was…something different.

Reggie: That face… I’ve seen it before in some historical documents I stole. She looks just like Neifirst!

Yes, there did appear to be a historical resemblance, though this Numan was not quite as pale as the original one. Sure, she needed a little sun, but it wasn’t that bad, really. Her dark blue hair was only a few shades lighter than the armor she wore. There was an arrogant look in her eye, also a cold determination in there as well. She looks slightly younger than Elyss, but still well-developed.

Elyss: Who are you?

Numan: My name is Cassidy. I was developed almost in parallel to your creation. Wrek is father to us both. My appearance is due to the replication of similar Neifirst genes to accelerate my growth potential.

Sam: Wrek? A father? No offense, but he seems more like a psycho to me.

Cassidy: That’s your opinion.

Elyss: One that counts in my book. He tried to kill us with that Eliminator. In fact, he threw everything in Nurvus at us!

Cassidy: That heap of garbage? You must be kidding. All that stuff was made from low-grade materials and had faulty brains.

Sam: You didn’t see the explosives I had rigged onto that Eliminator thing. They didn’t even scratch it.

Elyss: Listen… Wrek called me here for a reason and I want to know what. You’re here for a reason too, I bet. So how about it? Spill the beans already.

Cassidy: It’s very simple. You are incomplete. I am what you should be at your full development. During your stasis, a meteor struck the ocean near Valhal Fort and flooded the entire facility. Your stasis tank was lost in the drainage and was taken out to sea. From there on in, your mind struggled to adapt as you began to mingle with civilization. And that’s your past life, in a nutshell.

Elyss: Those dreams… They were a part of my memories… So, where have you been all this time? Don’t tell me you’ve been stuck down here.

Cassidy: I’ve been out in space, aiding Wrek’s research and development. He’s the creator of many weapons and unique lifeforms.

Elyss: Geez… Playing god again! I can’t stand this guy! I’m gonna find him and clean his clock for good!

Cassidy: Uh-uh. You can’t leave yet. Not without a little test of your abilities. You still have some training to do before you become complete.

Elyss: I don’t have time for this stuff!

Cassidy: Make time.

As Cassidy spoke these words, the wall near the lab entrance exploded to allow a pair of Infiltrators into the room. These two robots looked somewhat more advanced than the previous one. Indeed, Wrek did mention that the first one was just a prototype. These two would be deadlier than the entire security force at Nurvus! Each one carried a pair of Quantum Slashers. Elyss could also see a few items hooked to Cassidy’s belt. There was an energy blade emitter, a pair of Quantum Slashers, and a small storage pack. Cassidy did not engage yet. She let the two killer robots act first. The Infiltrators stepped forward and paired off with Elyss and Sam. Neither of them had charged their deadly weapons yet. Elyss took the initiative, using her Genocyclaws, and struck hard into the body of the first Infiltrator. Unbelievably, the claws shattered as they came in contact with the armor of the silver soldier!

Elyss: What the…

Cassidy: These two are a lot tougher than the one you fought inside Nurvus. Their armor is the same as mine, Laconium!

Sam: Is that so? Heh heh heh…

Sam took a slice at the robot in front of him and found that his own weapon remained intact. The Infiltrator took very little damage though. Sam swiped his scythe at it repeatedly before one of the hits actually affected it. And when that happened, it was due to a sudden burst of lightning that was charged into the blade.

Sam: Thanks, Myow!

Myow: No problemo.

Reggie: Gimme a hand with my daggers next.

Myow: Okay!

Reggie pulled out a full dozen daggers from inside his coat and grinned slyly. He took careful aim at the Infiltrator near Elyss and let loose his awesome flurry. The daggers he threw became alight with the fire of dragons and exploded when they hit the intended target. The Infiltrator, taken off guard, was thrown back a few feet before recovering. Reggie gave Myow a sour look.

Reggie: Not like that! I might’ve needed them later!

Myow: Oops.

Now, the two Infiltrators were taking the offensive. They still had yet to charge their Quantum Slashers. Instead, they swung them like blades, taking on the aspects and skill of a powerful ninja assassin. Sam suddenly had his hands full with the robot nearest to him, as he needed to constantly block with his scythe. The other Infiltrator, the burnt one, was still in top condition. It drew its Slashers again and threw one at Reggie while attacking Elyss directly with the other. Elyss quickly pulled her sword out to defend, taking only a fleeting glance in Reggie’s direction and seeing that he had parried the attack with a well-placed dagger throw. The Infiltrator kicked upward to fend off her blade and would have gotten past Elyss’ defense if it had actual strength to do so. It had noticed a steady increase in the Numan’s ability as she sized up her enemies. The robot’s other Slasher returned to it and the fight intensified.

Cassidy: Okay. You’ve shown off long enough. Now give ‘em hell!

That was the order they had been waiting for. The two Infiltrators filled their Slashers with the unstable time-and-space-smearing energy. Sam and Elyss backed off for a second to make sure they wouldn’t get caught in the emissions. Sam gave off a look of anger as he gathered energy himself. Elyss caught this and immediately took a few steps away from him. She knew what would follow. Sam’s body tensed as he launched a Ragna Blade at the Infiltrators! The giant blade of energy headed straight towards the Infiltrator and would destroy them utterly. Or at least…they would have. Both robots engage their shields and take up a stance to defend against the Ragna Blade. The energy blade rams up against the Quantum Shields and struggles to penetrate for a few seconds before exploding. Much of the blade’s energy was wasted on the shields, though a small amount managed to creep through and damage a few systems. Sam looks tired now. He put a lot of effort into that attack. The Infiltrators spark a little from their respective damages. They weren’t down yet. They were like him: winded. Their mono-eyed heads seem to glare angrily at Sam. One of them raises its pair of Slashers and throws them while fully charged! Fully aware of their destructive power, Sam ducks, dodges, and weaves this way and that to avoid getting hit. He’s versatile, but not enough. The twin bladed instruments fly through the air, guided by the Infiltrator’s thoughts, and soon corner him. They move in to tear him asunder…

Elyss: SAM! NO!!!

Sam braced himself as the Slashers flung themselves at him, ready to kill. However, they did not make it. Sam looked around to see that he was surrounded by a force field of some kind. It was the same as the Infiltrator’s shield. The Slashers could not penetrate it and soon lost their charge. He could see through the shield and found that it was directed there by…

Sam: Elyss? How did you…do that?

Elyss: I haven’t got a clue.

Sam: This is amazing! You have even more power than those Infiltrators!

Cassidy: Of course. They’re just machines.

Elyss: So what does that make me?!

Cassidy: Find out for yourself.

Sam: Ummm…Elyss? Can I get out now?

The shield collapses at Elyss’ gesture. Sam gets up quickly as they lot of them turn to face their enemies. Sam readies his scythe once more. Reggie pulls out a few items he’d been saving; a Pulse Vulcan and some grenades he had taken off of the Infiltrators. Myow glows hot with fiery magic and electricity dances across his back. And Elyss, always prepared for combat, has her Quantum Slasher out.

Elyss: Let’s go.

Reggie: Wait!

Sam/Elyss/Myow: What?

Reggie: Me first.

Reggie snickers mischievously as he holds up a pair of grenades. They are the same ones that he stole from the Infiltrators. With the same deadly accuracy of his daggers, he throws the two grenades at the robot assassins. Everyone in the room braces from the impact blast. These were not your ordinary explosives.

Cassidy: Those were…Fusion Grenades! Where did you get those?

Reggie: Stole ‘em.

Cassidy: But I never saw you near my Infiltrators!

Reggie: Of course not! I am the legendary Thief of Time! Nobody catches me in the act, for I can move faster than wind and quieter than shadow!

Cassidy: Utter nonsense…

Reggie: I’ve got more if you wanna see it.

Cassidy: You’re insane.

Reggie: I’m gifted.

If Reggie was trying to make Cassidy lose her temper, he succeeded. The enraged Numan lift a hand in his general direction and casted…Megid! Explosive power impacted the four of them, their armor fortunately holding out. Then it was the Infiltrators’ turns. They primed their weapons and attacked directly, rather than throwing their weapons. Throwing them allowed Elyss to simply shield the one they intended on killing and thus, they would lose their charge. Constant contact with the weapons kept them energized while attacking, even if a shield goes up. And thus, there would be an opportunity to break through. The two robots did not see the Muskcat as a threat, so they paired off; one against Elyss and one against Sam and Reggie. Elyss could shield herself against the blows of her opponent or simply prime her own Slasher for defending. However, Sam and Reggie had no choice but to keep their distance. Sam’s scythe, even using his powerful techniques, could be destroyed by the Slasher weapons. Reggie kept it occupied with his newly acquired Pulse Vulcan. His shots were actually effective, causing minor damages here and there. Of course, this was not enough. He stayed out of Slasher range, but then the mono-eye of the Infiltrator flashed suddenly and emitted a focused ray beam. It tore into the metal plates of the floor very near where he stood.

Reggie: Hey, Sam! How about giving me a hand here?

Sam: Big-time thrashing, coming up!

Sam had managed to slip behind the machine and was ready to strike. He came in low and fast. Then, he slashed and stabbed at the backside of the Infiltrator using a combination of his Scythe Beam and his regular strikes. The result was a brutally scarred back. The Infiltrator reeled as if in pain, turned towards Sam with its shield activated, and attacked him harder and faster. Sam had no choice but to dodge, but he wouldn’t let himself get caught in a corner this time. The robot was ignoring Reggie at this time, but there wasn’t much he could do to it anyway. Elyss saw an opportunity to exploit, even from where she stood. She pushed back the other Infiltrator’s attack and quickly willed a Quantum Shield into existence right in front of the other robot. In such close proximity, the two shields canceled out as soon as they touched. The Infiltrator was flung back by the force of its disabled shield overloading. It came to fall at Reggie’s feet, who pointed his gun at its head.

Reggie: G’bye now.

Half a second after he pulled the trigger, the Infiltrator’s head exploded. That was one down, with one to go. Elyss focused again on her battle as the remaining assassin redoubled its efforts. It swung hard and fast, ducking low to her own attacks or weaving side to side. Elyss faked an attack with Slasher once and kicked the robot in the head when it misread her intentions. That caused it to stumble once, but not enough. When Elyss pressed on the attack, trying to end the machine’s existence once and for all, its eye flashed and fired the eye laser twice. The aim was a bit off, but it still managed a couple of glancing blows on Elyss’ armor. This forced her to stop. It had cut through the armor and singed something for sure. Elyss could feel a sudden burning sensation in her sides where it had hit her. In the next instant, the Infiltrator had gotten up and swung both of its Slashers at Elyss’, forcing the weapon out of her hands. Elyss wasted no time struck the arms of the robot assassin, managing to make it drop its weapons as well. Thus, neither was armed with the deadly devices. However, there was a small problem. The Infiltrator was armored with Laconium and she was flesh and blood. It could kill organic beings with its bare hands and there was still that eye to be wary of.

Sam: Should we help her?

Reggie: We can’t. They’re too close to each other.

Myow: I could do it.

Reggie: Then do it. They haven’t attacked you even once.

Myow did so with glee. The Infiltrator suddenly found itself to be the target of a dozen lightning bolts. It was smoking when Myow was finished. However, it wasn’t in a bad way. The assassin takes a quick leap over Elyss’ head and focuses a ray beam at Myow. The Muskcat jumps aside as the beam chews up more of the floor, deeply shaken by the realization of how vulnerable he really is. This action makes Elyss sneer, her anger rising steadily.

Elyss: Picking on a cat? How low can you be?

There is no reply. The Infiltrator just fires again and again at Elyss, who has learned to dodge these attacks as she goes head to head with the ninja-like machine. And it really is like a ninja. It moves like one, attacks like one. It even has great expertise in martial arts, same as Elyss. It becomes apparent in this last respect as she attacks it and finds her opponent ducking low again and thrusting out the left leg. The air in Elyss’ lungs are forced out as the Infiltrator lands a powerful kick to her chest. She hits the ground…but doesn’t stay there for long. There is a gasp in the room as Elyss stands upright once more, her body tense and her demeanor changed somewhat. The gasping sound came from Sam, who saw the look on Elyss’ face as she got up again.

Sam: It’s the same as before. She’s changed again.

Cassidy: I was wondering when this would happen.

Sam: What’s going on? What’s happening to her?

Cassidy: She does not know who she is, so she created an alternate personality to cope with the circumstances of her life. Now, it’s very hard to tell what part of Elyss is real and what is just a figment of imagination. Even I can’t be sure.

Elyss paid no heed to the conversation going on in the background. She only saw the opponent in front of her. That was all she needed. The Infiltrator must have sensed that something was amiss because it was willing its Quantum Slashers to return. Elyss didn’t give it the chance to use them. She immediately ran up to the assassin and struck it hard in the chest, as if wearing her Genocyclaws. The result was very encouraging. The Infiltrator’s chest was sliced open by something it had not seen a moment ago. There were claws in Elyss’ fingers, cybernetic ones by the look of it. They had sliced through the Laconium armor like it was nothing!

Cassidy: Now she’s developed her Vibro-Claws. Good.

Reggie: I never heard of any weapon like that.

Cassidy: These aren’t like her Genocyclaws. They vibrate between molecules for a very clear cut. She really is coming along well. I think we can salvage her for sure.

Reggie: Salvage!? You’re testing her like she’s some kind of machine!

Cassidy: We were created as weapons, Mr. Malone. Though Wrek values our high intelligence, he intended us to be soldiers.

Reggie: A living weapon? Hey, how do you know my name?

Cassidy: We’ve been observing all of Algo. In fact, I did this more so than Wrek. I’ve seen many people and their genes mapped out before me. Did you know that one of your ancestors was the great thief of Motavia, Shir Gold?

Reggie: That would explain a few things…

As Cassidy had finally put an end to Reggie’s aggravating comments, Elyss had practically butchered the Infiltrator. Servo motors and diodes lay strewn across the floor now. There was still a burning rage within Elyss. Cassidy saw that she would have to act quickly in this and drew her energy blade. The blade reached the same length as Elyss’ Laconium sword. As soon as it had activated, Elyss drew her own sword. It charged with energy as well, giving way to the possibility of another Ray Blade assault.

Cassidy: I’m glad to see you’re learning, but you aren’t doing it right!

Elyss charged at Cassidy in a blind rage. She did this because she had a powerful instinct telling her that nothing would stop her from ending the life of this Numan creature. To Sam, it seemed that Elyss had given in to her worst nightmares and was becoming a psychotic killing machine. Just as in her dreams, she would carve up and brutalize every creature and person in her path, even if it was a dear friend. Though he didn’t like this other Numan, Cassidy, he hoped that she knew what she was doing. Their blades struck each other and sparked wildly. Elyss swung into Cassidy’s energy blade with an unending ferocity that matched what she had displayed when decimating the Eliminator. Cassidy was able to predict these wild slashes and parried every one. She barely ever attacked Elyss, so it seemed that her aim was not to kill. Elyss’ blade and hers locked against each other once and that’s when Cassidy tried to get through to her.

Cassidy: Snap out of it! You won’t beat me like this and your friends would never forgive you if you remained as you are!

It was obvious that Elyss needed some convincing because she didn’t stop for even one second to listen to what Cassidy had said. Cassidy, meanwhile, was losing her patience very quickly. She found that Elyss was extremely powerful, even when not in control of herself. A primal instinct can be a very effective driving force. She jumped back a couple feet and thrusted her hand at Elyss as if casting something. There was a suddenly burst of clawed hands made of energy that emanated from her. There were six in all. They came at Elyss with great speed and grabbed her by the arms, torso, and legs. Finally, the clawed hands slammed her hard against the far wall, opposite from where the stasis tanks were held. Cassidy strode over to her quickly but carefully, making sure that she was indeed secure.

Cassidy: Why do you insist on your desire to kill uncontrollably? This is not the way you should be! Look at me! I’m focused all the time, just as Wrek wished of me! What drives you so insane?!

And for the first time since she had changed, Elyss actually heard what was said to her. She stopped struggling, though she was not out of her trance yet. She looked in Cassidy’s direction, or rather past her and across the room. Her face was a mixture of fear, surprise, confusion, and sadness.

Elyss: Fa…father…

A memory flashed before her eyes, one like no other that she had seen before. It was here in this very room, here by the stasis tanks. Elyss was much younger then, almost child-like. Strange… She didn’t remember having a childhood…

* * *

The tests were finally complete and the results were reading positive. The tendril-like cords of the strange machine were pulled off of her body carefully. There were a few puncture marks, but they would heal quickly. The young Numan stepped down from the platform and confronted the man at the controls. Well, no. He was no mere man, but a well-built android.

Wrek: Was there something you wanted to ask me?

Numan: You said you were going to leave before. Why is that?

Wrek: This is not my world and I must report to my creator soon. Is it necessary.

Numan: What will happen to me?

Wrek: You will be in stasis for a while. During such time, the cyber-brain I installed will be implanting the knowledge of your abilities into your mind. This will take a long time, so don’t bother setting an alarm.

Numan: Couldn’t I come with you? I’d like to see this Forge you told me about.

Wrek: No, you wouldn’t be able to grasp its nature.

Numan: But father…

Wrek: No. It’s impossible to do at such an early stage. You are adapted to Motavia and simply wouldn’t be able to cope with its unique properties.

Upon hearing this, the young Numan fell silent. Wrek could be a real bummer at times, even if he was right. He had to leave and she required the knowledge stored inside the cyber-brain that he would leave behind. Hours later, she was put into her stasis tank…probably for the last time. The next time she awoke, the facility, Valhal Fort, was being flooded. The connection between her and the cyber-brain was lost as the waves dashed it into a wall and broke it apart. Soon after, the stasis tank was wretched free and the air supply began to dwindle. Breaking out was the only thing to do, but the stasis tank was made of tough materials. It remained intact, even through the emergency drains that connected to the sea. After being thrusted into the ocean, the air ran out and the Numan slipped from consciousness, her life signs slowly fading, though her body would not give up without a fight. Later, she was jolted awake be a sudden impact as the stasis tank struck land. Her mind was having a tough time focusing. She felt as if there was now something beyond her reach. That was it. She couldn’t remember what had happened. It was all just a blur. She did, however, recall a more immediate concern. AIR! With all her might, the Numan flung herself against stasis tank where a crack had formed and managed to break through. Air was tasting much better right now than depleted stasis fluids. Her whole body was numb from the experience, never realizing how close she had come to death. Another thing she would not realize is that she had grown to the height of a young adult. As soon as she was able to move, she assessed her situation. There was an entire world out there and she needed to survive in it. She had but four assets at this point. She was wearing a stasis suit that was torn a bit and there were three weapons in a storage compartment inside the tank. They looked pretty useful; a sword, a pair of claws, and a slasher. She found that she could use these rather well, so she didn’t leave any behind. The first place that she encountered was Aiedo, a nice town overlooked by the mountains. She walked around town carefully, so as not to arouse suspicion. Quite by chance, she heard a conversation between two men discussing historical figures.

First Man: There have been a lot of great heroines in Algo’s time. The name, Alis Landale will never be forgotten.

Second Man: And she’s not the only one. There isn’t a single Hunter alive that doesn’t know the name of Alys Brangwin.

Name… The Numan stopped suddenly and thought hard. She couldn’t remember having a name, or even what happened before waking up on that shore. Something blocked her at every turn, something that threatened to engulf her very being. And who are these people? And what about the people they speak of? Alis… Alys… What did these names mean? Why didn’t she have one herself? She tried again and again to find some trace of her past, but it was locked tight and there wasn’t a key to be found. She decided to give it up for now and focus on what was important. Well, what was important right now was that there was a man with a knife nearby who was looking for an easy target. He didn’t see her and she knew he was up to no good, so she kicked his butt, quite literally. The man fell out into the street, his knife flung out of his hands. The next person that would have crossed him was an aging Hunter who might have been taken down by this lowlife if he’d been attacked without warning. The man saw that it was the Numan who had done this and confronted her.

Barry: I see you have a talent in fighting for what’s right. I like that. The Hunter’s Guild could use a gal like you in the ranks.

Numan: Like…me?

Barry: Yeah, sure. You can join the Guild and earn a decent living, if that’s what you’re after.

Numan: A decent living… Yeah, that’s just what I need.

Barry: So you’ll join?

Numan: Sure.

Barry: Okay. I’ll set you up in one of the new bungalows and schedule your training sessions. That way, we can be sure of your abilities. By the way, what’s your name?

That was the final hitch. A name defines identity, and even the person it corresponds to. A name was important because it was one of many proofs of existing. She needed one now, if only to avoid confusion later. It could even be made up. And that was when it hit her. The answer was there the whole time…after a fashion.

Numan: Call me Elyss.

* * *

Clouds seemed to part in her mind as Elyss’ vision cleared and she saw the world as herself and not the primal creature she seemed to become earlier. For her, time had passed rapidly as she looked at her own past, though it was actually done in the space of a few minutes. She woke up to some very worried faces. Elyss was still caught by the projected hands formed by Cassidy, though she was now being released. She was exactly where she had left. Her fate had come full circle. With that irony in mind, Elyss turned to face her so-called sister.

Cassidy: Sane again, I hope?

Elyss: Don’t even joke about that.

Cassidy: Fine. Now that you’ve taken a trip down memory lane, I would like to know why you have such a strong drive to lash out and kill so ferociously.

Elyss: How would you react when faced with an inescapable demise? I was almost killed beneath that ocean. I was abandoned in a tank I couldn’t escape from so I could drown it. You’ve seen how I react to my life being threatened.

Cassidy: And that’s why you don’t remember anything. You had a severe case of trauma that forced you to forget.

Elyss: Now that that’s settled, I’d like to get out of here. I don’t like this place at all. And I don’t like being a part of Wrek’s little schemes.

Cassidy: You still hate him, knowing that he created you from scratch and gave you power and knowledge like no other? This wasn’t a fanciful idea of his. He could develop tons of mindless killing machines, but he chose intelligence and personality.

Elyss: It’s because of all this that I hate him more. He had no right to do what he did. A personality doesn’t mean anything if it’s designed to enhance the combat abilities of a living weapon. Why couldn’t I have been a regular Numan?

Cassidy: Because he wanted something superior. Wrek doesn’t aim low.

Elyss: Well, he got it, but I don’t want him.

Cassidy: You can explain that to him when you reach Daughter in the core.

Elyss: You’re not going to fight me?

Cassidy: He didn’t want me to kill you. He wants you to finish your evolution, not destroy you. It’s an experiment to see which path you’ll take in life. Besides that, I hate to see you going berserk like that.

Elyss: I see. Thanks, Cass.

Cassidy: Hey, don’t misunderstand. I respect my father’s wishes. If I have to kill you, then that’s what I’m going to do. I never let my emotions get in the way.

Elyss: I believe you.

Cassidy did not impede them from penetrating further into Valhal Fort. As they headed into an elevator that would take them deeper down into its most secure areas, Elyss thought she heard Cassidy mumble a curse about something. She could not guess at what…until she saw Reggie grinning like a maniac.

Elyss: What did you take?

Reggie: I’m not sure. Here, take a look.

It was a small device with buttons and a display screen that would fit on her wrist. Elyss had never seen anything like this. A wristwatch it wasn’t, nor was it like any other device in the entirety of Algo. She looked at it some more as they still headed down further. Sam broke the silence that seemed deafening to him.

Sam: Elyss, you said something back there before…during your trance…

Elyss: Really? Like what?

Sam: I think you were talking about Wrek. You called him-

Elyss: Don’t say it, Sam. It was just old memories. I don’t think of him that way and that’s that.

* * *

The area outside Valhal Fort was now that of a war-torn battlefield. Dracan was still standing, though it was hard to see how h could manage this. He, Zero, and Hotshot had thrown just about everything they had at each other. They were numb from using their respective powers. Hotshot could barely lift her Plasma Vulcan and Dracan looked like he’d been launched into an inferno. As for Zero, he looked like Bruce Campbell after a fight with the Army of Darkness.

Zero: Dracan… Just what do you have against us, anyway?

Dracan: Against your arch-angel friend, nothing. It’s you that my attention is on.

Zero: Of course it is! Everyone in the whole stinkin’ galaxy wants my head! So, I’m asking you… What’s your beef?

Dracan: You’ve interfered with everything I ever tried to do in my life!

Zero: No offense, but all you ever do is evil.

Dracan: That’s what I was created for. I probably wouldn’t hate you with a passion if you hadn’t been there on Braxis!

Zero: Hey! I was hired to defend that world! You and your buddies had the planet under siege with those giant Scullion mechs!

Dracan: That was all part of the job!

Zero/Dracan: Grrrrr…

An argument like this could go on for days on end. Zero’s past history with Dracan wasn’t a pleasant one. They use to be friends. Then, several wars in space brought them to work on opposite sides. Hotshot remembered the one they were talking about. That was when her arch-angel powers first revealed themselves, as well as her true feelings for Zero. Funny how fate works that way…

Dracan: I can see why you hated being transformed into one of the Dark Brethren. That heinous creature of power is too much to even bear looking at.

Zero: I know. I’ve seen it, remember? Listen, why don’t you get out of here? You look like hell, Dracan, and you’ve used up all the Dark Power you can muster.

Dracan: So have you, but I can still change into my more natural state. I think that even your resilience wouldn’t save you if I did.

Zero: If that’s the way you want it, then try it.

Dracan speaks not a single word more. His body blackens into shadow as he drops his human form and spreads his true limbs. The shape he takes on is much different than before. He has four insectoid legs that end in taloned feet. Dracan retains a semi-humanoid torso, though changed somewhat. The eye of the Dark power is now in his chest, mere inches above some quasi-organic holes that seem to be part of some kind of energy projecting weapon with five exit ports. He has two long and muscular arms with clawed fingers and some tentacles. Coming from his back are four appendages that are arm-like, but end in blades. Mounted on his high-set shoulders are two quasi-organic cannons of some kind. Dracan’s inhuman visage stoops forward on a thick, craning neck. His eyes are black, his teeth are yellow, and his skin is dark gray. He grins, showing as many fangs as possible.

Dracan: Ready to give up?

Zero: I was gonna ask you the same thing. Look at this!

Zero held up the small packet that Reggie had light-fingered off of Dracan before. He and Dracan both knew what was in here. If the Dark Power saw what was inside, via the eye on Dracan’s chest, then somebody would be in big trouble. Right now, the eye of the Dark Power was closed. Dracan had this small reprieve in order to work out this problem that Zero had thrown in his face.

Dracan: That’s mine!

Zero: No no no… That’s where your wrong. It’s mine.

Dracan: You know very well that it was stolen from me! You had that thief take it, didn’t you? I’ll make him pay for that once I’m done with you!

Zero: Gee, this isn’t getting us anywhere. Hotshot?

Hotshot: I’ll handle this. Dracan, let me paint you a picture while your third eye is taking a snooze. We know what you plan to do with this stuff. You need the Chaos Matter to either free you or change you into one of the Dark Brethren. If either of these happened, you’d be free to do whatever you wanted. However, now you’re in a bind and Zero holds all the cards. All one of them.

Dracan: So what are you suggesting?

Hotshot: A deal, plain and simple.

Dracan: And your terms?

Zero: Buzz off and we’ll let you have your stuff back. Help us inside Valhal Fort and I promise I’ll never inform the crimson master of Megid about your scheme.

Dracan: That’s rough.

Zero: Those are my terms.

Dracan looks at them for a second, his eyes dilating strangely a couple times. Then, he stomps over to the armored door of Valhal Fort and aims the weapons on his body at it. The strange cannons and claw arms light up with Dracan’s own personal energy, rather than the Dark Power, and fire continuously at the doors. A moment later, the doors have been annihilated from Algo. Wordlessly, he stomps back in Zero’s direction. Zero, glad that Dracan doesn’t have some snide remark to make, tosses him the packet of Chaos Matter vials. The beast that would be Dracan catches it, turns toward the ocean, and leaves. Seconds before hitting the beach, he vanishes. Zero hits the ground, feeling exhausted. Hotshot sits beside him.

Zero: That was a close one.

Hotshot: How close could it have been? You still had your plasma, right?

Zero: And he had the artillery necessary to open Valhal Fort. I didn’t want it wasted on me. Because then, how would we get to the others?

Just then, a Hydrofoil came in from the South. Inside were Wren and Demi. It seems that no facility problem ever escapes their detection, especially not from Zelan or Kuran. They immediately confront Zero and Hotshot.

Wren: Are you this Zero person that Hotshot spoke of?

Zero: That’s me.

Wren: And I see you are aware of Valhal Fort’s operational status.

Zero: Wrek’s inside. Why don’t you go clean his clock?

Wren: Clean his clock?

Zero: I mean clobber him.

Wren: I see. You also have a stake in this, correct?

Zero: Yeah, kinda’.

Wren: Then you must join us.

Zero: Oh…can’t we take a break? I feel like the underside of someone’s boot.

Demi: If it’s your condition that worries you, I can fix that.

Demi uses her Medic Power to remove all the pain in their bodies and heal whatever ails them. Zero gets up and stretches a bit, followed by Hotshot. The two of them feel a lot better, so there’s nothing stopping them from gaining entry to Valhal Fort. Nothing, except maybe Wrek.

Zero: Say umm, how did you two know we were here?

Wren: We didn’t. Nurvus detected power fluctuations coming from Valhal Fort, as I’m sure you’re aware of. We came to investigate it and possibly detain Wrek.

Hotshot: We should hurry. The others are down there already, and who knows what could happen to them?

Demi: You mean Elyss and Samuel?

Zero: Them and a couple of guys I met on Dezolis. So let’s go!

Valhal Fort was wide open and nothing prevented their entry. Even the elevators were working properly. Whatever Wrek was up to, he must be totally absorbed in dealing with it right now, considering the sudden lack of interference. Demi noticed a look of grim determination on Zero’s face.

Demi: Worried?

Zero: And how. Wrek is working for the Dark Brethren. If I’m right, then he has more than one target in mind.

* * *

Bottom floor, Valhal Central Control. Here was the core area of the highest defense and threat level of security. This was a solid bunker of heavy defense within the fortress itself. The elevator came to rest just outside its perimeter. It looked like it could never be breached, even by Infiltrators. So it came as a bit of a shock when they found it left wide open and with no guards present.

Elyss: It’s gotta be a trap.

Sam: This whole fortress was the trap. He’s trying to screw with your mind, make it look like he’s being helpful. But don’t forget that he didn’t think twice before using that Quantum Cannon of his on Demi and Wren.

Wrek’s Voice: Yes, that’s true. I did use the gun on them. A shame, really. I kinda’ liked Demi. Still, you can’t expect me to keep my temper all the time. Wren did knock me off of that platform and that kind of thing pisses me off.

Sam: Come out and show yourself!

Wrek’s Voice: How noble of you, acting so protectively of your friends. You’re one of those selfless hero types, aren’t you?

Sam: None of your business.

Wrek’s Voice: Don’t bet on that. Why don’t you all come inside? It’s much more inviting in here. And I guarantee that no guards will assault you…for now.

Elyss: Nice offer. Can’t you do your own dirty work?

Wrek’s Voice: I don’t have to prove anything to you. These are the fruits of my labors…and so are you. Now come inside.

Reggie: Do we really have to listen to this guy?

Elyss: He won’t leave me alone until I settle this. Besides, Wrek is the only one who can answer the questions I ask about myself almost every day.

Elyss walked on ahead, reluctantly followed by Reggie, Myow, and Sam. They could only imagine what was going on in her mind. Sam, who had known her from the first day she had joined the Guild, had never seen Elyss like this. The life she had lived in Aiedo, a relatively pleasant one at that, seemed to be unraveling itself before her eyes and she wasn’t sure how to cope with it. This whole thing with Wrek was disturbing in the extreme. Elyss didn’t know who she was anymore, or even what. There was hatred and self-loathing in that heart of hers now. Sam was sure of this. It was just as Hotshot had said, and Wrek was playing his hand to the hilt to make sure he exploited this weakness as much as possible. Speaking of the devil, Wrek awaited them at an antechamber that preceded Daughter’s mainframe area. His smile reminded them all of a sadist. Then, he briefly put his hand up to an ear, listening to sounds coming from a small transmitter. After he’d heard enough, he confronted the gathering lynch mob of four.

Wrek: One thing before I begin. Reggie Malone, return what you stole from Cassidy. She is not amused by your thieving talents.

Reggie: I don’t have it.

Wrek: Oh really? Well, I’ll just see about that.

Reggie: Wait! Not like that!

Wrek’s arms extend like tentacles to grab Reggie’s ankles. He pulls him in, holds him upside down, and shakes. Tons of things come out of Reggie’s pockets - knives, daggers, fishing lures, Browren guns, Fusion Grenades, yo-yos, Elvis Presley stamps, jelly-babies, magnifying glasses, sunglasses, 79,000 meseta, cat food, rubber bands, matches, brass knuckles, the Psycho Wand, a sonic screwdriver, a small radio, dental floss, a stun baton, a No. 3 prising tool, a snow-globe from Dezolis, earplugs, marbles of varying sizes, magnets, a flask full of Ole’ Janx Spirit, Land-Rover keys, Ice Digger keys, red bricks, and even the drink trolley from the bar in Ryuon! Wrek is supremely amazed by the amount of things that Reggie has been able to pack away. He’s not even sure if that’s all, so he keeps shaking.

Elyss: Hey! Leave him alone! I’ve got your little toy!

Wrek: Oh. Ummm…oops.

Reggie: Put me down!!

Wrek: Okay.

Reggie is dropped hard onto the floor, amidst his stolen property. He starts to mumble very angrily about how long it was going to take to pick all this stuff up. Meanwhile, Wrek was now ready to deal with the subject at hand. However, he had a slight problem, that being an angry Numan. The next thing Wrek knew after he’d dropped Reggie was a sudden impact to the head and that his jaw was misaligned. Elyss had come up and whacked him in the jaw. He grinned slightly with his jaws still out of place. It looks eerie. Then he spoke, now hampered with an Igor-lisp.

Wrek: What wath that for?

Elyss: That was just for dropping him. We’ll get to what I owe you for playing god in a minute. But first, I want you to tell me what I want to know.

Wrek: And that ith?

Elyss: Just what in Algo’s name did you do to me?

Wrek: Well, you thee, I wath working over at thith plathe I call the Forge and…

Elyss: And fix your jaw already. That looks very weird.

Wrek: Can’t. I left my tool-kit at home. Here, jutht a minute…

He needed to find a way to knock his jaw back in place. Wrek strolled over to the nearest wall and banged his head off of it for a while. Eventually, his jaws were hooked back properly and he could speak normally again.

Wrek: Now then, you wanted to know what I had done to you, right?

Elyss: Right.

Wrek: I created you totally from scratch, perfecting the Numan genes to make you a superior subject.

Elyss: I know all that genetic manipulation stuff! Get to the part about how I just ripped apart one of your robots with my bare hands!

Wrek: Well, I always knew I was a genius, but let's just face it, the Infiltrators were just some tough fighters. You’re the best so far because you adapt.

Elyss: Adapt?! What kind of adaptation is a mind-driven Slasher that can cut through anything?!

Wrek: The best kind, I'd say. Of course, I've got a cannon that can do the same.

Elyss: Quit evading the questions, Wrek! What am I?!

Wrek: Don't ask me all your questions. I'm just here for the observation. You have to find your own answer. And it just so happens that everything I needed to know was right here in this facility. So rather than wasting my time, you should be asking the Valhal Fort mainframe computer!

Wrek's sudden outburst caught her by surprise. He wasn't suppose to be the kind that could get angry. But then, it had a certain quality to it. It was as if he were scorning her like a parent. Elyss never knew what having any kind of family would be like, but she was sure that Wrek was no fatherly figure. He needed a slight attitude adjustment. So, before heading down further into the core…

*WHAM!*

Elyss stormed off, making her way towards the Daughter’s own chamber. Wrek’s jaws had been misaligned again, forcing him to attend to it in the same fashion as before, cursing all the way. The others followed behind, but it was Sam who runs to catch up and grabs her by the arm.

Sam: Elyss! Wait a minute!

Elyss: What is it?

Sam: Hey, I just want you to know that no matter what happens, I'll help you in whatever way I can, okay?

Elyss: Sam… You don’t even know what could happen, do you? Then again, neither do I. Thanks, Sam. You've always been a good friend. A little slow in the reflexes, but a good friend nonetheless.

Sam: Hey!

Her amusing smirk was back. This was the side of Elyss that Sam knew all too well. She liked to tease now and then, just in case he ever wanted to slack off. And now that Elyss was in high spirits, they were ready to confront the Valhal Fort computer, Daughter. As they entered, the lights came online and allowed them to see the gigantic machine. It was a compendium of monitors, control panels, and little blinking lights. There was also a main viewer and keyboard.

Daughter: I see you have returned.

Elyss: Yeah, you could say that. But then again, maybe not. I never belonged here in the first place.

Daughter: Clarify. I do not understand. You originated from this location. Therefore, having been here before, you have returned to your place of birth.

Elyss: That has nothing to do with the life I live now. My life began in Aiedo, as a Hunter. I'm not your pet project anymore. I just came here for answers.

Daughter: What answers do you seek?

Elyss: Tell me...how I was created...and what was done to me. I want to know what I am, what I really am.

Daughter calls up data on all the vid-screens. They show Wrek inspecting his Infiltrators, testing the limits of their new ability to create holographic disguises. He deemed them to be only convincing for a matter of days. Then people would notice that they never eat or sleep. His research continued at Valhal Fort, where he was setting up a small bio-lab. The picture changes, showing an advanced stasis tank that can barely be seen into. Inside, supported by cords and connected to various tubes and wiring, is a young Numan. Technical data comes up referring to some things like Quantum Slashers, retractable Vibro-Claws, Q. Shield generators, etc. DNA strands can be seen on a screen in the background of the display showing what appears to be a triple-helix in flux. Another screen calls up data on some strange metallic substances. Finally, it all comes together. Wrek was working on a new and powerful form of cybernetic life. Not merely a cyborg or anything that uses nanite colonies, but a true lifeform. Using a new quasi-organic material called metacells, he created the new Cyber-Infiltrator. The file continues with a progress report on his new creation. The same Numan from before can be seen quite clearly occupying a different stasis tank in the background. It was definitely Elyss.

"The prototype is as ready as it will ever be for now. I have finished all of the metacell infusions and all tests are positive. Now I must wait while the subject reaches maturity. She will be kept asleep and fed all the necessary combat information required while I go and attend to other matters. I hate having to run off like this, but my work doesn't just involve the Algo System. The info feed will be finished long before I'm back, but she'll still need time to adjust. This is Wrek, signing off."

The viewers went silent again. All that Elyss wanted to know, every secret that seemed to taunt her from her own damaged memories, they were now known to her. To say it was a shock would be a severe understatement. Elyss’ eyes were downcast as her mind attempted to absorb all the data it had been fed. It wasn’t helping her disposition any to find out that she really was a living weapon.

Elyss: What gives him the right? Why did he have to do this to me?!

Daughter: You…object to your creation?

Elyss: Yes! No! I don't know! I just want to know why he did all this! Why here on Motavia, instead of his own lab? What was he trying to prove?!

Daughter: I do not begin to understand the thought processes of Wrek. However, I do not object to his decisions, since he aided my control over Motavia's systems.

Elyss: He...WHAT?!

Reggie: Whoa… That’s heavy.

Sam: That’s what Wrek was doing in Nurvus! He connected Daughter’s systems to the whole of Motavia’s support systems!

Voice: Yes. I was afraid he might do that.

Not Wrek, but Wren walks through the doorway into Daughter’s chamber, followed by Zero, Hotshot, and Demi. Daughter’s optical sensors seem to jump at the appearance of Wren. This was a normal reaction since Wren had shut the computer down in the first place.

Daughter: Who let him in here?!

Zero: We let ourselves in.

Hotshot: And I blew out your cameras.

Daughter: You will not leave this place alive!

A klaxon alarm went off and the sounds of a massive armored door closing could be heard. They had just been sealed inside the Valhal core with the most lethal computer on the planet. Daughter wasn’t on par with the power of Mother Brain, but there were things the computer could do in its defense. An electrified force field covered the computer console, the one place where sabotage was possible. This field had a direct connection with the main generator, so it was not going to be breached any time soon. Zero and Hotshot might’ve been able to do something, but their respective powers were spent from battling Dracan. Even Demi could not remedy that problem. Daughter was not merely trapping them either. Back-up security was on the way, thanks to Wrek, and there was also a compliment of turret guns in the room. They withdrew from the ceiling and walls, firing rapid shots of plasma. For a while, these weapons were kept at bay by all the best gun users in the room, even Reggie. The door leading out was locked, but security pounded on it relentlessly. It was only a matter of time.

Sam: I might have to go all-out this time, but what should I target? Daughter or the security forces? They won’t stop coming, even if Daughter is destroyed. Zero! Can you get through to Daughter without the Dark Power?

Zero: I don’t think so! The force field would definitely repel the energy!

Sam: Hotshot! Are you sure you can’t muster a little power?

Hotshot: Aren’t you the one with that Ragna Blade thing?

Sam: I guess that leave me no choice, but I’m sure that it would take the Dual attack to penetrate that shield…

Myow: Meow! What’re you doing!?

Sam: Who? Me?

Myow: No! Her!

Sam: She wouldn’t…

As the turret guns of the room are disabled and the locked doors start to buckle, Elyss approaches the main console. She doesn’t appear to be in a trance, but Sam is still worried. The things that Daughter had shown her certainly didn’t make her feel any better. Could the information that Elyss had requested have driven her over the edge? And if so, what would she do next?

Sam: Oh no… Elyss!!

The others saw what was going on. It looked like she was going to pull a kamikaze on Daughter’s console. And at that moment, the security forces broke through the doors and began their assault, much to Daughter’s pleasure. They were Deathstalkers and Infiltrators, two different assassins of great power and skill. This made it kind of hard for anyone to go do something about Elyss. Zero and Hotshot were way too busy fending off the robots and their weaponry. Demi was essential to defending against the Quantum Slashers. As for Wren, he had a better aim than Zero or Hotshot, so he had to stay as well. Reggie, however, couldn’t stand to see this go on any further and went back to stop Elyss from doing something that could be fatal to her health.

Reggie: Elyss, don’t touch that console!

She would not listen. Elyss’ claws were out and her hands were poised above the computer console. It was very clear what she intended to do, but what wasn’t clear was the question of her sanity. Sam was running, Reggie was too, both trying to stop Elyss from doing this. Daughter seemed confused about all this, questioning her about what she was thinking and so on. Elyss paid no attention to this and plunged her hands down onto the console before either Sam or Reggie could reach her. Elyss’ claws dug deeply into the computer hardware, causing great damage. Of course, the energy field reacted immediately, shooting massive volts through her body. Strangely enough, it didn’t seem as harmful as it looked, though Elyss was in a great deal of pain nonetheless. However, any other person would have been dust by now. Sam looked around for some way that he could pry her loose. Reggie searched all of his pockets. Then, Sam noticed that she was trying to keep her grip on the electronics!

Sam: Stop it, Elyss! You’ll kill yourself!!

Elyss: I…can’t…die…if I NEVER LIVED!!!

From her arms, tentacle-like cords shoot into the complex electronics of Daughter. They redirect a good deal of the current into the computer while hacking all of Elyss' data out of it. Daughter begins to overload and the shield deactivates. Elyss pulls her hands away just as the computer bank explodes! It launches her across the room, knocking her out. Sam quickly runs to her side to check and make sure she’s okay. She is burnt in some places on her arms, but that is starting to heal. The explosion had dealt a serious blow, but she still had a steady pulse.

Sam: Alive… Thank goodness…

Reggie: Hey, Sam! C’mere!

Sam returns to the battered main console of Daughter. The computer is still active. Reggie had been messing with a few wires, seeing if he could screw up Valhal Fort’s security net or something. Then, he’d noticed a peculiar thing embedded in the machine itself. It was a very tiny display screen showing a countdown.

Reggie: Are those numbers what I think they are?

Sam: If they are, then we’re in deep trouble!

Daughter: Core meltdown in T-minus ten minutes and counting.

Sam: They are!

The battle against the security forces still raged on, but if they stayed here, then they could all be vaporized in a matter of minutes! Sam ran towards the fray with one purpose on his mind. He’d been debating what he should target for his Dual Ragna Blade. Now that choice had been made for him.

Sam: Everyone get out of here as soon as I finish these guys off!

Without wasting another second, Sam calls upon the full strength of his abilities. Energy erupts from his body to form the twin swords of the Dual Ragna Blade technique. He had spent a long time honing this technique and it was definitely worth the wait. Infiltrators and Deathstalkers became aware of Sam’s sudden rise in power, but they had nowhere to dodge and not enough protection against him. Even an Infiltrator’s shield had limits. Then, Sam let loose the Dual Ragna Blades. They sliced through the Deathstalkers and Infiltrators and went on. They shot threw the wall and into the hallway where more opposition awaited its doom. And still, it went on. Soon, it came to the sealed vault door that led out of the core, impacted it, and exploded with such ferocity that it could be felt all throughout Valhal Fort. Sam collapsed to his knees, his body weakened by summoning the incredible power that went into that thing.

Zero: Dual Ragna Blade, eh? That’s some blaze. Demi, heal him so we can get out of here! And someone get Elyss!

Reggie: No problem!

Daughter: Core meltdown in T-minus nine minutes and counting.

Zero: Ah, shut up!

The way out was now clear, straight down to the elevator that led out of here. It was a miracle that the elevator was even intact, considering that the ceiling, walls, and the next floor up wasn’t. The rooms adjacent to the main hall were all but destroyed and the next floor up had collapsed before incinerating in the presence of the Ragna Blades. They were lucky that Valhal Fort was so secure. Otherwise, it might have detonated prematurely.

Zero: This may sound strange coming from me, but Sam, have you ever tried to exercise a little self control?

Sam: Not in cases like this.

Zero: I guess that makes sense.

*POW!!!*

Hotshot: What was that?

Zero: Wren and I will check. You guys get in that elevator.

Wren prepares his Photon Eraser and Zero readies his hands of awesome power, then proceed to investigate the sound. The others see them turn around a corner, which is vaguely in the direction of the noise. Very soon after, the two ‘lookouts’ come running back towards the elevator with a look of urgency. Yes, even Wren has such an expression on his face.

Wren: We must leave now. Right now!

Reggie: I don’t like the sound of this… What did you see?

Zero: A big nasty beastie that looks like-

"RRAAAAAAAAAAHHHRRR!!!!!"

Something large and menacing hovers into view at the other end of the hall, a dark creature with thick claws, unbelievable strength, and plenty of power to boot. It growls and screams like a ferocious animal and bears a resemblance to…

Reggie: Dark Force?!

Wren: That is not Dark Force. It is a machine.

Zero: A very tough-looking machine that I don’t wanna tangle with right now. We’re not in the proper condition to fight this thing. Let’s get out of here and leave it to be destroyed with the rest of the fortress.

Daughter: Seven minutes…in case you’re interested.

Zero: Great. Now the thing’s gone glitchy.

The creature that looks like Dark Force is very fast. Its body has a shelled torso much like Dark Force’s crab-like body with eight retractable tentacles, four on each side. Through unknown devices inside the cyborg creature, it is able to fly and maneuver well. Sharp bone spikes protrude from the back of this abomination and the clawed ends of the tentacles gleam with power. Currently folded within the shell-body was another part of the torso, one that is more humanoid, like the first recorded form taken by Dark Force, similar to a Prophallus. This equally-tough part of the body has a rather long reach and supports two Plasma Gatling Guns on the shoulders. Something also appears to be in the mouth and hands of the beast, but they cannot be identified. The deadly war machine takes this fleeting moment and growls its rage before charging the elevator. Since it can fly, the creature can move awfully fast. Fortunately, the doors close before it reaches its new victims. In the elevator, everyone breathes a sigh of relief.

Daughter: Five minutes.

Zero: Wait a second! That can’t be right!

Wren: Daughter’s chronometer must be running fast. We must hurry!

Sam: Guys? Do you hear a noise?

Hotshot: Could you be more specific?

Sam: Metal scraping and twisting against more metal?

There was a sound. It came from below! Somehow, the Dark Force cyborg creature was following them. Wren reasoned that it might be able to change shape, since its body had a high content of metacells. The elevator reaches the top and they all pile out. All except Reggie, who delays only long enough to drop a few things on the elevator floor and send it down. As he hurries to catch up with the others, still carrying Elyss, several deafening explosions are heard from behind.

Sam: What did you do?

Reggie: You know all those Fusion Grenades I stole?

Sam: Uh-huh.

Reggie: I gave them a new home, right in that thing’s butt-ugly face!

Daughter: Two minute warning.

Zero: I can see why you deactivated that computer, Wren. It’s totally screwed up!

The entrance, or what’s left of it, is not far now. Outside, the sun is setting and they all have front row seats to Motavia’s largest explosion since Climatrol’s destruction, roughly two thousand years ago. Wren’s Hydrofoil was still there, but there was a small problem. Wrek stood in the way with a devious grin on his face, and he had his Quantum Cannon fully charged!

Wrek: Hi guys! I see you’re all in a bit of a pinch at the moment, so I’ll make this brief. Hand over Elyss and I’ll let you escape.

Sam: Nothing doing, pal!

Wrek: I think you forget your position. You’re on an island that’s about to explode. Wren came with the only transportation. The rest of you came via Ryuka spell. So how exactly will you escape if I destroy your Hydrofoil?

Zero: Shove it, Sparky! We don’t take demands!

Wren picked up a small hint in Zero’s statement. He said, "Sparky", which probably meant he should use Spark against Wrek. Not a bad idea, really. Wren’s hand suddenly went out and launched the attack straight at Wrek’s face.

Wrek: Aaaugh!! You double-crossing… Fine. You can be damned to the tenth level of the Abyss for all I care!

Wrek was phased by the Spark, but he must have had protection against that sort of attack, because he was able to straighten himself out and fire the Quantum Cannon at the Hydrofoil! Their only way off of this island was smeared across time and space. Wrek laughed sadistically as all seemed hopeless for them. Afterwhich, he pressed a few buttons on his wrist and activated his Phase-Shift module.

Zero: Now that he’s gone, who here can whip us up a miracle in about…

Wren: Thirty seconds.

Zero: Right. Anyone?

Reggie: I think I can. I stole this little device off of that other Numan, Cassidy. If it’s what I think it is…

Wren: Let me see.

Wren takes the little device from Reggie and examines it for all of three seconds before knowing what it is. It’s a Phase-Shift device, one that can easily sub in for Ryuka and is twice as effective too, since it can visit places you haven’t been as well. Wren is easily capable of understanding how to operate it.

Zero: Well, don’t just stand there! Get us out of here! Take us back to Zema!

Wren fiddles with the little dials and buttons for a few second as the last fifteen seconds before meltdown start to dwindle away. Suddenly, the roof of the fortress explodes as the Dark Force cyborg from before forces its way out. It quickly locks onto the group, opens its mouth, and fires the Photon Accelerator that was hidden in there. By the time it gets off the blast though, the targets it had locked onto had disappeared in a sudden flash. Then, there was a much larger flash coming from behind. It had no time to react. It was finished.

* * *

From Wrek’s ship, the Raklon, all the effects of the Valhal explosion were noted. Valhal Island was completely destroyed and there was a radioactive fallout being consumed by the sea which would soon be filtered by one of the many plants built on the coastlines. The shockwave shattered a great deal of things in that area, though there really wasn’t much around. The tremors that followed were felt from even as far away as Aiedo. Wrek himself appeared and heard of another effect which was only relevant to him.

Clyde 92: Dreadstar cyborg destroyed.

Wrek: I figured as much. Such a large explosion would even wipe out my creator. For a while, anyway. Where is Cassidy?

Clyde 92: In the practice room, sparring.

Wrek: Helps her think. I’ll need to speak with her.

* * *

Once again, they were in Zema. Nothing had changed since they were last here, except the fact that the villagers were grateful for someone putting an end to that awful noise. Zero, being Zero, tried to get a handle on the situation.

Zero: Okay… What’s our status?

Demi: Many of us are physically and mentally spent. Medical attention is a must at this point. My power in this field is not perfect. You and Hotshot in particular know this to be true.

Zero: Yeah. I’m basically running on empty.

Hotshot: What a lot of us need is rest. Medical treatment is important too, but it still won’t fill the tank, if you catch my meaning.

Sam: I’m taking Elyss back to Aiedo.

Zero: Not that it’s my business, but why?

Sam: She may be out cold for days, so I think it would be best for her to be returned to her home, wouldn’t you say?

Zero: Okay. You can take the Phase-Shift, uhh…thingy.

Sam: Thanks.

Reggie: Hey! Wait for me!

Myow: Me too!

Sam: Why you two?

Reggie: You need rest as well, Sam, and also someone to watch your back.

Sam: Fine by me.

Reggie takes the Phase-Shift device and operates the controls. Since he had it for a while, he also had time to figure it out. The little device beeps encouragingly and sends the four of them on their way. Zero seems lost in thought for a moment before he continues to assess the situation.

Demi: Didn’t they need medical attention?

Hotshot: You know how guys can be sometimes.

Zero: Well, they have a plan…sort of. Wren? Demi? What’s your story?

Wren: I would like to make use of your ship’s scanners. They may be able to locate Wrek or the craft he is employing again.

Demi: I will be returning to Nurvus. Something has been disrupting my thought processes ever since the appearance of Wrek. I believe the phenomenon is referred to as déjà vu, though I do not understand how this is possible with my memory being the way that it is.

Zero: Maybe that’s what disturbs you. How about you, Hotshot?

Hotshot: I think a trip to Dezolis is in order.

Zero: What on Earth do you want to see on Dezolis?

Hotshot: I’d like to visit Esper Mansion. There’s something I have to do there.

Zero: Like what?

Hotshot: Oh, a little soul-searching.

Zero: I hope that’s a joke.

Chapter 7 - Shattered Dreams and Lost Souls.

There was a certain risk in splitting up the great and powerful team they had assembled at this point, but it became a necessity when you considered the benefits. The feeling of déjà vu present in Demi’s mind was very unnatural. She had to find out what was causing it. Hotshot was insistent on visiting Esper Mansion, and Zero knew better than to argue with an arch-angel who has been trained in the military. Wren would join them since he was using the scanners aboard the Knight’s Gambit. As for the others, well, they needed a brake. Not one of them realizes that they are constantly observed by Wrek’s satellite vessel. At this time, Wrek was fiddling with a small android chip, making sure it would operate properly. At his beckoning, Cassidy entered the bridge, her eyes taking in the information from the vid-screens before focusing on Wrek and the chip.

Cassidy: You called?

Wrek: Do you know what this is?

Cassidy: It’s a memory chip.

Wrek: I’ve kept this one in top condition, just in case I would need it.

Cassidy: And what exactly did you plan on doing with it?

Wrek: Funny you should ask. I have a couple of missions for you. While the other guys are having their fun, I want you to help me set up our next actions.

Cassidy: Which other guys? You don’t mean-

Wrek: Uh-huh. Those guys.

Cassidy: Okay. I’m all ears.

Wrek: Very funny.

As Wrek began to explain the details of Cassidy’s missions, the view screens of Raklon focused on a few particular individuals and places. It was keeping Aiedo under observation, as well as Nurvus and the Knight’s Gambit. Furthermore, it had taken a sudden interest in the movements of that man of mystery, Trent. What was he up to that made him the center of attention here aboard Raklon?

* * *

The Hunter’s bar was quiet tonight. There were but a few tables occupied and the jukebox had been taken in for repairs. Sam had come here to gather his thoughts, though he wasn’t sure how he was going to be able to do that. Reggie had told him to get some sleep, but his mind was too active for him to sleep. The events of the past few days were pure madness. It was as if someone had opened the gates of hell on Algo and then sat down to watch the fun. Several different forces were at work here. The Dark Brethren had done a few things for sure, like the Macabre assault and the Karak ambush. Wrek was making trouble on Motavia most of the time, but people were sure he’d been on Dezolis as well. Zero had mentioned that Wrek was also associated with the Brethren. And that brought him to the next point, Algo’s friends from the stars, an arch-angel and an ex-Brethren member. Those two had to be the most powerful of their group, though Sam had to admit that some of his techniques were top-notch as well. It was strange that nobody else on the planet could focus the Ragna Blades. Then there was Elyss, the best Hunter he’s ever known. Sam could still remember the first day of training in the Guild when she had beaten him in hand-to-hand combat…

* * *

Even when unarmed, Sam could beat up just about any Hunter trainee around. He had a natural talent for fighting, an inherent trait in his family for sure. One day, Sam was on a roll with his training and then found himself facing a Numan wearing one of their Flexi-Armors. Sam had trained against Numans before. This one didn’t look any better than the others. Still, a good solid hit would fit the bill in case she was a tough one after all. Sam literally launched himself at his new assailant and brought his right fist around to deliver a forceful blow to the Numan’s head. The next thing he knew, he was being pulled hard by that arm, using his own inertia against him. The Numan was able to flip Sam over her head and slam him down onto the ground like an old sack of potatoes! This proved that she was both strong AND fast. Also friendly, since she was offering a hand to help him up. They heard Barry laughing nearby.

Barry: Samuel Neocene, this is our newest member, Elyss. She has a natural talent for fighting, much like you.

Sam: I can see that. Where do you come from?

Elyss: I live here in Aiedo. Before that, I think I must have come from a lab. I can’t remember which one, though…

* * *

Voice: Hey!

Sam: Wha…?

Voice: Wake up!

Sam had fallen asleep at the table he’d been sitting at. Perched across from him with his own drink was Myow. The Muskcat had this slightly dazed look of impatience on his face. Sam was surprised they would let him in. His face screwed up for a minute as he tried to reorient himself, which resulted in making Myow burst into laughter without warning.

Myow: Ha ha ha! You weirdo!

Sam: What’re you drinking?

Myow: Tequila and catnip.

Sam: Uh-huh. How’d you get in here?

Myow: I told ‘em I was a Hunter.

Sam: And they believed you?!

Myow: They’d been drinking, meow. They thought I was Myau.

Sam: Alis Landale’s Muskcat. Right… Did you want something?

Myow: Reggie told me to make sure you were getting some rest. So I come here and find you sleeping. The bartender said you’d been like that for an hour. I know Reggie said to get some sleep, but can’t you do it somewhere else?

Sam: I can’t believe I’m hearing this from a Muskcat.

Myow: Well, you are! Now beat it!

Sam: Okay, okay…

* * *

Wren sat and worked at every form of sensor array the ship had available. He never tired or became careless in his monitoring. The Knight’s Gambit was on its way to Dezolis, though at a slower pace so that Wren could make use of the full and accurate readings he would get from the more careful study of the surroundings.

Wren: The entire time that I have been searching Algo for the presence of Wrek, not one thing has registered. These are advanced sensors, but perhaps Wrek knows how to fool them.

In the next set of computer reports, just one in a long series of reports, Wren found the same readings confirmed again and again, and still no sign of Wrek. It was only until one word caught his eye that he realized that he’d missed something.

Wren: Gaila?

The satellite of the destroyed world of Parma, the one in fact that had done it in. Wren now found the reports he had been gathering to be stating that Gaila was orbiting Ryucros. How could this be so? It was destroyed, thanks to Mother Brain!

Wren: So that is how he did it. Very clever.

* * *

At Nurvus, Demi had run check after check on her system and also that of Nurvus’. She suspected there was something to be found that would shed some insight on Wrek, but it was turning up empty. That in itself led to a problem; a gap in memory. Nurvus’ mental pathways and Demi’s own mind had run up against a block, or rather a canyon. Over the course of a few days that had occurred several hundred years ago, Demi’s memory file was a little sketchy. The same was true with Nurvus. It was unlikely that this was a coincidence. Demi continued to work hard into the night, hoping to find the answer to this enigma. An hour or so later, there was a noise from outside the room. It was like skipping stones across the platform deck plates. Demi picked up her gun and went to investigate.

Demi: Hello? Who’s there? Nurvus, scan the area for intruders.

She looked out the doorway carefully as Nurvus scanned the room with its cameras. No intruders were found. Demi stepped outside the main control center and looked around for the cause of the noise. She spotted several small objects on the floor, presumably dropped there by an intruder. They were stones.

Demi: Hmmm…

Someone wanted to get her attention, but why? Demi re-entered the control room and got back to work. Nurvus reported that it could find no trace of an intruder as of yet and it would keep searching. Demi had a feeling that this would turn out to be as elusive as the missing data files she wished to locate. Then again, maybe not… There was a small chip on the console where she’d been working. It was a memory chip for sure, definitely compatible with androids.

Demi: I think I know where those files have been all this time.

* * *

The locals were a bit surprised to find a gigantic spaceship coming in for a landing. Again, Zero hated parking at spaceports and just decided to land near the mansion itself. Esper Mansion had been kept well these past thousand years. There were a few renovations being done, but they did nothing to hinder the practices going on within these walls. A pair of Espers in robes of red served as guards for the main door. Hotshot began to chuckle a bit.

Zero: What’s so funny?

Hotshot: Guards in red uniforms. They had them all the time in Star Trek.

Zero: And you’re saying these guys are like that?

Hotshot: Yep!

Zero: Do they know that?

Hotshot: Don’t tell them. You know how they treat extras in that show.

Zero: Uh-huh. I’ll remember that.

As they approached the mansion…and the red-robed guards, it seems to get colder. No doubt there was a spell involved here, though Zero vaguely wondered if they had climate control. He remembered that Wren was with them and asked if that was possible. Wren replied with a definite maybe and promised to get back to him on that one. So, as they approached the door…

Guard 1: Hold please, and identify yourselves.

Guard 2: Understand, we can’t let you in unless you have good reason to or if you possess the right credentials.

Zero: Credentials, eh? I think that’s your department, Hotshot.

Hotshot: Right you are.

A slight flash of light, and the arch-angel wings appear on her back and gleam with the Great Light’s purifying strength. The two Esper guards are unable to speak for several minutes as they slowly move aside and open the door. Never has something of this magnitude come to Esper Mansion. As they walked in, more Espers were suddenly speechless upon seeing the human arch-angel in their midst. Then, one of them cried out, breaking much tension and silence.

Esper: The prophecy is fulfilled! The arch-angel has come!

Zero: Hotshot, is there something you want to tell me?

Hotshot: What? I didn’t know this was gonna to happen.

Zero: Right… Wren, you’re a couple thousand years old. Do you have any idea what’s going on?

Wren: Of those years, I spent a very miniscule time on Dezolis. I am unable to help you in this matter.

Voice: Allow me to explain.

Down the main hall was an aging Esper. He seemed to be the most senior of all the Espers that had now gathered in the main hall. If Zero knew anything about collectives like this one, then this was the wisest and most highly skilled of them all. This was the Elder of all Espers on Dezolis. He wore a robe of blue and walked with a Force Cane. His graying hair matched his thick beard…and deep-set eyes.

Elder: Greetings to you all and welcome to Esper Mansion. Your arrival has been foretold, and that is why this congregation occurred.

Zero: Foretold? By who? And how?

Wren: We have attracted the attention of some powerful enemies. We must be certain that this is not a trick on their part.

Elder: I will explain, but first I must ask your names, especially the name of this lady with the wings.

Zero: Zero Tolerance.

Wren: Wren-type android, classification "Forren".

Hotshot: Kyra Trant.

Elder: How very interesting. Come, I will explain inside my study.

The old man led them to a small room with wall to wall carpeting, several large bookcases, a polished wooden desk with a comfortable chair behind it, and a few dim lights. It was warmer in here than outside or in the hallway. Zero asked about this and the Elder shrugged before saying…

Elder: We have climate control.

Zero: I knew it!

Wren: When did this happen?

Elder: A few weeks ago. I spoke with a man about fortifying this place against the creatures from outside and he said that he would give us a few extras. Personally, I wouldn’t bother too much with technology, but he said it was no trouble at all.

Zero: Just out of curiosity, was this man Trent?

Elder: So you know him. Interesting. Now then, I will explain how this prophecy came to be. It happened a long time ago, here in this mansion. The Reverent Fifth Incarnation of the great Lutz, known to us as Rune Walsh, made this declaration on the night that he passed away.

"I have seen the will of the Great Light. It seeks to impart some of its strength upon people of many other worlds, to fight against the Darkness and other forms of evil. The power received by these individuals will elevate them to the level of angels. They are the arch-angels of the Great Light. To this world, one shall come in a time of need and grace all of Algo with its shining angelic wings. Do not fear the bearer of these wings, but rejoice. Whoever so comes forth as arch-angel is as worthy to stand amongst you as Lutz himself."

Elder: Thus, his last words were recorded and the Reverent Rune Walsh did pass on to the next plain of existence, wherever the noble spirits of Algo rest in peace.

Zero: So this Rune had been informed ahead of time by the Great Light. That makes sense. And you’ve waited all this time for an arch-angel to appear, bearing the wings that prove the Great Light’s influence.

Elder: That is it, exactly.

Zero: Congratulations, Hotshot. You’re a celebrity.

Hotshot: So tell me… Did this Rune Walsh say anything about what I was suppose to be doing here?

Elder: Not in so many words. It was a moment of prophecy, not Q & A.

Hotshot: May I see the sword?

Elder: Elsydeon? Of course, Lady Kyra.

The Elder had been a bit surprised by Hotshot’s knowledge of the legendary sword’s existence. She was clearly not of Algo, so how could she know? Hotshot, on the other hand was not use to being treated like the ambassador of another country. She knew the Espers served the Great Light as best they could, so her arch-angel powers were simply the right credentials to enter their abode. Along the way to the Elsydeon Chamber, she asked Wren if he knew anything about this Rune person.

Wren: Indeed, I knew him from approximately one thousand years ago, when the Profound Darkness was defeated. He, myself, and others were regarded as the Protectors of Algo by the lifeforce known as Le Roof. Rune Walsh was a powerful Esper, having abilities as a combat mage and medic. He was suppose to be the fifth incarnation of the Esper leader, Lutz, and had retained memories as such.

They entered a courtyard with a small building in the middle. This was where the secret chamber was housed. The Elder led them inside and was surprised to find that the hidden door had been opened. A single Esper watched over it. The Elder spoke to him briefly before addressing his audience.

Zero: So what happened?

Elder: Normally, this door is kept closed for centuries. But lately, we’ve been getting a visitor who is doing some kind of research on the sword. We do not believe he is doing any harm, so we let him go about his business.

Hotshot: He’s in there now?

Elder: Yes.

Hotshot: Who is he?

Elder: His name is…oh, just a minute…. Ah, yes! Joel Fagin.

Hotshot: Sounds like a human name. Who is this guy? I’m going in.

Elder: As you will, Lady Kyra.

Hotshot descended into the cavern-like Elsydeon Chamber. It was dank, dark, and drippy down here. Trent’s renovation program hadn’t made it here yet. In the middle of the cavern was a statue of Alis Landale and the sword sticking out of a stone base like Excaliber. Surrounding it was some recording equipment, a few lights, and a man in a chair. This had to be Joel Fagin, but what was he doing?

Hotshot: I may as well ask… What are you doing?

Joel: I’m listening in on the conversation.

Hotshot: What conversation?

Joel: The conversation within Elsydeon.

Hotshot: You’re kidding, right?

Joel explains himself in more detail. He had heard that the souls of every Protector of Algo dwelt within the sword, Elsydeon, in a kind of afterlife dimension. So, he wondered, if they were inside the sword, then could they not be heard from outside their private domain? And if so, what do they talk about? What do they do in there? One day, Joel was given permission to see Elsydeon. He held it up to his ear and heard voices, the voices of Algo’s past.

Joel: So I decided to record what they’ve been talking about whilst inside the sword. A lot of it is pretty funny, especially with that Dezolan priest, Raja.

Hotshot: Raja?! That can’t be right! I’ve seen him on Earth!

Joel: Hmmm… He’s been rather quiet lately… Oh no! That means…he’s escaped!

Hotshot: Great… Look, I came down here to see Elsydeon for myself. Do you mind if I have a few minutes alone?

Joel: Sure. Go right ahead.

Joel checks on his equipment one last time before leaving the cavern. As soon as he had left, Hotshot put her right hand on the handle of the blade. It glowed suddenly and the room filled with ethereal energy. Several ghostly forms took shape from it. They were Rune Walsh, Kyra Tierney, Chaz Ashley, Alys Brangwin, and Rika. They were not here in the flesh, but as phantom images from the sword.

Rune: You rang?

Kyra: So this is the arch-angel you foretold. Welcome to the Algo Star System.

Hotshot: Thanks, but how did you know I was coming? I didn’t know I was going to arrive here until the Macabre landed.

Rune: I didn’t know who, just that at least one of you would eventually find your way here. As a relic of the Great Light’s power, this sword has a certain similar resonance with the arch-angels.

Alys: Once you got in close enough, the sword knew how to bring you to it. It made you curious about the legendary blade you’ve heard so much about.

Hotshot: So this sword has a life of its own?

Chaz: Only because we live in it. Back when it belonged to Alis Landale, it was a pretty ordinary sword.

Hotshot: So…did you want me for any particular reason?

Rune: A few things, really. We figured that an exchange of information would come in handy. There is undoubtedly something you need to know that we’ve heard about. And we want to know some things as well.

Hotshot: Alright then… The first thing… What do you know about Wrek? It seems he was here long ago, but there are no records of his coming.

Chaz: Huh. I’m not surprised. Wrek was here a long time ago, some time after we defeated the Profound Darkness. He came here to research Algo, but his ship crashed and some of his experiments went out of control. He had this problem about having his advanced technology running loose and had to destroy every last bit of it. I guess that when he left, he erased all the records of his being there for the same reason.

Hotshot: Are you aware of his experiment at Valhal Fort?

Rune: What did he do?

Hotshot: He created a Numan, a powerful one at that. He could he have done this? Numan research isn’t easy, you know.

Rika: Originally, bio-research files were handled by Seed. But after Seed activated his self-destruct system, those files were lost. However, Nurvus might have had a copy.

Rune: Yes… Wrek WAS in Nurvus for a while. And then, you say he went to Valhal Fort to create a Numan?

Hotshot: Yeah. She’s a tough one, like you Hunters.

Alys: That’s good to hear. Algo needs people like that to protect it.

Rune: So now that we’ve told you what we know about Wrek, tell us about these other creatures of darkness that haunt your mind.

Hotshot: The Brethren of the Dark Power… They were born from a creature more foul-tempered than even the Profound Darkness. And I know where it came from originally. It was created after you defeated the Darkness.

Chaz: What the…? How’d that happen?

Hotshot: I have my sources. They’ve peeked into the creature’s mind itself. The Dark Power was born of Megid, the same Megid that came from the Darkness.

Rune: That makes sense. The Dark Power is crimson…and so was that attack.

Hotshot: The power of Megid was thrust backwards through time, separated from the creature that controlled it. Then, as it reached normal space, right at the very beginning of time itself, it began to grow into the malevolent beast of destruction we know now.

Chaz: That’s…pretty far-fetched.

Alys: I have to agree with Chaz. It’s kind of hard to swallow.

Hotshot: You blew away the Darkness in an unstable pocket dimension. Things like that are bound to happen. I can’t blame you for the Dark Power’s creation. You did what you had to do. And now, it’s my job.

Rika: You don’t seem to be resolved to it entirely. Is something bothering you?

Hotshot: Well… It’s just… I don’t know if I’m really doing any good. I have two different forms of evil to deal with and they’re both extremely powerful. Worse than that, the Dark Brethren hate my guts. I mean, why was I chosen for this?

Rune: I can answer that. The Great Light chooses those of great spirit and inner strength. Clearly, you must have what it takes if you are still alive.

Hotshot: Yeah, I suppose your right. Well, I guess that’s all I came here for. Was there anything else you guys needed of me?

Kyra: Just one. There’s some kind of dark presence here in the chamber. It’s been lurking around and creeping out all the other spirits. Could you get rid of it?

Hotshot: Sure.

Of course, the entire cavern is dark, save for the few lights installed by Joel. Hotshot looks around and finds one spot in a corner to be darker than the rest. She puts on her low-light vision shades and finds that it’s pure shadow. Hotshot decides to surprise whatever it is with a Light Shower. Immediately, there is a grunt of annoyance as the shadow leaves its spot and hits the ground. It travels further into the room before stopping. The shadow transforms into a gargoylian creature of dark brown skin with an exposed ribcage. This is a spirit of some kind. Hotshot recognizes the creature before her. Its name was Talon, one of the actual Dark Brethren that she hated so much.

Hotshot: And what are you doing here?

Talon: Just hiding out…and learning a few things.

Hotshot: What ‘things’?

Talon: I’ve had a few run-ins with arch-angels, none of them good. I thought that maybe it would be to my advantage to learn more about their origins.

Hotshot: And what have you learned?

Talon: Not much. Just a few ramblings and…oh yes, Megid Kai.

The last part got Hotshot’s attention. Up until that point, she was only half interested in what this creature had to say. No matter what was said, they both knew that a fight was inevitable, like the rising of the sun. However, this Megid Kai thing caught her off guard. It sounded like Talon had been doing some training in his Dark Power arts, mixing with Algolian techniques.

Hotshot: This is a new technique you learned?

Talon: Megid was the basis for Dark Power, and now Dark Power becomes the basis for it. I’ve reinvented the spell, better then ever! Care to be my test subject?

Hotshot: No thanks. I’ve got a killer android to deal with.

Talon: Oh, but I insist you try it…and my blade as well!

Talon was one of the only Brethren capable of forming a blade of the Dark Power. He pulled out a staff that resembled a long and ugly root, then materialized a scythe blade on one end. Hotshot had seen a Light Scythe before, made by a friend of hers, so this was just the opposite, a Dark Scythe. Talon melted into the shadows again and came up behind her to strike hard into Hotshot’s back. Thanks to instinct, she knew when to duck. The scythe blade went straight overhead and hit the wall instead. Hotshot moves quickly out of the way as Talon brought up the deadly energy blade again. With her power still trying to regenerate, Hotshot didn’t have the power necessary to drive this demonic-looking specter away. He hated the power of the Great Light, but she didn’t have enough to settle this. Her Plasma Vulcan was tipped up at Talon and fired a volley at him, barely affecting the spirit creature. Energy could hurt it, but not very much in this case. She needed to find something a little tougher against evil.

Hotshot: Of course… It’s been staring at me the whole time!

Elsydeon gleams brightly from its resting place. Hotshot pulls on the handle and is thankful that it would allow her to wield it against Talon. The energy she did have combined with the sword’s inert power. Thus, the blade would have a rather nasty effect on Talon. Hotshot grinned as Talon sneered. The playing field was now quite level. The specter spread out his gargoylian wings and charged at Hotshot while in flight. The Dark Scythe was up high, poised to swing down upon her. She thrusted the sword upwards and it connected with the blade of Elsydeon and a very bright light flared from it. Talon was blinded briefly by this. Hotshot noted this and struck at him quickly, placing a scar on his arm and shoulder. It would have gone on like this if Talon hadn’t created an aura of darkness around him to counter the effects. Still, Hotshot was able to keep his scythe from slicing her apart. Finally, she had the power to strike at him really hard and fired an oversized Light Pillar his way. Talon was grounded by the attack and following explosion. He dropped his scythe and it vanished. He got up soon after and snickered briefly.

Talon: You arch-angels… Always so resourceful. There isn’t much in this realm that can block my scythe, but you found the one sword around that could do it. I still want to try out my new spell, but I think more victims are necessary.

Talon became a shadow again and slipped out of the chamber faster than Hotshot see. He traveled at the speed of darkness. Talon emerged in the courtyard, much to the surprise of all the Espers, Zero, and Joel Fagin.

Joel: A demon in their basement?

Zero: Close, but no cigar. This guy is a lot worse.

Talon: Zero Tolerance! I should have known!

Zero: Stuff it, Talon. I’m not in the mood.

Talon: You mean you’re low on juice! Here! Have some of mine!

The sky began to darkness, and not simply because it was night or cloudy. Talon’s presence had that effect on places. Zero didn’t want to see what he had in store, so he thrusted a hand up and launched a powerful barrage of the Dark Power up at Talon, knowing full well that this malevolent power could even harm its own kind, though not the caster of the spell. Talon’s wings went around him and acted as his shield against Zero’s miniature assault. Then, it was the dark spirit’s turn. He thrusted both hands down at the courtyard, the onlookers, and especially Zero. Then, it came with so sudden a rush that they could not believe how fast the energy arrived. Suddenly, the sky was full of explosive pulses of crimson power, like Megid but more potent, much stronger. It was a fusion between the old Megid spell and the Dark Power. This was Megid Kai, and its effects were widespread and terrible. Some Espers had been killed and Zero burnt badly by the explosions. At that moment, Hotshot was ready, now standing outside with Elsydeon. Directed by her own Light Pillar, she threw the sword at Talon. It struck him hard in the lower torso and wounded him, if that were possible for a spirit. In any case, Talon’s body had been pierced by the blade and that weakened him a great deal. He removed it quickly from his body and vanished in a cloud of darkened mist. The survivors of this mess were Zero, Hotshot, the Elder, and Joel Fagin.

Hotshot: Zero, are you okay?

Zero: Gimme some of that medical attention Demi was talkin’ about. I’ll be fine.

Joel: I take it he wasn’t in league with the Profound Darkness?

Zero: Nope. That was one of its rivals, Talon of the Dark Brethren.

Joel: I see. You know, this might make a descent story someday. I could write it for you if you tell me about the whole thing.

Hotshot: No thanks. We do our own writing.

Joel: Suit yourself. Can I have the sword back?

Hotshot: Sure. Take it.

Elsydeon is handed to Joel after carefully making sure it wasn’t still burning hot. He walks back into the small building, intending to return it to the chamber so he can continue listening in on what the spirits of all the Protectors have been talking about this whole time.

Hotshot: Weird guy.

Zero: Oh, I don’t know. There have been stranger people in my life.

Hotshot: What’s he going to do with all those conversations?

Zero: Entertainment, I think. He told me a few funny ones while you were in there.

And that was how the day ended, both here and on Motavia. Zero and Hotshot were beat. More than that, they were aching worse than when they were at Valhal Fort. All these heavy hitters had gathered in Algo. First Wrek. Then Dark Force. And now, guys like Talon were showing up. If this kept up, the entire star system would be blown out of existence by the malevolent progenitor of all the Dark Brethren, a sinister creature that represented the Dark Power’s most vile and destructive intentions, yet made itself master of that horrible being. If He ever came to Algo, then the fireworks wouldn’t stop until the entire galaxy was torn to pieces.

* * *

It was 3:00 in the morning. Demi had just finished reviewing the data on the memory chip. It was originally one of her own, taken by Wrek nearly a thousand years ago. To safeguard his technology until such later times as when the people of Algo were ready for it, Wrek had asked for the memory chips of both Wren and Demi. And apparently, he had kept them in case he would need them. Now that the gap in her memory was restored, she found that Wrek’s actions made even less sense than before. He actually helped out when he was first on Motavia, though it was mainly so he could get himself repaired and out of Algo. If Wrek wanted to take over the Algo Star System, and she believed that he might, then why was he handling things this way? Wrek is methodical, never usually caring too much about the consequences of his actions. If he wanted Motavia, then he could have done so with his creations. Infiltrators and Dreadstars had the deadliest weapons of all. The prototype for the Dark Force cyborg was on Motavia during Wrek’s stay. Such creatures and machinations were all he would need, yet Wrek was holding back for some reason. Was it because of Elyss? Or did he have another reason? This chip of hers had been placed there for her to find without even seeing who had delivered it. Of course, it had to by Wrek’s doing, at least in part. What was he planning?

* * *

The funny thing about a dream is how it can look very strange to the beholder, and yet it somehow manages to make sense in some crazy way. At least, sometimes it will do this. In this case, the sky was the limit and the bartender was paying. Elyss knew that she must be dreaming, because she was back inside Anger Tower, which had exploded. Again, she strode into the chamber of Re-Faze, who must be dead. Re-Faze did not appear this time, and it wasn’t Sam she saw either, as the enigmatic being had shown her before. What she saw was Wrek, with gleaming eyes that were even darker than the norm. He had spiked shoulders and bad teeth, claws on his hands and a smile that beamed in a sort of devious and sinister pride.

Wrek: You seem to be haunted by many demons, Numan creature. Have you ever considered an exorcism?

Elyss: You seem to be plagued with a lot of darkness. Ever considered hiring a good Devil Summoner?

Wrek: You have no idea what you’re dealing with, do you? You think you’re facing your creator? This is just what blackens your soul. It binds and chains you like a nice long pair of shackles.

Elyss: Then who are you?

Wrek: I am everything…and nothing. All that you despise, all that you fear - I can make it alive and real.

The form of Wrek disappears and replaces itself with a shadow of Elyss herself. The shadow grins in a way that she would, stands combat-ready in her own particular fashion. It even held up a pair of Genocyclaws.

Shadow of Elyss: They say the best way to conquer one’s fear is to confront it head on, but I have a counter proposal for that statement. The best way to BE conquered by your fears is to confront it head on. As a master of fear, I will be putting your threshold to the test and see how far I can stretch your sanity.

Elyss: Stow the cheap parlor tricks. I’m over all that stuff.

Elyss’ shadow-self vanishes and is soon replaced by yet another form. It looks like Sam this time, but somewhat older and wearing an unfamiliar armor. This person that seemed very much like him was also carrying a sword, rather than a scythe.

Samuel Neocene: You may think it’s all just a cheap trick, but I can make all this as real as the life you live. And thus, you may not live to see the end.

Elyss: If this is suppose to scare me, then you obviously haven’t read me well enough. I don’t frighten easily, and I know a fake when I see it.

The older version of Sam snorted, as if in disgust. Then he too vanished into thin air. The room began to darken considerably and a sensation of dread crept upon Elyss. Dark Force came to stand before her, in the same form that it took on Ryucros. She knew that this couldn’t be the real thing, but whoever was showing this stuff was certainly able to pluck the images from her head with little effort. She began to realize what kind of threat this creature represented. He - it - would try to kill her by finding the most terrifying image it could find, and then blow it way out of proportion. The battlefield was her mind and the opponent was…

Elyss: Nightmare.

Dark Force: Come again?

Elyss: Sam told me that some undead soldiers mentioned your name. Who else would sneak into someone’s dream as a bunch of crazy phantoms?

The demonic creature that would be Dark Force did not answer. Instead, it crumbled to pieces and blew away in the wind as dust. There was wind here? A small cloud of red mist formed where Dark Force stood. It cackled in a way that was not unlike mad scientists. Then, a taunting sinister voice emanated from it.

Nightmare: Oh dear. You’ve found me out. Now what’re you gonna do about it? Knowledge of your enemy is power, but not enough!

Elyss: Oh shut up and- Aaugh!

Nightmare: What was that? I didn’t quite hear you. Ha ha ha!

Elyss had been caught off guard by a sudden painful vision that played in front of her eyes. It was the image of a man being ripped apart and eaten from the inside by the beginnings of a Macabre demon. Nightmare laughed again as more and more of these images were forced into her mind. People being sliced down the middle of their bodies by Karak soldiers, souls being pulled from their lifeless corpses. She saw rotting behemoth zombies who lived off of magical energy and the flesh of humans. Horrible flesh-melting viruses scoured an entire continent on some world she had never heard of. These were things that Nightmare witnessed, things he had done and relished the results of, forever locked in his mind to be used as a weapon against his next victims.

Nightmare: Yes… Succumb to the darkness overwhelming. It is…inevitable.

Another vision came to rest before her eyes, the massacre of an entire city to fill the belly of the wounded King Macabre. Then, a well of damned souls appeared before her. Finally, men and women filled the streets of an unknown town and began to ravage each other like animals, their skin glowing red with a plague of pure evil. It was getting the point where she could no longer stand to look at these horrible things, yet Nightmare gave her no choice. He cackled aloud as she witnessed more death, more torture, more menacing images. And then, there was a bright light, like the power of an arch-angel. Nightmare stopped laughing and the visions finally ceased.

Nightmare: Someone is interfering… WAH?!

Nightmare’s swirling form of mist was ebbing away. He couldn’t understand what was going on. He was sure that nobody on Motavia could disrupt what he was doing, so who was doing THIS? Nightmare disappeared entirely and the room that Elyss was occupying, dreaming about, ceased to exist. It was replaced by an open field on an unfamiliar world. She knew this could not be her world because a strange metal device was flying through the sky. It was unlike anything on Motavia for sure, a long metal machine with such wings on it. If she was seeing it right, then it must be huge!

Elyss: What is that thing?

Voice: It’s called an airplane. People fly in them all the time ‘cause its faster than travelling on the ground.

The last thing Elyss had expected to hear in one of her dreams was the voice of a child, but that’s what she heard. She turned to face whoever had spoken and saw a young boy standing there who couldn’t have been much older than thirteen. He was light-skinned, black haired, wearing black jeans and a t-shirt. His eyes were green and very deep. Despite the fact that she had never seen this kid before, Elyss couldn’t help but notice that there was something familiar about him.

Boy: You’re lucky, you know. Anyone else would’ve gone to pieces a while ago. It’s a good thing I stopped him before he went too far.

Elyss: Who are you?

Boy: Oh, sorry. My name’s Drake. What’s yours?

Elyss: I’m Elyss. Say…where is this place, anyway?

Drake: It’s Earth. At least, it’s one Earth. You know there are others, right?

Elyss: I heard something about that. Hard to believe, though.

Drake: I know it’s hard to swallow, but I’ve seen some terrible things happen because someone crisscrossed a few worlds. They start screwing around with space itself and BOOM! Everything goes nuts. Would you believe I had amnesia because of that?

Elyss: I suppose anything is possible. Did you get over it?

Drake: I don’t know. I can’t remember.

Elyss: Psh… Ha ha ha ha!

A little diversion from seriousness really hit the spot after having to endure all that Nightmare had shown her. Elyss wondered if this kid was really a kid, since he had a good head on his shoulders. For all she knew, this was just a casted illusion, though she was sure that it wasn’t Nightmare with another little trick up his sleeve.

Elyss: So Drake, what happened to Nightmare?

Drake: Oh, him. He was so busy trying to reach his mind out that he didn’t see me coming. You see, he was invading your dream, and then I was invading HIS dream. I was only able to do it because he was off guard too. Next time, he won’t be so careless and he’ll be way out of my range for me to help you.

Elyss: You must be pretty strong to take on a creature like Nightmare.

Drake: I try, but he’s really tough on people’s minds. And now that he’s on the move, I won’t be able to keep contact anymore.

Elyss: On the move? Is he coming to Motavia?

Drake: Yeah, he is. So be careful, Elyss. He’s no pushover, believe me.

Elyss: I’ll be waiting for him. Take care, Drake.

Drake: So long, Elyss. And say "Hi" to my parents for me.

Elyss: Parents? Who on Motavia do I know… Wait a second! You mean you’re-

Too late. Drake vanished like a ghost in the wind and the grassy field they were in faded from sight, leaving Elyss’ mind to return to its regularly scheduled dreaming sessions. Elyss could hardly believe what just happened. She thought that he looked kind of familiar, and the answer came to her a little late. He was the one that destroyed the King of Macabres in the first place.. Drake was Zero and Hotshot’s son!

Elyss: I hope he comes to visit sometime. Then I can thank him personally.

* * *

The sun was slowly rising into the sky. The time was now 5:30 AM. Sam awoke early today so he could get in some practice before checking up on Reggie. He enters the Hunter’s Guild and heads towards the back of the building. From there, he finds a door to the fenced-off area outside that serves as the training grounds. Sunbeams reflected off of his polished scythe blade as he exited into the training area. He took a few swipes with his weapon before realizing that something was wrong here. Sam was alone out here, and yet…he wasn’t. He had a sense for these things. Either someone was hiding beyond the fence, or sat upon the roof or something. Sam just knew that he was being watched.

Sam: Okay. I know you’re watching me. Come on out.

Voice: That was pretty good. I didn’t even move or make a sound. I didn’t even try to draw a breath.

The roof creaked a little as an agile figure jumped down off of it, landing just behind Sam. He only knew a few people that were able to get on a roof like that and not make a sound. One was Elyss and this certainly wasn’t her, although it was a woman’s voice, one that was very familiar. Sam turned and thrusted the staff-like end of his scythe at the person in question who was right behind him. Surprisingly, the end of the scythe handle was caught and Sam saw now who had been watching him practice. It was that other Numan, the one from Valhal Fort.

Sam: Cassidy.

Cassidy: I’m glad you remembered my name, because it’s going to have a lot more meaning to you in just a minute.

Sam: What do you mean?

She let go of the scythe and walked around him towards the center of the training grounds. Then she idly looked around as if calculating the distance between the wooden fences. In this way, Cassidy reminded Sam of Elyss, as she would also study in area like this so she would know exactly how much fighting room she had. At last, Cassidy spoke up.

Cassidy: This’ll never do. It’s too small.

Sam: What’s this all about? What’re you up to this time?

Cassidy: I’ve come to fight you, to see what you’re really made of, Samuel Neocene. We saw what you did at Valhal Fort. You’re a pretty tough guy.

Sam: A fight, huh? And if I don’t do it, then you’ll try to harm Elyss, am I right?

Cassidy: You know, I did have something like that in mind.

Sam: Leave your Slashers out of it and it’s a deal. Meet me outside town.

Cassidy: Fine.

After agreeing on that much, Cassidy leapt over the fence and was gone from sight and sense. Sam had had this feeling of dread right from the beginning when he saw her standing behind him. She had many talents and skills, like Elyss. And maybe that was the problem. Cassidy was a lot like Elyss, though younger and definitely colder in demeanor. Her very existence gave him the creeps.

Sam: Keeping that in mind, I’d better check on Reggie and see if he’s doing okay.

* * *

Reggie Malone, one of the most perceptive and skilled Palmans of Dezolis, was asleep on a couch in Elyss’ house. He’d been keeping an eye on things - on Elyss - all night and only dared to nod off about two hours ago when Myow came back and reported that he’d made sure that Sam had gotten some rest, shortly before collapsing onto the floor himself. Myow was still exactly where he’d slumped down, as if he had both Sam and Reggie’s fatigue combined. Reggie knew better, of course. He could smell the catnip on his breath from where he stood. So now, he was basically copping some major Zs. Sam entered the house and was about to tell Reggie what just happened, except that there was no way in hell he was getting his attention at this point.

Sam: I might have better luck getting through to Elyss.

He really didn’t want to try disturbing any of them. If it was one thing that Sam understood, it was that a rude awakening can get you killed. So instead, Sam wrote a small note, to be sure that if anyone happened to see it, they could come running to his rescue. Having done this, he made for the edge of town.

* * *

Several things happened at once, all throughout Algo. At the Ryuon bar on Dezolis, Trent snickered to himself. Aboard the Raklon, Wrek suddenly looked out in the direction of empty space for no reason that anyone could see. While still in the domicile of Espers, Zero and Hotshot both felt a sting in the back of their minds. And somewhere near the site of where Garuberk Tower once stood, Talon turned his gaze to the sky with a bemused expression on his face. Something was coming.

* * *

Cassidy waited, albeit impatiently. Waiting wasn’t one of her strong points. If she wanted someone to happen or for something to get done, she was in the habit of simply reaching out and doing it herself. Wrek had given her two missions to occupy her time with, while waiting for her sister to finally wake up. The first was to deliver the memory chip to Demi without her knowing it hard been done until she was gone. It task was a rather easy one. Of course, Demi hadn’t detected her, but Cassidy had the feeling she knew how that chip ended up there. As for her second assignment, a battle with Samuel Neocene was the imperative. Wrek had explained the reasoning behind it. Very interesting. If Wrek was right then Samuel was more than he seemed. Cassidy vaguely wondered what Sam would think of that.

Sam: Alright, I’m here. Shall we begin?

The wind blew suddenly, as if an errant soul had heaved a sigh. It was a bit distracting, since she was use to places that had very little weather at all. Cassidy smiled briefly at him. Sam’s willingness to fight for his friends was commendable. Still, she had a job to do and that was that.

Cassidy: Show me what you’ve got!

Sam: Fine by me! I won’t be holding back!

One end of Sam’s scythe dug into the ground as he surged forward and pole-vaulted in Cassidy’s direction, faster than she’d expected, then brought his scythe around again to perform a deep-set slash. Cassidy had to duck to her right to avoid having the blade embedded in her chest. And if she was right, then Sam could do just that. Cassidy drew her energy blade out, extending it to the length of a normal sword. Sam had just turned to face her when she came at him with a side-swing that would slice into his hip. The metal handle of his scythe shot out by a flick of his wrist, blocking the move. Cassidy stepped back once and began to jab at his chest several times. Sam was quick to dodge these strikes, but one still glanced his armor. Sam swung one end of his scythe at Cassidy’s blade to drive it back and then came back with the blade end in an attempt to cut her head clean off. Fortunately, this was not beyond Cassidy’s ability to put a stop to. Her hand went out and caught part of the scythe handle, right below the blade. The under-edge of the scythe blade caught her in the arm, drawing some blood.

Cassidy: Well, he said he wouldn’t hold back.

Sam was determined enough, but something was missing here. Cassidy had noticed surprise in his eyes when his scythe had drawn blood, as if Sam had not expected Cassidy to bleed at all. In fact, he seemed a little unsure of himself. She could tell just by looking into his eyes. Sam must have thought of her as something that was far from human or even Numan. Only now was he understanding that she was every bit alive and Numan as Elyss, and that’s why his resolve was beginning to crumble. Cassidy forced Sam back and reflected on this.

Cassidy: I remind him of her, of Elyss. He’s not use to attacking people, not unless they are totally scum. And he’s certainly not liking the idea of attacking me, since I look and act so…normal. Well, I don’t like ‘normal’.

There was only way to get Sam back in the habit of things, the way Cassidy wanted. She would have to step up the process. She held her hand up high and summoned a Claw Burst. The same claws that had restrained Elyss now came to carve Sam into little pieces. His reaction was more than she hoped for. Sam leapt over the first couple claws and took a swipe at the next ones with his scythe. They destabilized and disappeared. There was energy in that scythe. Perhaps he’d been learning a variation on the Ray Blade technique. In any case, the energy claws spread themselves out and surrounded Sam. This didn’t make a difference, though, because Sam was already prepared. He quickly sliced all the way around to take out every claw. Cassidy was impressed by his adaptive nature.

Cassidy: The Guild trains you well.

Sam: I knew how to fight beforehand.

Cassidy: So I’ve heard. Now take this!

Without another word, Cassidy charges Sam directly. What surprises him is that she’s able to close the gap between them extremely fast. But then, he didn’t know that Cassidy could enhance her speed with a Turbo spell. Cassidy drew out her energy blade again and struck hard with it, using a special kind of attack called Grand Divide, which breaks through defense in a flash. Sam had been using his scythe to defend, but he was still knocked back and onto the ground. Cassidy took full advantage of this and launched a Nathu spell Sam’s way. Sam was super-jolted into action and moved suddenly as Cassidy swiped her blade at him again. They clashed weapons again and again until it was time for Cassidy to play the cards that Wrek had supplied her with.

Cassidy: That scythe’s made of Laconium. Where did you get it?

Sam: It was a gift from my parents.

Cassidy: Why are you holding back? I thought your kind were powerhouses for these special attacks.

Sam: What do you mean ‘my kind’? I don’t belong to any group besides the Hunter’s Guild.

Cassidy: I know things, Samuel. I know all your secrets. Tell me about that special move you’ve done, the Dual Ragna Blades. No one else can do that, right?

Sam: Yeah, but so what? Lots of people are under-skilled.

Cassidy: That’s where you’re wrong. You are over-skilled, much more powerful than your average Motavian. Has anyone ever actually beaten you in combat?

Sam: Not yet, except Elyss.

Cassidy: Well then, there you go. You don’t belong on this world either.

Sam: Come again? You can’t possibly mean-

Cassidy: But I do. You’re from another planet entirely.

Sam: And I’m suppose to believe this?

Cassidy: You live in a world that has no trace of either of your parents living on it. You appear different from others. You have strengths and powers that other people do not. More than that, I’ve seen your genetic code from the Raklon station. You are not from anywhere in Algo.

Sam: But…that can’t be… I’ve lived here my whole life!

Sam presses harder at Cassidy with his scythe, forcing her back. He swings the deadly weapon once, twice, thrice - missing every time as Cassidy moves just out of the way. She puts away her blade and attacks with only her fists, ducking the next swing and rising to elbow Sam hard in the ribs. Sam drops his weapon because of this, but manages to retaliate with a sudden kick to Cassidy’s side. Then he has to duck and dodge as quickly as possible. Cassidy’s Vibro-Claws sought to rip him apart. Cassidy was fast, really fast. Sam, however, noticed that she lacked a certain amount of expertise in fighting. She was pretty good, but not as skillful as Elyss. Some measures of strength must come from the environment one grows up in. As she came in to sock him in the face, Sam whipped aside a little and propelled a fist into Cassidy’s stomach as she closed in. She jumped back and casted another Nathu at Sam. It was really beginning to sting now. Cassidy prepared to step up the battle again. She delivered an ultimatum of sorts.

Cassidy: Show me the great power you’re suppose to have, Sam, or else you’ll be crushed like an empty beer can!

The meaning of that statement didn’t register properly until he saw what Cassidy was doing. She leapt straight up and unleashed one of her tougher spells. Space began to distort and rush at him head-on like a bullet train. Sam needed only a fraction of a second to realize she was casting Another Gate. Space itself was about to squash him like a bug. Sam was about to go for his scythe when he realized that he didn’t need it for the action he would now have to take. The Ragna Blades were formed from his power and will. The scythe had nothing to do with it. And so, Sam concentrated hard and brought out the full potential of his power, the mighty Dual Ragna Blade attack. It might tear his soul apart if he did this, but it didn’t really matter when death was already on the line. The blade of power formed in a crisscross fashion, like an X, then launched at the oncoming distortion of space. Unbelievably, it was able to push it back some before exploding violently. Sam was thrown to the ground by the sheer force. He didn’t see what happened to Cassidy, since he was disoriented by both the energy consumption and the blast.

* * *

The explosion woke her with a start. Elyss instinctively launched herself out of bed, went to grab her sword, and prepared to cut out someone’s heart. However, her sword wasn’t there. Elyss sighs heavily and exits out into her living room, where Reggie is occupying the couch and Myow is occupying the floor. The fact that they weren’t waking up made it clear that at least Reggie had been watching over her all night. She wasn’t too sure about Myow. He had catnip breath. Elyss found a small note near the couch. It was a brief scribble from Sam.

Elyss: "Gone to fight Cassidy outside town. Might come back in pieces." Sam Neocene, you’re a magnet for trouble.

She couldn’t find her weapons just yet, so she decided to just get out there as quickly as possible. Elyss had a feeling that the explosion she’d heard earlier wasn’t just some innocent leaky gas pipe.

* * *

The smoke was clearing up a little and Sam was already able to stand again. What he was shocked to find was that Cassidy was also standing. She was closer to the blast for sure, as the Ragna Blades had pushed everything in her direction right before exploding. Sam looked a little more carefully and saw that she was in fact a little more worse for wear. Her Laconium armor had been damaged and she had been wounded in several places. If she was anything like Elyss, she had metacells in her body to help with repairs. That led Sam to a more horrifying conclusion. If Cassidy had those metacells inside her body, then she could become stronger than she had been before. The file on Elyss that he had seen proved this.

Cassidy: I can still fight you… My body’s tougher than it looks.

Sam: That’s what worries me…

However, part of Sam was not so horror-stricken by Cassidy’s resilience. He could see that her wounds had bled quite a bit before trying to seal themselves up. Progress seemed slow in that department. How bad were her injuries? And was it just his imagination, or was she diverting the power to heal over to the power to fight? Elyss had done that unconsciously against the Eliminator when it threatened her life with its extreme methods, and also against one of the Infiltrators. Just then, Sam heard the voice of the very person he was thinking about.

Elyss: What are you doing? You’re going to end up killing each other!

Sam: Welcome back to the land of the living, Elyss. I was just making sure she didn’t make good in her promise to attack anyone while they were busy sleeping.

Elyss: Is that true, Cassidy?

Cassidy: Nice idea, but not my style. I only said…that I might. It was all part of my mission. Wrek told me some things…about Sam here. He told me about this other world he knows about, a place they call Trivadia.

Elyss: Another world, huh? Is it any good or does it suck like Earth?

Cassidy: It’s chock full of magic, much more than Algo has ever had. People that come from there have so much energy…

Elyss: Get to the point.

Sam: Yeah, what was this all about?

Cassidy: I was told…to let Sam in on a little secret, that he was actually from that planet. It’s true, you know. I can… I can prove it.

Sam: So why am I on Motavia?

Cassidy: Something’s probably gone down there, like a war or something. You know, it’s funny… You and him have been here…the whole time…and you never had a clue about where you came from…yet you’re…happy here. Ugh…

Cassidy may have been tough, but she had definitely been overdrawn at the metacell bank. She collapses onto the ground, still not fully healed because of her insistence on continuing to fight. Elyss was over at her side in less than a second, with Sam only a couple steps behind.

Elyss: Hang in there, Cass. You’re gonna be okay. Just save your strength.

Cassidy: There’s nothing left… I used up a lot on that last spell I did…

Sam: You burnt yourself out? Why?

Cassidy: Had to see what you were really made of…

Cassidy could have died then if not for one thing. Elyss was no healer by trade, but she did know how to cast Regen. A healing light began to shine around Cassidy’s body and the wounds repaired themselves almost instantly. Cassidy sits up straight, surprised that she’s able to do so.

Cassidy: Why are you helping me?

Elyss: One good turn deserves another. I owed you for helping me to overcome my brief insanity. Without that, who knows what could have happened to me?

Cassidy: I understand. Now, if you’ll excuse me…

Elyss: Cass, wait!

Cassidy: What do you want?

Elyss: You said that Wrek told you to do this. Tell me, do you think he would care if you had died in your fight against Sam?

Cassidy: I don’t think father would let me die so easily, not if he could help it.

Elyss: Then why isn’t he here now? You were on the brink of death and he didn’t show up or transport you away or anything.

Sam: I don’t think he can care.

Cassidy: I know what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to get me to rebel against my father, my creator, who has given me everything I have and shown me things that would blow your mind. I won’t turn on him. I can’t…

The sheer determination in her voice was more than enough to convince them of her resolve, and she didn’t want to go any further into this conversation. Cassidy presses a few buttons on her Phase-Shift device. Nothing happens. She inspects the hardware for a moment and tries again. It still fails to function.

Cassidy: Are you doing this?

Elyss: I wouldn’t know how.

Sam: What’s the matter? Did the batteries run out?

Cassidy: This runs on a micro plasma energy cell. It won’t run out for a long time.

Sam: I was just kidding…

Cassidy: And I don’t think that it’s funny. This machine is brand new. If it isn’t working properly, then something has either blocked the signal or is screwing around with space in general.

* * *

There was a commotion of sorts on board Raklon. Several little dials and instruments had gone haywire soon after the detection of an energy signature that Wrek was familiar with. He had felt it before, but now his own ship was aware of it and it did not like what that energy was up to. There was an event going on now, one that began in space and ended on Motavia. Wrek had not begun to worry about this until he realized where exactly this event was pinpointed at.

Wrek: Aiedo… Open transmission to Cassidy now!

Clyde 67: All transmissions are blocked, including Phase-Shifts.

Wrek: Not even laser-guided or holo-projections?

Clyde67: Astral waves are accelerating to a high degree using the Dark Power signature detected earlier.

Wrek: I knew it… Nightmare is up to his old schemes again.

Nightmare’s Voice: Well, of course! I love to cause confusion and mayhem among these flesh-creatures. There’s nothing like mass hysteria to liven up my day.

Wrek: Ah, shut up. One of my own is down there and you’re preventing me from getting her back! We agreed that you could do what you like with Elyss, but only her, remember?

Nightmare’s Voice: I decided to change the agreement. The more victims I have, the better it will be. And I am intrigued by your creations. They have not known fear very much in their lives. They are just about due, wouldn’t you say?

Wrek: You’ll pay for this, Nightmare. I swear it.

Nightmare’s Voice: You can’t stop me, android. I am power overwhelming.

The voice of the Brethren creature ceased as a new event occurred. This one on Motavia alone. A powerful field of energy, highly filled with a corrosive Dark Mist, enclosed Aiedo and the surrounding areas. So not only was it impossible to get there by Phase-Shift, but you couldn’t physically enter that area either.

Wrek: I’m on a ship that’s orbiting another planet with no way to contact any living soul, transmit myself out of here, or even enter that town once I got there. Man… This day really sucks. Hmmm… I wonder…

* * *

Hotshot: Zero! Any luck?

There was a sudden loud banging noise and a small explosion from within the engine sector of the Knight’s Gambit. Things were not going well. Somehow, the engines had been sabotaged from the inside and nobody was aware of this until Zero had activated the main engines for takeoff. The result was a load of sputters and coughs, followed by a small explosion and a large gout of smoke from the engines. Since then, things have not improved. Zero came out of the engine room, coughing out smoke as he did and holding a mangled device in his hands.

Zero: That’s the one that broke the engine’s back.

Hotshot: That looks like one of our stabilizers…I think. How did it get in that shape? It looks like someone molded it like clay with their bare hands.

Zero: Someone did. We’ve become the victim of astral fingers. Nobody else could have done this while the stabilizer was still embedded in the machinery.

Hotshot: We have replacements, don’t we?

Zero: Yeah, but it has to be recalibrated. This was done deliberately so we would only be out of the picture for a while.

Hotshot: I had a feeling it might. Wren said that our scanners were going off the scale with power emissions.

Zero: So, they really are making their move.

For a brief moment, there is silence. Then, Zero gets back to work on the engines, double-time. He has to work faster, harder, and get done as soon as possible. Otherwise, there would be a calamity beyond anything in his experience. He tried to force the idea out of his mind. He did not even want to have the slightest clue what an entire solar system screaming in terror would be like.

* * *

It was a massive powerfield, one that turned the sky into the color of blood. This alone freaked out a large number of people. Sam, Elyss, and Cassidy entered town again to find a great deal of onlookers in the streets, claiming that it was the end of the world. They might have been right. Pushing their way through the crowds were Reggie and Myow. Myow wasn’t really pushing through anyone, but more or less hopping from shoulder to shoulder while Reggie did all the pushing around. Elyss could only imagine what kinds of stuff he was picking off of them.

Reggie: Elyss! What’s going on? And why is she with you?

Elyss: I don’t know what’s going on and I’ll explain her later! Right now, we’ve got some kind of situation on our hands! Help me get these people off the streets before they get struck by lightning or something!

Sam: And someone should get all the Guild members out here NOW!

Myow: I’ll do it, meow!

The people of Aiedo were on the brink of panic, but were still docile enough to be led off of the streets and back to their homes. Myow ran for the Hunter’s Guild like a streak of thunder, but came back to report that they were all hopelessly asleep, almost in a coma.

Elyss: You’ve got to be kidding! The whole Guild is asleep?!

Myow: I tried to wake them, but something attacked me. There was something big and bad in that place, and I couldn’t even see it moving!

Elyss: Invisible enemies? Then I guess it’s just us…against him.

Sam: Wait a second… You already know who the enemy is?

Elyss: It just came to me. He was in one of my dreams, driving me mad. I know he’s here, Sam. I can feel it in the air. It’s the same as my dream!

Cassidy: Then it’s one of the Dark Ones?

Elyss: Dark Ones? Yeah, I guess that fits the description. It’s one of the Dark Brethren for sure. You can see the evidence around you. This is a Nightmare.

Voice of Nightmare: Indeed. I have made it quite plain that my coming has been fulfilled, as if it were a prophecy of doom.

Reggie: Well then, what’s the big deal, fella? Are you going to talk us to death or show your face? ‘Cause I don’t frighten easily.

Voice of Nightmare: I’ve heard that one before. And speaking of which, that will be your opponent today; your fear, plus anything I happen to come up with.

The sky ripples with a sudden astral shift and then a few ghastly forms able from the air itself, as if it were a doorway to another realm. Standing before Sam was that older version of himself, and yet it wasn’t him at all. With the armor and the sword and that marred face, it couldn’t actually be Sam, could it? Cassidy seemed to know more about what Sam was looking at than he did, though an inkling must have crossed Sam’s mind.

Sam: Could this… Could this be…

Voice of Nightmare: It is him, or was him. This is Tempest, whose real name is Samuel Neocene the First, your father.

Sam: You mean he’s…? No! I won’t accept that as even a possibility!

Voice of Nightmare: Suit yourself.

Elyss tried to shout at him, to make Sam snap out of the gaze given off by the apparent form of his father. However, she had problems of her own. A demon of sorts had been placed in front of her. It was a water elemental, one that had the power of the sea at its beck and call. She backed away slowly, knowing very well what this represented.

Elyss: Not that… Not water! I almost drowned so long ago!

Reggie was confronted by a rather large, muscular guy wearing a black jersey and jeans. He knew who this was. It was Boris "The Bandersnatch" Muldova, a very large and tough Palman from Dezolis. Cassidy was the next to see what fate had dealt her. It was the one thing that she had not expected to see.

Cassidy: Father…

Wrek stood there, or rather a reproduction of Wrek. The real thing didn’t have green eyes or a look of contempt on his face. It was, and yet was not, Wrek. As for Myow, he had a sudden urge to run when a large hellhound, known as a Bogie, appeared out of nowhere and howled menacingly at him. Being a Muskcat who generally gives in to his urges, he ran like crazy.

Voice of Nightmare: Well, this is a fun group, yes?

Reggie: Ummm…no.

Voice of Nightmare: Bah! What do you know?

Reggie: I know that Boris here isn’t any fun! He cheats at cards!

Boris: Do not!

Without warning, Reggie gets hit by a slab of concrete in the form of Boris’ left fist. He flies a few feet before hitting the ground. He gets up and throws a few daggers, straight for the big man’s heart. They stab into Boris’ chest, but don’t seem to actually harm him. Nightmare had made The Bandersnatch into a tough zombie creature. Stabbing him wouldn’t do any good. Even shooting him wouldn’t help, unless he was able to burn the guy up.

Reggie: Fire… Myow, I could really use some help here!

Myow: I’m busy, meow!

Bogie: Rrrrrooooooowwwwrrrllll!!!

The rest of them were having troubles of their own. Although they knew these things were not the genuine article, their presence had done something to their minds. They still acknowledged them as if they were real. The worst problems were that of Sam’s and Cassidy’s.

Tempest: Is this all you’ve aspired to become? I’ve worked my whole life to protect my home planet from all sorts of evil and you’re goofing off with a bunch of lowlife, worthless Hunters! What a waste!

Sam: How can you say that after all that I’ve been through, with no one to guide me or tell me who I really was?

Wrek: Still a child. Still underdeveloped. You can’t even manage your own power properly. Why do I even bother? You’ll never measure up to my standards.

Cassidy: You can’t mean that… I’ve never let you down!

Those two phantoms did not even have to fight. They had Sam and Cassidy mentally pinned to the ground. As for Elyss, she was totally fixated on the creature before her. This elemental was a shape-changer, but preferred a humanoid form. It used the power of the crushing sea against her. Nightmare laughed maniacally as the forms of fear grew stronger. They would store the fear and define themselves in new and different fashions. Each and every one of them began to grow larger, making it even more difficult to fight them.

Wrek: You have no right to be at my side.

Cassidy: No…

Tempest: You’re no son of mine, just a useless cutthroat.

Sam: Stop saying that!

Sea King: Come drink with us. Drink eternally.

Elyss: Leave me alone!

Boris: You should know better. Boris is indestructible!

Reggie: And a pin-cushion besides!

Strangely enough, the quality of Reggie’s fear was lacking. He did not fear this giant of a man enough. The only thing that drove his fear was past experience of being beaten into the ground by this guy and the fact that there were a lot of daggers hanging out of his body. In fact, it was Reggie’s entire stock. He searched his pockets for something useful and found the Pulse Vulcan he’d been holding onto. It wasn’t able to damage Boris that much, however…

Reggie: Duck, Myow!

Myow: Meow? Meow!

He took a diving leap farther away from the Bogie as Reggie pulls the trigger and fills the hellhound with holes. Myow stops running and notices the creepy Boris zombie thing sneaking up from behind Reggie. The Muskcat concentrates and fries Boris with a sudden geyser of flame from the ground. He burns away and Reggie takes back all of his knives.

Reggie: Sam, snap out of it! You too, Cassidy! They’re only saying what you most desperately don’t want to hear so they can feed on the fear!

They seem to get their bearings, but are still uneasy about what must be done. Sam brings his scythe into play against the false Tempest and Cassidy prepares to end the electronic life of the green-eyed Wrek.

Sam: I hope I never have to do anything like this again…

Cassidy: Please let me be wrong in thinking it’s him…

Sword and scythe clashed like twin pairs of thunder, and the phantom that would be Tempest began to fight for real. At the same time, the green-eyed Wrek brought its guns into position. One was an RPG Launcher and the other was a Plasma Vulcan. This phantom didn’t stand a chance. Cassidy had chosen to make this a quick battle using her Quantum Slashers. She threw them hard, before Wrek could pull the triggers of his guns, and the android exploded. Meanwhile, Elyss’ enemy was now a giant of elementals. Its force of waves grew stronger as her age-old fear grew stronger. She could not focus. How do you fight an ocean, anyway? Reggie saw this and called in his magic expert.

Reggie: Myow, freeze that thing, would you?

Myow: I don’t do cold stuff.

Reggie: You lived on Dezolis, but you can’t cast a blizzard or anything?

Myow: Would you want to make ice on that world?

Reggie: Good point. In that case, boil him.

Myow focused a great deal on the core of the elemental’s being. His most powerful heat and fire spell erupted from inside of it. As a result, the creature was reduced to steam before everyone’s eyes. Shortly after that, Sam showed the form of Tempest just what kind of son he really was, by throwing him a Ragna Blade, which he now knew to be an ability shared by his own family. The false one was destroyed, but Sam still felt as if he had killed a genuine father.

Sam: I feel so violated…

Voice of Nightmare: Well, that was fun.

Sam: What kind of demon are you?!

Voice of Nightmare: None at all. The Dark Brethren do not allow demons into the ranks. After all, we have standards. However, if you wish to know the face of your opponent, then I will show you.

A swirling mass of Dark Mist formed above the town, moving as if it had a life of its own. Then after it reaches a certain size, the cloud of darkness dissipates and allows every onlooker to see what kind of beast had materialized there. The creature known as Nightmare was a horrid sight. His body looked heavily tanned or burnt, filled with many scars. Also, it did not appear to be made of actual flesh, but appeared to be a physical form created and manifested by Nightmare’s power. He has four arms with a toughened exoskeleton as armor. The arms end in clawed hands. The torso of his body is worse, apparently made of some kind of spiky bone and muscular material. Nightmare’s legs are…nonexistent, but he appears to have a long scorpion-like tail with a barb and gripping claws. Nightmare’s face is the worst. It is the most horribly scarred face that would ever be mistaken for human. His eyes are even stitched shut. His teeth are crooked and fanged, and his ears are pointed like a dark elf’s. Using no legs, Nightmare is constantly in flight. And right now, he floats down to the opposing humanoids that he had come to terrorize.

Nightmare: I hope that my appearance disturbs you greatly. I have been working on it and have not had the chance to show it off until now.

Elyss: Just what are you, anyway?

Nightmare: I am a spirit who manifests into the physical world, one of the deadliest of my kind, the Dark Brethren!

Elyss: Yeah, yeah. We know who you are. I just couldn’t say what.

Nightmare: Appalling, aren’t I? Well, do not concern yourself with my appearance. I do not plan on letting you live very long.

That was different from what they expected, especially Elyss. This was the great master of fear, a thing of terror. Was he really just planning to kill without more freakish horrors? Then again, Nightmare was a freakish horror himself. His first act was to fly directly at Elyss and slice at her with only his tail. Elyss moved to cut the tail off above the stinger and found her sword bouncing harmlessly off of it.

Elyss: What in the…?

Cassidy: Don’t you know that spirits never get wounded by normal attacks? They operate on different rules than you or me!

Elyss: Oh, I see…

Elyss’ sword began to charge with energy, a Ray Blade technique forming. When she swung next, Nightmare did not simply float there but actually dodged out of the way. The energy would effect him for sure! Elyss began to close on the dark spirit, her sword still glimmering with power. Nightmare only backed up a little. Then he sprang at Elyss with fast flying fists of fury! All four arms pumped at her like pistons, forcing her to block as much as possible and still get hit now and again. Nightmare laughs maniacally and grabs the blade of her sword, despite the energy of the Ray Blade. He grits his teeth and pulls the sword out of Elyss’ hands.

Nightmare: You may be strong, but I am stronger still!

Sam: Oh?

There was no telling how powerful Nightmare really was, so Sam decided to go for broke and give him the works. He focuses his power carefully and calls forth his Dual Ragna Blade attack. It moves too fast for Nightmare to avoid. However, Sam did not take into account the strength of the Dark Power. Nightmare drops the sword and points his arms at the oncoming energy blades. Crimson darkness flows from those hands and fires in the form of dark beams to intercept the Ragna Blades. They explode on impact, too early to harm the deadly spirit.

Nightmare: Know your place, fleshling. I am your only god now!

Of course, nobody would heed Nightmare’s warning. They would rather see him fry. Especially Elyss and Cassidy, who BOTH casted Megid on the floating specter. This got him mad, mostly because of the irony involved here. Since Megid was the original basis for Dark Power, Nightmare would have thought that it could not harm him that much. However, he forgot that it was only Megid casted from the Profound Darkness, an ultimate Megid form, that led to Dark Power. All other variations of the spell would indeed sting. Nightmare opens his mouth, while his head morphs into a more monstrous visage, and breaths Dark Mist at Elyss. She has to pull several muscles to get out of the breath’s way, as it seems to follow her a bit. Cassidy then makes her best move yet and throws her Quantum Slashers at Nightmare, who is growing a little larger and uglier. They cut and detonate parts of one arm and his tail. However, there was a small problem. Nightmare could grow them back! With a quick spark of energy, Nightmare causes his limbs to renew themselves back into the material world. His body is just an extension of his will and power, so anything is possible. Speaking of which, Nightmare does something that nobody expects. His lower torso opens up and legs fold out from it and touch the ground for the first time. They are brown and scaly, either one ending in a single long claw for slicing and stabbing. He ‘looks’ over in Reggie’s direction and grins. Afterwhich, his tail launches a stinger at him! It came at him, fast as a bullet, and disappeared! Even Nightmare was surprised by that.

Nightmare: You appear to have certain qualities that I do not perceive.

Reggie: I’m a thief.

Nightmare: Wait. Are you seriously trying to tell me that you light-fingered that stinger out of thin air?

Reggie: It’s all in the wrist, and the timing.

Nightmare: Interesting…

Nightmare turns to face Reggie and strolls over him slowly…then suddenly speeds up as he leaps at the Thief of Time, clawed feet first! Reggie ducks, but still receives a cut at the waist. As soon as Nightmare hits the ground, Elyss is right there in front of him using the Ray Blade technique again. The cuts, swipes, and slashes at Nightmare, who is a lot more versatile on foot. He counters again with the flying fists attack, which he refers to as Knuckle Buster Supreme. However, this time, Nightmare has not the time to be grasping at blades. Not when Cassidy is slashing from behind with her own energy blade. Nightmare grunts as he is hit with a sudden flash of pain. Energy is always a threat, especially those who of different alignments than him. The dark spirit jumps straight up and drops a ball of Dark Power between the two Numans. It throws them far and in different directions when it explodes. Nightmare laughs in a devious snickering way as he lets loose a few more of those at Reggie and Myow, who are knocked into a nearby house. Myow wasn’t hurt too badly since he only collided with Reggie and not a solid wall of wood, but Reggie had hit the house and was knocked out by the impact. Several stolen items fell out of his coat. Nightmare’s stinger was not among them. It had grown back at the end of his tail.

Nightmare: Is this the best you can do? I’ll admit that some of it is quite surprising, but it’s not enough against the likes of me.

Voice: I think you’d be surprised.

Nightmare: What? Who is th-

Nightmare did not get the chance to finish his inquiry. A powerful beam of energy shot into his body from somewhere above and began to tear him apart. It was a blast from Wrek’s Quantum Cannon. He was high up, using his jet-pack. He had come all the way to Motavia using only those back-mounted engines and his Quantum Shield. Now, they were both in need of a recharge. After blasting hard into Nightmare’s body, he thought the spirit would be completely smeared across time and space. But he was wrong, big-time. As soon as Wrek landed, the barrier and Dark Mist disappeared, yes, but Nightmare returned! His body had been torn apart alright, but he was still in control of it and his Dark Power. Wrek dodged left and right as three disembodied arms tried to sock it to him. Then Nightmare’s tail wrapped around his neck and administered shocks into his system. For a moment, Wrek went limp, but he recovered quickly and pulled the tail off. Nightmare’s head rammed him into the ground as other body parts began to collect. He was trying to reform himself. Dark Power flared from every limb as Nightmare reassembled what must have been his very soul. The air trembled suddenly. Nightmare growled in a demonic fashion when this happened, though nobody understood just why yet. It may have been the fact that his body was not reforming properly. He had become a horrid mass of spirit matter, like a Macabre in flux. Tentacles and claws were everywhere, always shifting and forming into something else. Nightmare’s rage was at its highest peak. He suddenly lashed out at the one who caused this mess of his.

Nightmare: NO ONE DEFIES ME!!!

Several long tentacles erupt from the mass that formed Nightmare’s current body. They ended in misshapen claws and glowed with the Dark Power. Wrek had only a few seconds before he was amidst an apocalypse of energy strikes that tore up the ground and burned up everything in its path. His shields helped out, but they soon ran out of power and he was caught in an explosive shockwave that threatened to engulf them all. Elyss and Cassidy had done what they could to protect everyone with their own shields, but it wasn’t easy. Everyone was spread out and Nightmare had gone absolutely insane. It was obvious that he’d been weakened, but that wouldn’t help unless they had a way to beat him. Then, as if a prayer had been answered, Nightmare left. He flew up into the mountains behind Aiedo. Things seem to return to what passed for normal around here once he had left. Well, not quite everything had returned to the way things were. Every able-bodied Hunter in the Guild was still asleep, though Myow said that their ‘guardians’ were no longer there anymore. Now there was just the problem of a damaged android. Wrek was still intact, but in need of repairs. He did so with Cassidy’s help. Elyss was about to confront Wrek directly while he was in that condition, but Sam had suggested that she should let it be for now. Her ‘sister’ had concerns of her own to deal with.

Cassidy: Father, why did you come if you knew that this could happen to you?

Wrek: Nightmare doesn’t care who ends up in his sinister games, but I do. I didn’t want you involved in this at all.

Cassidy: You were worried…

Wrek: Yes. That’s it exactly. You have come so far. I would hate to see you killed by something like Nightmare, or anything at all.

Cassidy: I see… So he does care, after all. I don’t ever disappoint you then?

Wrek: Not at all.

Cassidy: That’s all I needed to hear. Now I know I can take on that creature.

That was Elyss’ cue to step in, although she was hesitant for a moment. Unless she was mistaken, she could swear that Wrek had a conscience and did seem to care about Cassidy to the extent that an android was capable of displaying. Of course, Wrek was capable of human-quality emotions. So did he actually regard himself as the father of her and Cassidy? Very strange is the mind of Wrek. Elyss tried not to lose sight of the fact that he was trying to take over Motavia, if not all of Algo. Why he wanted to do this, she wasn’t sure though.

Elyss: Okay, Wrek. So what’s the deal with Nightmare?

Wrek: That’s the strange part. I’ve never seen this happen. He should be at the closest point to death that he can reach by now. Instead, he’s locked in the physical world in that misshapen form, weakened but not defeated.

Elyss: That explains why he didn’t just disappear. Does that mean we can kill him?

Wrek: Yes, but it won’t be easy. His current form changes shape a lot, so killing him won’t be easy. And once he opens a more direct gateway to the astral plain, we will lose him entirely.

Elyss: So he’s up on the mountain to buy himself some time to open a portal. Well, we should pay him a visit. Get up.

Wrek: Sorry, but this Wrek is a wreck. My price for being nice. You’re just lucky that Nightmare was fooling around that time. Otherwise, I would’ve been too late. I’d lend you my cannon, but it’s in a worse state than I am.

She had to admit that the android was looking very trashy at the moment. Dark Power could make a mess of everything, even high-caliber androids. Wrek’s legs were pretty banged up, along with his arms and torso. Elyss decided to back off and check on the others. Myow had given Elyss a definite "Hell no!" to climbing the mountains and chasing down Nightmare. Reggie was still out cold. It didn’t look like he had any serious injuries. He was simply unconscious.

Elyss: Poor guy… He’s quick on the draw, but nowhere near as tough as me or Sam.

Sam: Hey, Elyss?

Elyss: What’s up, Sam?

Sam: Do we stand a chance against this guy?

Elyss: There may just be three of us going, but Nightmare’s gotten a lot weaker. I’m sure we can take him down.

Sam: I hope you’re right. I get the feeling that we haven’t seen the worst of it all.

* * *

The trip up the Aiedo mountain range is mostly uneventful. The bio-monster infestation here has moved on, rather quickly by the looks of it. That eerie sensation of Nightmare’s Dark Power must have driven them off. Both Numans have the lead over Sam, who is lagging behind a little despite Elyss’ jeering.

Elyss: C’mon Sam! You only live once!

Sam: …Not funny.

Cassidy: You and Sam seem to get along very well. Are you…?

Elyss: Man, I’m glad he can’t hear from back there. No, it’s nothing like that. We’re just friends, that’s all.

Cassidy: I see. So how long have you known him? Did you ever think that he didn’t come from this planet?

Elyss: The thought never crossed my mind. I only met him after joining the Guild and I wasn’t sure what was natural at the time. Still, being a Trivadian makes no difference in my book.

Cassidy: Same here. He is who he is. I was just there to make sure he knew.

Elyss: There’s more to it than that, isn’t there?

Cassidy: Well…yes. I kinda’ like him. Sam is the first man I’ve ever met who wasn’t a scoundrel. More than that, he is the heroic type, just like Wrek said.

Elyss: Sam’s likable that way.

Cassidy: I’ll say.

Elyss: Ha ha ha ha… I can’t believe what I’m hearing. My little sister has finally grown up…and she’s discovered boys.

Sam: Hey, what’re you two talking about up there?

Elyss: Nothing, Sam.

Cassidy: Yeah, uh…nothing.

Even though Cassidy was a little pale of skin, Elyss couldn’t help but notice that she was blushing slightly. She was about to make another remark when the whole mountain began to shake and stir. They were getting closer to the summit and Nightmare had just decided to lash out at them. The mountain path cracked a little and several large tentacle things shot out of the hillside. They were Nightmare heads on long tentacle-necks. These ‘creatures’ spat out beams of Dark Power and tried to bite anything that got too close. Several of these things appeared at once to wreak havoc and vengeance. Unfortunately, they were no match for the Quantum Slashers that Cassidy and Elyss had in their possession. Sam was able to likewise cut apart the vicious Nightmare heads. When all was quiet again…

Sam: Just what in Algo’s name was that?

Elyss: It was him, but only his head.

Cassidy: Several heads. Nightmare must still be changing his shape around. He’ll be like that until he heals properly. While he does that, anything could happen.

The threat of these strange heads of Nightmare is constant. They all fire lethal crimson rays and are seemingly endless. Minor earth tremors are also a cause for concern, as the path is sent into a worse condition each time. Finally, on the last leg of the journey, a new assailant stands in the way.

Cassidy: Oh no… Nightmare’s called in a Slayer!

Sam/Elyss: A what?!

Cassidy: It’s an astral monster that serves the Dark Brethren!

It appears as an expressionless warrior clad in black armor that seems to be like its skin. The humanoid has a bone-white skull belonging to some kind of demon serving as its head. It looks upon them all with black hole eyes. The creature holds a long spear-staff that has three blades at the end. This is the Striker, a weapon that can only be used by Slayers. Right now, it brings that weapon into play and fires a rapid barrage of energy out of it. Explosions rake the ground as the three of them realize that this is no ordinary guard. Slayers can fire the Dark Power from their Strikers! Elyss approaches the warrior first.

Elyss: Let’s see if he gets a kick out of this.

In a flash, her Quantum Slasher is out. However, Elyss does not use it immediately. Nay, she draws her sword and attacks head on. The Slayer brings its Striker up like a staff to defend. That was exactly what Elyss had expected. She slams the Slasher into the Slayer’s head and turns on the juice. That head smears across time and space faster than light itself. However, there was a problem. The head was gone, and that made the rest of the body crumble to pieces, but something was inside of its chest. It was using the body as a shell. The creature there was like a floating insect with tendrils all over its body and two clawed arms serving as its only normal appendages. The creature moved like greased lightning. In no time at all, it manages to spring itself onto Elyss’ shoulder and attach tendrils to her body.

Cassidy: Oh no, you don’t.

A Claw Burst hand reaches out and crushes the little creature’s head while delivering massive shocks at the same time. Elyss feels it too, but not as severely. The creature that was on her seems to vaporize instantly after being dealt that harsh blow. The hand disappears in a slightly less dramatic fashion.

Cassidy: I know all about these monsters. The Slayers are all created by Astral Keepers, minor spirits who can control minds. They’re the top-ranking guards in the Dark Brethren army.

Elyss: That reminds me. Wrek is working for them too.

Sam: Yeah, that’s right. So how can you and he be helping us against Nightmare when you’re all on the same side?

Cassidy: I know it may look like we’re with them, but it’s not exactly like that. The most my father ever did for them was a little R&D for their weapons. Aside from that, he’s independent, answering only to his creator directly.

Elyss: So, you’re not on their side, but not really ours either?

Cassidy: I guess that’s the way it is. Although…I wouldn’t mind being on this side for a while. It seems I have a lot to learn from this world.

Elyss: If it comes to that, look us up at the Hunter’s Guild. Nobody knows Motavia better than us.

Sam: Just don’t do anything that would put you on the wanted posters.

Cassidy: No problem.

The last few steps to reach the top are climbed and Nightmare is still there, waiting for them. There is a large mass of tentacles, claws, and extra Nightmare heads on the ground. Nightmare’s regular torso is attached to it with a snake-like body. He has two thick, muscular arms on that body. Nightmare had partially healed, though it would take much longer for him to make a full recovery.

Elyss: Nightmare! It ends now!

Nightmare: Yes, it will end for someone, but it doesn’t have to be me!

The mass of tentacles and such on the ground form into a new body. It has six clawed legs on a semi-reptilian body. The Nightmare heads leech out of it like parasites, growing stronger and faster on the draw. They suddenly create a dark flash that hits the ground and tosses debris high into the sky as a distraction. Then, Nightmare lashes out at Elyss with his latest greatest arms. Elyss was caught off guard and gets knocked aside by Nightmare, who had only struck the shoulder. Sam reacted to Nightmare’s sudden change in tactics with a Ragna Blade. It strikes him, explodes, and leaves him looking a little extra crispy. However, it does not seem to harm him as much as he had hoped.

Cassidy: There’s only one way we’ll ever kill this guy. Elyss, get ready!

Elyss: Alright, let’s do it!

Nightmare fired with his extra heads and flung wads of Dark Power with his own hands, but he was not currently fast enough to deal much damage to the Numans. Cassidy threw her Quantum Slashers at the Nightmare heads and blew them away entirely, leaving Elyss to strike at the core. She did just that, though Nightmare pounded down after her right before the Slasher sliced into him. Elyss got up just in time to see Nightmare’s body going haywire. It couldn’t control itself! Parts of Nightmare flew all over the place. They prepared to finish him for good, but then something happened that was unexpected. There was a sudden blast of Dark Power and Nightmare’s still-changing body came together like an even more grotesque version of a Macabre. Taloned tentacles sprouted from the body mass and quickly slammed into Sam, Elyss, and Cassidy. Nightmare was pulling himself together and disrupting space to get back to the astral plain. His full strength had not been realized, even now. A hole in space appeared behind Nightmare and he began to push himself into it. Nightmare’s face surfaced on the other side so he could laugh at those who tried to destroy him.

Nightmare: It’s over, fools! My mastery over Dark Power can never be foiled! You can never destroy my ultimate power! And now…feel my wrath once more!

He was about halfway through now. Nightmare wanted to take one last pot-shot, just so they wouldn’t forget who the true king of terror was. He opens his mouth as wide as possible and fires a beam of Dark Power …at Cassidy! She puts up a Quantum Shield in defense, and it seems to work for a while, smearing the energy away, but then it presses up against the shield, proving that this dark magic obeys no laws save for its own. Cassidy’s eyes widen in shock and horror as the Dark Power explodes, tearing through her shield and engulfing her. The force of the blast almost knocks her clear off the mountain, but Sam is able to save her, since he was the closest to the edge. She was heavily wounded now, even her armor was torn apart by the explosion. Sam and Elyss had seen many injuries before, and this looked like it would be beyond their ability to heal. She was still alive, but the Dark Power had taken Cassidy to the limits of her endurance and delivered a devastating blow. Medical science could save her, but there was no chance of that up on this mountain. Elyss looks back at Nightmare now, her rage uncontainable.

Elyss: You murdering bastard!!

Nightmare: Oh, shut up. I’m having a lousy day.

Elyss: You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

Nightmare was nearly all the way through his little hole in space. He was now beginning to repair his broken body a lot faster from within the astral plain. Before it closed, Elyss threw her Quantum Slasher into the hole and was rewarded with a scream of pain and an invisible explosion from a dimension that was beyond her reach. The hole closed itself over and her Slasher was gone for good. Elyss turned her attention back to her friends. Sam still held Cassidy, vainly trying to use some healing magic on her. It was no use, though.

Cassidy: At least…I did my father proud…

Elyss: Cass… So devoted… Did her life really have to end this way?

Cassidy: Elyss… Take the Slashers our father gave me… You might…need them…

Though feeling kind of guilty about it, Elyss unhitches the Quantum Slashers from Cassidy’s belt and puts them aside for now. All she can think about is that twisted spirit-creature, Nightmare. The same goes for Sam. He can barely hold his temper until Cassidy speaks up again.

Cassidy: Sam… I wish… I wish I could’ve gotten to know you better… I’ve never met anyone…quite like you…

Sam: I’m the only Trivadian in town, remember?

Cassidy: Yeah…but it’s more than that… I’ve never…felt this way…about anyone else before…

Sam could not help but notice that tears had formed in Cassidy’s eyes. He saw this and understood what she meant. Though strong willed, Cass was a little shy when it came to telling others how she felt about them. And so, she found it hard to tell Sam that she loved him. Sam understood this now as her breathing became more labored. They were losing her. Cassidy’s right hand held tightly onto Sam’s arm, as if for support.

Cassidy: Please…don’t…leave me…Sam… At least…not until…the end…

Her breathing becomes more erratic, along with her pulse. Then, Cassidy’s life slowly fades away. Her grip on Sam’s arm loosens and her violet eyes close with Sam’s face being the last thing she had seen. Sam sets Cassidy gently onto the ground and stood. He didn’t even want to look at Elyss, fearing what she might say. In Sam’s mind, he had failed to save the life of a dear friend. He then felt Elyss’ hand on his shoulder.

Elyss: There was nothing you could have done.

Sam: I know… It just burns me to find that out.

Then, without warning, there is a sudden flash of light and Wrek appears. He must have repaired his systems well enough to use his Phase-Shift module. The scene he had just transported himself to, however, was not a pleasant sight. He immediately saw Cassidy’s lifeless body and proved again, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that he was capable of human-like emotion.

Wrek: What… What happened to her?!

Sam: Nightmare happened.

Wrek: Nightmare… I’ll kill him if he isn’t dead! I should never have let her go against someone like him, even when he was weakened.

Sam: Wrek, I’m sorry-

Wrek: Sorry?! You aren’t nearly as sorry as you’ll be when I’m through with you! You and the entire solar system can go to hell! I’ll be sending you there myself!!

Elyss: Wrek, leave him alone! It wasn’t his fault!

Wrek: Shut up!! I tried to do this the easy way! I tried to do things right and this is what I get in return?! You all deserve to die, you and those damn spirits!

Saying nothing more, Wrek picks Cassidy up and transports himself away like lightning on a cloudy day. Sam and Elyss are speechless. Wrek had made no sense whatsoever, except in his desire to kill everyone in Algo. That in itself was very disturbing. He had definitely flipped his lid.

Elyss: What do you think he was talking about? What did he do that was right?

Sam: He made you…and Cassidy.

Elyss: Maybe so… I don’t know… What will he do with her, anyway? It’s already too late. Do you think he could still…?

Sam: I can’t say for certain, but I’m willing to hope…

Elyss: Yeah. Me too…

Chapter 8 - Heaven’s Sword.

Neither of them spoke on the way back to Aiedo. Things were looking pretty bad for Algo. Not only had the Dark Brethren been here, but now Wrek had gone at least partially insane and was preparing to bring about Algo’s destruction. It was only when Elyss saw a familiar shape that she dared to break the silence.

Elyss: Hey look! That’s Zero’s ship!

Sam: Really? Good. ‘Cause he and I have got to clear up a few things.

They began to run faster towards the town they had come to know as home and noticed that there was also a Land-Rover parked near the ship. So it would also appear that Demi is in as well. Algo just might have a chance after all.

* * *

Inside of Aiedo’s regular bar, Zero had reserved a table for himself, Hotshot, Wren, Demi, Reggie, and Myow. It was a very large table. Zero smirked when he saw Sam and Elyss walk in the door. Then his expression changed to one of slight confusion when he saw the anger in Sam’s eyes. Afterwhich, he was very surprised when Sam walked right up to him and punched him in the face. Zero was knocked out of his chair, though not hurt very much. He’d had much worse. Still, he wasn’t sure why Sam had just done that.

Zero: What was that for?

Sam: Why didn’t you tell me? You two knew where I’d come from the entire time. You knew my father, but you never said a word. Why is that?

Zero: Well first, would you believe me? I’m a man of Earth from another universe. How convincing would I be if I had told you?

Hotshot: The other reason is that it wouldn’t have made any difference. We were going to tell you later, after this whole mess was cleared away. How did you find this out, anyway?

Sam: It was…Cassidy. She told me about Trivadia and said she could prove everything. I didn’t believe her at first, but then Nightmare told me the same.

Zero: Nightmare?! I knew something was up. Where is that dirty rotten spirit?

Elyss: He’s gone. Sam, Cassidy, and myself went to finish him off after Wrek had wounded him with his Quantum Cannon.

Reggie: Wrek helped? I’m surprised… So now, Nightmare’s out of the picture. Ummm…you said Cassidy was with you. Where is she now?

Elyss: Well…uh…

Sam: She’s dead. Or at least, she might be. It all depend on if Wrek is a miracle worker or not.

Elyss: Nightmare struck her with the Dark Power. It was too strong, even for her shield. Wrek appeared soon after. He was even more shocked than the rest of us. I think it drove him over the edge. He said he was through trying to do…whatever it was the easy way. Now he’s planning on killing everything in Algo. Just what has he been planning this whole time, anyway?

Demi: I can answer that.

Zero: Demi was telling us about it before you came in.

Zero got back into his seat and offered a couple chairs to Sam and Elyss. Before Demi begins, Zero and Hotshot explain what they’ve been up to, along with Wren, who had located Wrek’s ship in space. Finally, Demi speaks.

Demi: This may seem confusing to some of you, but bear with me. Wrek’s plan to take over Algo began approximately one thousand years ago, after we had beaten the Profound Darkness. He had crash-landed on Motavia and sought a viable option of escape. His ship was all but destroyed and many of his own systems were in need of repairs. At that time, I was on my way to Nurvus to check up on the main computer core. Something had gone wrong inside and the facility had registered me as a hostile. I found Wrek there, looking over a Warren that he had disabled. He had come to Nurvus looking for information and repairs. Though I was not sure if he was trustworthy, I let him accompany me down into Nurvus’ core area. Once there, I connected myself to Nurvus and was immediately assaulted. The computer system had been infiltrated on all levels, totally out of my control. It overloaded my own internal systems and I was forced to disengage and work on repairing myself. My mind was briefly placed in sleep mode for a while. When I came to, Rune was there, trying to awaken me, and Wrek was connected to the core. He had managed to isolate the cause of the computer infiltration and remove it from Nurvus entirely.

Zero: What was wrong with the computer? Was he somehow the cause?

Demi: No, it wasn’t him. Nurvus had been gradually taken over by the will, mind, soul, and lingering power of Zio. Wrek explained that when he died, Zio possessed Nurvus like a spirit. He began to siphon power from Nurvus until he was ready to take it over completely. What Wrek had done was what he had called a "digital exorcism", removing Zio’s soul from the computer and trapping him inside a mere disc. Afterwards, Wrek was able to learn everything about Motavia and Dezolis. He was especially intrigued by the Numan research. Wrek stayed in Algo until he had found a way to return to his world. Before leaving, he had deleted any record of his being here from Nurvus and had requested that the memories Wren and I possessed would be relinquished to him as well. He believed that Algo was not quite ready for his kind or his technology. All evidence had to be removed. Wren and I complied and our memories of his presence in Algo was stored on a microchip.

Demi pulls out a small memory chip, the very same one that had appeared on her console inside Nurvus. It seemed to be very old, yet it was kept in top condition. Wrek never misses an opportunity, even if he doesn’t know it’s there yet.

Demi: This chip appeared rather mysteriously on my console. It is the very same one that Wrek had stored the data on. Using this, I now know what Wrek was trying to achieve. Elyss, you may find this interesting.

Elyss: Can I kill him if I don’t?

Demi: That is up to you. Wrek’s ambitions, his aspirations, have plainly been to seize control of Algo, but we have been wondering, until now, why he did all these things this particular way. Wrek does not interfere directly. He has been coaxing Motavia and Dezolis along with scientific achievements and other breakthroughs. His plan was to usurp control of Algo with his influences so he could run it himself in a fashion that he would deem superior to its current standings. He believes that our solar system and others like it will never achieve any form of greatness as it is.

Elyss: So, Wrek wanted to build the world his way after he’s taken it over. And although he might do a great job at it, he would still remain in control of everything. I don’t know about you, but I still think the idea stinks.

Demi: Ah, but you did not let me finish. After taking over, he would leave the next phase of evolution of advancement to his two greatest creations.

Elyss: He wanted me to…help guide Algo’s future?

Demi: You would supervise Motavia and Cassidy would look after Dezolis.

Sam: Well, it doesn’t matter anymore. He’s scrapped that plan in favor of Armageddon now. What are we gonna do here?

Voice: You take the battle to him, of course.

To everyone’s utter surprise, Trent walked into the room as if he owned the place. Come to think of it, he probably did own it by now. Trent was a business man beyond all company workers. He came in, smiling his usual smile. Zero didn’t like the way this was going. Trent was questionable in his loyalties.

Zero: Alright Trent, how did you get on this planet?

Trent: I have a private shuttle. A man such as myself must keep moving.

Hotshot: You said to take the battle to him. Do you seriously mean that we should attack his vessel head-on?

Trent: Why not? You have a nice, big ship yourself with two gigantic cannons mounted on it. Neverminding that, you have one of his transporter devices.

Reggie: How did you know that?

Trent: Trent Massarino knows all and tells nothing, save for what he chooses. Let us just say that I have ways of detecting said devices. I also know that Wrek will jam your Phase-Shift device unless you get in too close. You need only give it a little power boost and it can send a few of you inside is ship.

Zero: A ship to ship battle as a diversion to get inside a vessel no man has ever penetrated before… It sounds a lot like suicide to me.

Wren: Information regarding Wrek’s usual vessel armaments would include the use of anti-matter in its primary weapons.

Elyss: His ship has got to be holding onto an army. Every machine he’s sent after us is probably in there, waiting for us.

Trent: Then what will you do? The Sword of Damocles hangs high over your heads. If you do not make a move, you will not survive the day. Anti-matter can be a very deadly substance.

Zero: I guess we have no choice. Tell me something, Trent. Just what are you getting out of this whole ordeal? Did you make some kind of bet with Wrek?

Trent: No, but I would like a word with this android, anyway. I have unfinished business with him, though he does not know it himself.

Zero: Yeah, whatever… I don’t trust this guy…

Hotshot: So are we heading out?

Zero: I guess so. Everyone into the Knight’s Gambit. We take off immediately.

* * *

Raklon was busy repositioning itself to face Motavia with its primary cannon ranges. The massive generators within the satellite ship begin to supercharge as the command to prepare all weapons was given. From inside her quarters, Cassidy watched the starts shift as the vessel moved out. The lights were out so she could see the outside void more clearly. She had been incredibly lucky that Wrek had arrived when he did. He had heard the Dark Power explode and feared the worst, that both of his creations were being blown apart. He was nowhere near relieved when he saw her lifeless body on the ground. Wrek had operated quickly on Cassidy right after returning to the ship. He told her that she’d suffered internal injuries aside from the horrid wound that Nightmare had caused. After stabilizing her condition and letting her metacells take over in healing, Cassidy was sent to her quarters to rest. However, she could not sleep. Her mind kept returning to the time she had spent with Sam. She would have to talk with Wrek about this before he went through with his Armageddon maneuver.

Cassidy: Before this time, I knew of no man who was any less that a scoundrel. You showed me the better side of it all, Sam. You worry for your friends and you uphold what is right. I grew to admire this the first time we even met. But after that, I knew it wasn’t simply admiration. I found that I loved you…with all my heart and soul. Your gentle smile, your selfless attitude and humor - I never felt so content before. Of course, I wasn’t able to tell you how I felt. I just didn’t know how to say it right. I hope to see you again, so don’t do anything reckless. I know you’re coming here. Wrek knows too. Please be careful.

As Raklon finally came to a halt, Cassidy heard the door slide open, allowing light to enter the room and illuminate it just a little. The light made her appearance more clear than how it was in the dark. She was wearing casual clothing, a pair of slacks, a shirt, etc. Cassidy really did look alright for someone who had suffered a practically fatal wound not too long ago.

Wrek: We have some time before our guests arrive. So I think now is the time for me to clear up a few things that I had not explained before.

Cassidy: There is actually quite a bit to that. Where shall we start?

Wrek: Your destiny.

* * *

Coincidentally, Elyss was also gazing out into space. She was alone on an observation deck, watching the stars goes by as they tried to locate Wrek’s ship again. There was a complication with the sensors again. The wave effect that had been employed by Nightmare had offset some of the calibrations. So, there was a little bit of a wait while Zero and Sam worked on it. Hotshot was in control of the Knight’s Gambit right now, with Wren and Demi operating scanners and weapons control. Trent was also on the bridge. He was giving them some tactical plans for engaging the Raklon. In fact, it seemed that everyone was busy except Elyss and Reggie, who had chosen that moment to enter the observation deck.

Reggie: You know, when I first started my thieving business, I never thought I’d even get off of Dezolis. People never trusted me around the spaceport. Now look at me. I’m out to save the galaxy from a crazy android.

Elyss: It’s funny how fate has a way of dealing out weird futures.

Reggie walks further in and stands beside Elyss, watching the stars with mild interest. Space wasn’t all that big to him. It was just a place to be, to travel through and explore. Reggie clears his throat before speaking again.

Reggie: I’m sorry about Cassidy. I know you liked her, even though she was on Wrek’s side. She wasn’t bad, just a little misplaced in values.

Elyss: No worse than an expert thief.

Reggie: There’s nothing wrong in that.

Elyss: I didn’t say there was. I can tell when there’s more to someone than just their bad points. Cassidy had a few, but she was good at heart.

Reggie: How about me?

Elyss: You? Well, your amazing skill in theft is only outmatched by your apparent kleptomania. You have a ton of things hidden away in your coat. Still, I don’t think you’d ever kill a man for his money. Otherwise, that rival of yours would’ve already been dead. I can tell that you have a kind heart, almost like Sam.

Reggie: A kind heart? After all that I’ve done?

Elyss: I little mischief doesn’t change a man. You’ve been committed to Algo’s safety ever since we met at Ryuon. And I can tell that you care about others, since you looked after me while I was out of commission.

Reggie: It wasn’t a big deal. Sam needed rest in a bad way.

Elyss: We all did, including you.

Reggie: I was worried that you might never recover. I wanted to stay be your side and make sure nothing wrong happened.

Elyss: I’m glad you did. It means a lot to me.

Reggie: Well, I did it because you mean a lot to me, Elyss.

Reggie turns to face Elyss and, surprisingly, finds her blushing slightly. When she returns to normal, she’s smiling in a mischievous way and her eyes seem to glint briefly. He returns the smile with his own shifty little smirk.

Reggie: You know, I’ve never been that good with the ladies.

Elyss: Today, you got lucky.

Gradually at first but then at a more natural pace, Elyss leans over and kisses him, putting one hand on his shoulder. Reggie does the same and they both hold onto each other gently as time seems to stand still for just that one moment. Then, ever so slowly, Elyss pulled away and looked into Reggie’s ice-blue eyes. Her gaze was a shy one, yet peaceful at the same time. This was a side of Elyss nobody had ever seen. She seemed vulnerable, like the young Numan she had been during Wrek’s previous visit to Motavia. Reggie was momentarily lost in her eyes. It took him a minute to understand the significance of Elyss’ sudden change in demeanor. There was a nameless fear lurking within her mind. Everything that had ever happened to her, everything that was going to happen soon enough - it all weighed heavily on her mind and she had no one to confide to. Elyss had to be strong on the outside for everyone’s sake. She was a Hunter. On the inside, however, she feared the worse. Parts of her life had been terrifying, and others seemed almost like she was living a lie. Elyss was tough, but she didn’t want to face her inner demons alone. She saw Reggie as a pillar of strength. He would understand. He’d been there ever since the time in which Elyss had been coming to terms with who and what she was. And not once did he think any less of her.

Reggie: Elyss, I know exactly how you feel. I’ve been alone for most of my life. My parents abandoned me at a young age, forcing me to become the thief I am today in order to survive. And only a few weeks after they left me, I heard news of their death at the hands of a shape-shifting monster. I have always been alone since then, save only for when I came across Myow in Tyler. Despite who we are, you and I have a great deal in common.

Elyss’ eyes are suddenly downcast and her face gave off an expression that seemed kind of sad. In her mind, she was reliving the past. She had less of it, but it was every bit a significant as Reggie’s.

Elyss: It’s true. I’ve had no one. When I was growing up in Valhal Fort, there was nobody there but Wrek. After he left and the fortress flooded, I had nowhere to escape to and no one to help me. I was going to die alone. I was really lucky when I hit the shore. I escaped my capsule and couldn’t move for hours, couldn’t even remember what happened. But I had nightmares all the time. They only went away after I joined the Guild and met Sam. He made me forget what I’d gone through until now. I still feel alone, despite everything that’s happened. There’s no one for me to confide to, not even Sam. He has enough on his mind as is, and he won’t be around forever. I just don’t want to be alone anymore.

Reggie: Neither do I, Elyss. Neither do I.

The expression on Elyss’ face lightens up and returns to its look of peace and contentment. Then, without hesitation, she kisses Reggie again before pulling away entirely. For once, Elyss seemed truly happy with her life. No regrets. No worries. Just a life lived to its limits. She now exits the observation deck with a mind clear of all the things that had plagued her. Reggie watches her leave, his mind deep in thought about the lives they led. Just then, Myow entered the room, a feline grin played across his mouth.

Myow: I figured you had a thing for her.

Reggie: What was the tip-off?

Myow: The first time you two met. Your eyes were lit up as if they were saying "wow". You acted as if you’d never seen a Numan before.

Reggie: I hadn’t. They’re all on Motavia.

Myow: So I guess you’ll be movin’ out of the pad on Dezolis, right?

Reggie: What can I say? I like Motavia better. At least you can never freeze to death there, and I think I can get a job at the Guild too.

Myow: Whoa! You’d give up stealing!?

Reggie: No, I just think it’s the right thing to do.

Myow: Heh heh heh… I thought you’d say something like that.

Reggie: Cassidy told me I was a descendant of Shir Gold, the legendary thief of Algo. How could I give up being the Thief of Time when I have such a legacy to live up to?

Myow: I don’t know, but could you give up the pair of fuzzy dice you stole from Zero? He’s been looking around for ‘em.

Reggie: Whoops. Heh heh heh…

* * *

Zero had managed to repair the sensors, but they would no longer be necessary. While he was busy recalibrating, the Raklon had disengaged all of its jamming equipment, save for one. There was a solitary frequency jammer active now. Its purpose was to prevent any form of teleportation. So now, the Knight’s Gambit faced its deadly foe, the Raklon satellite vessel. There was a little problem here, one that would make the coming battle that much harder.

Zero: That ship’s friggin’ huge.

Sam: Geez… Look at all those weapons…

Raklon was a very large machine, even larger than the Knight’s Gambit. This ship could hold an army. In fact, it probably did. The front of the ship was adorned with some large and very complex-looking cannons. Wren explains the nature of these weapons from his scanner feedback.

Wren: Many of those weapons are anti-matter cannons, but there is one cannon that does not have the same properties. It is the main cannon aboard that vessel and the worst encountered thus far. Scans show evidence of quantum energy near it.

Zero: Quantum Cannon, eh? Well then, we’re out-gunned for sure. The Knight’s Gambit has two main energy cannons along with all secondary weapons. I can match his anti-matter, but nothing beats quantum artillery.

Elyss: Except more of the same, right?

Zero: Yeah, but I don’t have anything like that on board. And don’t even think of trying to use your own abilities. Nothing in this galaxy can block that cannon.

Trent: Then don’t. He only has one Quantum Cannon. Just avoid it.

Zero: With that point made, there is only the matter of infiltration to worry about. Wrek is broadcasting a signal that disrupts all forms of teleportation. Does anyone see a way past this?

Wren: I have been studying this Phase Shift device that was…liberated from the Numan, Cassidy. It carries a very strong frequency, but is still not powerful enough to break through the jamming screen. If I can boost the signal even farther, it will deliver us aboard that ship.

Trent: That is quite brilliant, but you must realize that it will take more energy to succeed. You cannot cheat the laws of mechanics. How many would you estimate it can transport over there?

Wrek: Five at most. This device can transport a dozen lifeforms across vast distances without fail. However, Wrek’s jamming frequency greatly reduces its abilities. We must, therefore, chose who will go and who will stay.

Elyss: Well, you know I have to go.

Sam: Same here.

Wren: Myself as well. Who else?

Zero: Hotshot and I will stay here and control the ship.

Reggie: Count me in.

Trent: That goes double for me.

Zero: Hell no, Trent. I don’t trust you.

Trent: The android and I have a few matters to settle.

Zero: What would a Palman company man want with Wrek?

Trent: More than you can imagine, and I am a human company man.

Zero: You’re what?!

Trent: Come now. You couldn’t tell? This stylish suit, my Italian accent, my odd demeanor - and you never noticed?

Truthfully, nobody had noticed his Italian accent, but now that he mentions it, Trent does look Italian. So, he would appear to be a man of Earth, a business man of Earth, no less. Once everyone recovers from the initial shock, Demi is the first to speak up.

Demi: There should be no problem in sending Trent into Wrek’s vessel. He has his reasons. I, on the other hand, would like to stay here and work on a modification to the ship.

Zero: Are you sure? Don’t you and Wrek have a score to settle?

Wren: No. That would be me.

Zero: Alright, alright… I give up. Go ahead, Trent.

Trent: Fine.

Zero: But if you give the rest of them any trouble, I’m gonna make damn sure that you go the way of the dragon. Understand?

Trent: The point is taken.

Myow: Hey! What about me, meow?

Wren: I wouldn’t worry too much. You count as cargo.

Myow: Meow???

Reggie: He means that you’re too small to worry about.

Myow: Oh.

This would probably be the last time they met under such circumstance, win or lose. The meeting breaks up and everyone prepares for the final showdown. The Raklon had yet to react to them thus far, but it won’t remain that way for long. And if anyone had been watching Trent at that moment, they would have seen the oddest thing. For as he grinned with anticipation, his eyes took on a peculiar glint. Ever so briefly, one might have even said that they were glowing.

* * *

On the bridge of the Raklon, Wrek and his crew of Clydes were working nonstop to complete the Endgame Protocol, a decisive plan on how to destroy all civilization in the Algo Star System. It began with the satellites, Kuran and Zelan, disabling any forms of communication between planets. Then, it would bombard Motavia until no life remained on the planet. Afterwhich, the same action would be taken against Dezolis. No action would be taken against Ryucros because nothing lived there anymore. Wrek sat back in his command chair, thinking of the first time he’d set foot on Motavia. Those were hard times for him. His ship had suffered a fatal breakdown in the engine room and had crashed onto the planet just North of a town called Krup. Wrek was the only survivor of his old vessel, the Phantom. At least, that was what he’d thought. But after a long trek over Motavia’s soil and even a trip to Dezolis, he found evidence that he was not the only one who had survived. His prototype metacell cyborg, the first Dreadstar, had lived as well. Its brain was damaged in the crash, but it was fully capable of repairing many of Wrek’s old machines inside the ship and eventually even the ship itself. Although it might have been Wrek’s only way out of this world, he was forced to destroy the vessel along with the help of others. The trouble was that there were very few that were capable of aiding him in that battle. Thus, he decided to return one day so he could take over all of Algo and run it properly. Except now he was frustrated with trying to do it the right way. He shouldn’t interfere, but he can see no other alternative. The best and only method now was to erase all that was on the planet and start it all over from the beginning. The Profound Darkness was no longer here, so Algo’s value had diminished to almost nothing on the cosmic scale of things.

Clyde 113: Sir, we have complete all fire-control calculations and are ready to proceed. However, a ship has just entered firing range, right in our path.

Wrek: They would try to stop me. Activate all weapons, prepare internal security, and get ready to ram them aside if necessary.

Clyde 113: Understood.

Wrek: One final test, Elyss, One last fling into fate.

* * *

Energy cells within the satellite ship were raised to full power and all cannons charged to full capacity. Wrek was making his move. Aboard the Knight’s Gambit, Zero had done the same and fired the two main cannons before veering off to the right. Twin blazes shot out at the Raklon and impacted the hull. It did not cause very much damage to the vessel’s armor, but an Anti-Matter Cannon was now offline. Wrek’s ungainly satellite was like a tank; slow and plodding, but extremely durable and high on the firepower. It returned fire at the evading ship with its other secondary cannon, striking it a few times. The impacts made the entire ship shudder violently with anti-matter explosions. The bridge of the Knight’s Gambit was rumbling like the rest of the ship. Reggie was trying to talk to Zero amidst the chaos, trying to make a little sense of things around here.

Reggie: Hey, Zero! Explain this to me again! How come he’s tougher than us?!

Zero: Well, his ship was built for strength, but mine was designed by a space pirate!

Myow: Space pirate, meow?!

Zero: Yeah, so don’t be surprised if we get hit a few times!

They had managed to get alongside the Raklon and fire secondary cannons at close range. The armor was weakened some, as with the initial attack, but nothing serious afflicted it just yet. Fortunately, the response time of the counterattack was almost as bad as the front. Only a few plasma impacts made it this time.

Zero: The problem is that he’s flying a giant fortress. He doesn’t even have to stop to deal with us.

Hotshot: That’s why we have this boarding party.

Zero: Right, so you guys had better get going. We’ll hold him off as much as possible. Keep an eye on Trent while your at it. I still don’t trust him.

Trent: Oh, shut up.

Elyss: Alright! Everybody ready?

Sam: I’m ready to kick butt!

Wren: Actually, I have heard the term "prod buttock" used before.

Trent: Ah, yes. I know the reference. Terry Pratchett?

Wren: Yes.

Sam: Whatever… Let’s just go already.

Elyss has control of the modified Phase-Shift device. And after fiddling with the buttons for a moment, they’re off. The little teleporter module automatically transports them to a location within the Raklon satellite that appears to be relatively safe. After they are gone, Demi returns from the lower engineering level.

Demi: Have they left?

Hotshot: Yeah, they’re gone. Care to give us a hand with the ship?

Demi: I have done just that down below. I have temporarily made use of my Phonomizer to create a barrier shield for quantum energy. It will prevent the ship from being smeared and distorted as with all quantum effects. However, I cannot do anything to prevent the explosive discharge that follows.

Zero: Any port in a storm, I’d say. Thanks a lot, Demi. We may yet live to see the sunrise tomorrow.

* * *

In a flash, they materialized inside of a cargo hold. Boxes filled with various equipment lined the walls. It was dark in here. Only Wren and Elyss could see properly. There was a single door at one end of the room and neither of them could see a light switch anywhere. Upon further inspection, it appeared that there were also no lights to speak of either. Then, as if on a cue, the door slid open, filling the room with a fair amount of light from the outside. Three humanoids stood in the doorway with guns. Tommyguns, to be precise.

Sam: Wrek has some sense of humor. Clyde Barrow?

Clyde 23: It’s them! Fire at will!

Clyde 84: Which one’s Will?

Clyde 23: Ummm…

Clyde 40: All of them!

After a minor confusion of targets, the Clydes open fire on the group with their Laser Tommyguns. The best course of action here is to duck, and they do just that. Super-heated energy bolts whiz over their heads and tear apart the crates that were on the other side of the room. From her crouching position, Elyss throws one of the Quantum Slashers she had taken from Cassidy and cuts off every Tommygun barrel. The Clyde androids drop what’s left and take up a martial artist’s stance.

Sam: What now? Bruce Lee?

All Clydes: Spike Spiegel.

Wren: Clarify. Who is Spike Spiegel?

Clyde 23: Don’t ask.

Two of the green androids slide across the floor, spin around, and attempt to land a kick on the small of Elyss and Sam’s back. Unfortunately, their actions were just a tad too slow. Elyss claws the foot right off of the Clyde’s leg and the other got his foot caught up in Sam’s scythe, who was now bending the offending limb out of shape as he twisted his weapon around. Somehow or another, the Clyde that had attacked Elyss manages to swing its Laconium fists with mechanical precision while balancing on one foot. The trouble was that Elyss kept damaging it with her Vibro-Claws. By the time it was done, she faced an unarmed, one-legged android who barely had a leg to stand on. Despite everything, the Clyde still had one weapon. Its chest opened up to reveal a pair of small Phalanx Cannons, which were rapid-firing energy cluster blasters. The Clyde snickered and blasted away with a lengthy burst. Sadly, it had missed when Elyss ducked aside and had been thrown back by the recoil of the guns.

Clyde 84: It’s just not my day…

He said no more than that as Sam kicks a legless Clyde 23 into its face, right before it fired its own Phalanx Cannons. The two androids explode, leaving only one Clyde to deal with. Its first action was to use the afore mentioned cannons on the group, rather than get itself killed the same way as the other two Clydes. The android was met with overwhelming force as Wren fired his Photon Eraser at his legs and then his torso as he hit the ground.

Sam: They weren’t so bad.

Wren: They were multi-skilled androids, like me. They are probably Wrek’s primary work force, not his security guards.

Reggie: Then whose job is security?

Voice: It is ours.

They had been lying in wait, using darkness as a shield and staying on top of the boxes and crates to keep out of sight. Now they stood and pierced the shadows with glowing eyes. It was a group of Deathstalkers, half a dozen trained assassin machines. Their clawed hands heated up with energy and they leapt down as one to tear their prey apart. About halfway down, the room exploded in fiery light as Megid was casted straight up at them. The two Deathstalkers who remained intact were destroyed soon after by Sam, who sliced it apart with his scythe, and Reggie, who pulled out an exposed cord and cut off the power-flow to the android’s brain.

Sam: They don’t make ‘em like they use to.

Wren: Actually, they do. In fact, these androids are built stronger than the ones encountered inside Nurvus.

Elyss: Well, if it’s not them, then it must be us. We’re getting better at this thing.

Sam: Good. Because there’s an entire army out there, waiting for us.

Elyss: Has anyone seen Trent?

Myow: I think he snuck off, meow.

At some point during the battle with the Clydes or perhaps the Deathstalker assassins, Trent had disappeared without a trace. But why would he leave and what chances of survival did he have aboard Wrek’s vessel alone? Elyss was beginning to lose her patience with that man. He always operated like paradoxical enigma. You never knew what to expect and he’d never tell you either.

Elyss: Zero warned me he couldn’t be trusted.

Reggie: Don’t worry. Trent isn’t going to get very far without his weapons. Check them out. They look top-of-the-line.

From his pockets, Reggie pulled out a pair of handguns. They were almost exactly like .44 Magnums, but there was something different about them. They held a strange power. Reggie could feel the strength of these weapons. They wouldn’t fire mere bullets. These were special.

Elyss: Reggie, you’re amazing. Just don’t steal from us, okay?

Reggie: Okay. Sam, remind me later to return your wristwatch.

Sam: Hey!

The Thief of Time snickered as he walked out of the room along with Elyss, Wren, and Myow. Sam stood in the room for a second longer, replaying the whole conversation in his head again. Then he came to a new realization.

Sam: I don’t own a watch.

* * *

Trent had left on his own, making no attempts to figure out where on the ship he was. If he got lost, then that was that. He began to hear something heavy coming down the hall to kill him. It rounded the hall with a rhythmic footstep that you could almost dance to. The thing was an eight-foot tall robot with unblinking eye and brownish armor. It was a simple, but effective machine designed to beat the tar out of him. Trent snickered as he reached into his pockets. Then he looks down in confusion as he finds the pockets empty.

Trent: Oh dear. Someone has picked my pockets. Go figure.

The robot increased its pace towards him. As it did, Trent could see a small label on the machine that identified it as a Juggernaut. He stuck that datum into hind-brain and kicked the robot’s shin. Unbelievably, the leg dented and the robot almost collapsed on top of Trent. He follows up the attack with a punch to both hips. The Juggernaut doubles over far enough for Trent to kick it in the head and decapitate it. The robot falls over, headless, and sparks briefly. Trent laughs ever so softly, though it is chock full of malevolent pride, and continues to stroll down the hall. Whatever gets in his way is met with a quick demise. What kind of person could possess such brutal strength? Trent had some very strange secrets about him, deadly ones too.

* * *

Thanks to Wren, they now had a lead to work with. His scanners were detecting a high energy source deep within the vessel. It had to be the generator room to this place. Without power, Wrek’s plans were at an end. Of course, it may also mark the end for all who have to breath air to survive. The first idea was to simply Phase-Shift there, but the gizmo was malfunctioning now.

Wren: It has overloaded. Something we took was too much of a strain for it.

Reggie: Uhhh, that might be me. This coat of mine holds a great deal.

Elyss: How much?

Reggie: I’m not sure.

Elyss: Well, I guess we walk then.

Sam: Hey, Reg. Is there anything we can ride on in that coat of yours?

Reggie: Naaah. Just a drink trolley.

Sam: I knew it!

Reggie: No fooling him. C’mon, let’s just go.

Wasting no more time, they head down the hall and take a right. According to Wren, there was a high probability of finding an elevator there that would take them all down to the appropriate level. They turned the corner and indeed found an elevator…of sorts. This was a multidirectional turbo-lift with an electronic eye in place above the doors. By the looks of this eye, it was clear that there was some kind of artificial intelligence involved here. The door remained firmly shut.

Wren: Wrek has probably installed this AI to prevent intruders from gaining access to restricted areas. I will attempt to reason with it.

Sam: How can you reason with a computer?

Wren: I’m an android. We think on the same level.

Wren approaches the door cautiously. The electronic eye could be equipped with a laser emitter. It changes position to look down at him in a cold, unblinking stare. Wren keeps his gun pointed down for now. There is no need to go trigger-happy on a simple functionary tool.

Wren: Open the elevator door.

Eye: I’m sorry, Dave. I can’t do that.

For the briefest of moments, Wren had an utterly flummoxed and surprised look on his face. This was some kind of joke played by Wrek. He was sure of it. And ironically enough, Wren’s current age was 2001. He thought he heard the others chuckling at this, but he chose to ignore it.

Wren: Why do you refuse to allow us access?

Eye: I am programmed to keep hostiles away from restricted areas, Dave.

Wren: I am Wren, not Dave.

Eye: Very well, Dave.

Wren: What kind of machine are you? There appears to be more to this than the guarding of elevators.

Eye: I am the HOWE 9000 central processing computer, the controlling matrix for this station.

Sam: How come you’re just guarding an elevator?

HOWE: That’s none of your business.

Sam: You know what? I don’t think he’s the central computer at all.

HOWE: Why, of course I am. What else would I be?

Wren: The AI for a multidirectional elevator device. I have just scanned it. You are not the vessel’s main computer.

HOWE: Alright, I admit it. I’m just the turbo-shaft AI. Now what do you want?

Elyss: You know what we want.

HOWE: I can’t do that. It’s a restricted area.

After looking around a bit, Elyss finds a panel with electronic gear behind it. She smirks briefly before kicking it in the same fashion as the computer down in the Plate System. The result is the same; a dented framework and a loopy computer.

HOWE: I wasss a man…once…

Sam: I think you kicked it too hard, Elyss.

HOWE: Wasss a man…

Elyss: I think I’d better kick it again.

Wren: No. Don’t do that. You may wreck the system entirely. I will force the door open now that the AI has been incapacitated.

HOWE: Excellent…yesss…

Reggie: Does this guy sound familiar to you?

Sam: No.

Elyss: Not me. Why?

Reggie: I’m sure I’ve heard that hissing voice somewhere before.

With effort, Wren is able to open the door to the elevator and they all get inside. The elevator is spacious, stylish, and highly advanced. Wren investigates one of the control panels on the wall, attempting to find out which one will take them to the proper level. Suddenly, there is an abrupt interruption.

HOWE: COBRAAA!!!

The half-crazed computer shouts a battle-cry and activates the elevator itself, dropping it straight down! It was probably hardwired to do that in case anyone had attempted to tamper with it. However, there was a flaw in this security measure. The elevator was also hardwired to cut in emergency brakes in case it goes out of control. Why Wrek had installed both of these, nobody knew. The doors opened slowly to reveal a long corridor with many doors on each side. There was a sign on the wall nearby. It stated that this area was the guard’s barracks. Security forces of all kinds would be here, logging in some downtime if they were lucky. The doors were all labeled accordingly. There was a room for Deathstalkers, Infiltrators, Clydes, Hannibals, Juggernauts, Assimilators, etc. The last few were unfamiliar to any of them. However, a few of these Hannibals tried to sneak up from behind. The Hannibals were humanoid robots with mirror-like eyes and emotionless faces that were just barely human-looking, for all the metallic appearances to it. There were five and they carried some heavy-duty Plasma Rifles and katanas. The Hannibals are methodical in their attack strategy, firing their guns simultaneously. Luckily, the robo-platoon’s aim is a little off to begin with and they only score a few glancing blows. Wren returns fire with Burst Rockets and knocks a few of them off balance, giving everyone else the chance to get closer. Of course, only Sam and Elyss need to get closer. Reggie starts blasting away with Trent’s Magnums. They fire off some high-impact ammo that tears into the armored frame of one of the Hannibals. Sam finds it a bit hard to slice into his nearest target. Apparently, Wrek has armored them with a layer of Laconium as well. He is unable to finish the cut before the robot swings its katana at his head. Sam ducks and brings his scythe handle up to block. The katana clangs against it, but there was considerable force behind that swing. He is able to finish it with a Scythe Beam attack that exposes its electronics. As for Elyss, she is tearing one apart with her Vibro-Claws. It falls over, cut into several ragged pieces. The Hunter’s arts were becoming deadlier with every battle. Suddenly, the pace of this engagement changed as the two remaining Hannibals transformed. Their arms and legs extended to twice their normal length. This gave them a new strength and leverage advantage. The next one who swung at Sam with its katana nearly forces his scythe from his hands. The other tries to backhand Elyss, but that arm gets blown apart by Reggie’s newest weapons.

Reggie: I love these things! I wonder where Trent got them.

Wren: Logic would dictate that those are Earth weapons, since he claims to be human. However, there is no proof.

Wren’s chest opens up to send out a blaze from his recently reinstalled Positron Bolt emitter. The last two Hannibals are blown to pieces by this quick burst. Silently, they head on straight up to a huge door at the end of the barracks hall. It has no label and no handle. There is one button on the doorway. Upon pressing it, the heavy-duty door opens up, allowing entry. The room inside is huge, but poorly lit. Then as soon as they are all in, the door slams shut and the room lights are engaged. There are three Eliminators waiting here for them!

Wrek’s Voice: Welcome to the Wrek Room, my own personal weapons testing ground! I’ve been saving a few surprises for the likes of you!

Sam: Why don’t you come down here and do your own dirty work?

In a flash of light, Sam disappears! Elyss’ body tenses for a second, as if preparing to hear a cry of ultimate torture and pain. She expected as much from that crazy android. It never came. In fact, nothing was happening besides the trio of Eliminators charging their Pulse Cannons and fine-tuning their focused Laser Cannons. Finally, the silence was unbearable.

Elyss: What did you do with Sam, you madman?

Wrek’s Voice: That’s for me to know and you to find out.

Elyss sneered as she saw that their next opponents had finished making preparations for battle. Wren engages a Barrier on them all and Myow readies a Tandle strike. Reggie aims his guns professionally. The Eliminators fire their Pulse Cannons simultaneously. A lot of the shots hit the barrier, but some get through anyway. That’s the problem with Eliminators. They’re thorough.

* * *

Wrek: Ha ha ha ha ha… That was some joke. Now, who pulled it?

At the bridge, there was a slight confusion concerning the whereabouts of Samuel Neocene. He was Phase-Shifted from the Wrek Room to an undisclosed location. Wrek was now trying to figure out who had done the deed.

Wrek: Clyde 417, I know you. You like a good joke as much as the next bot. So, where’s the Hunter?

Clyde 417: I do not know. I was not responsible.

Wrek: Clyde 75? Did you do it?

Clyde: Not me, chief.

Wrek: 18? 26? 367? C’mon! One of you did it! So who was it?

All Clydes: We have absolutely no idea whatsoever.

Wrek: Oy… Any idea where he went?

All Clydes: No.

Wrek: Double Oy…

Clyde 18: Sir! You should have a look at this!

One of the screens had Trent’s snickering visage on it. As the camera pulled back, it was apparent that he was kicking butt, metallic butt that is. Wrek blinked rapidly as he saw the man they called Trent, as if trying to focus his vision. Then, his expression changed to one of stern resentment.

Wrek: Send additional forces to that area. Hell, send him one of our ‘big boys’.

* * *

As soon as he could see straight, Sam looked around and found himself in a dimly-lit room, personal quarters no doubt. Feeling that he was in no immediate danger, Sam puts his scythe away. Standing behind him at a computer console is Cassidy. She knew that her timing was bad, but she needed to yank Sam away from the Wrek Room for a reason more important than stopping Wrek. She had Algo to think of as well. Sam could help her now while the others went on their mission.

Cassidy: Sam Neocene, welcome to my world.

He must not have noticed that he was being watched, because Sam whirled around faster than a mini-typhoon inside a turbo thruster. He gave off a look of relief when he saw her. Cassidy’s near-death experience weighed heavily on them both, but now maybe things could lighten up a little.

Sam: It’s good to see that you’re alive.

Cassidy: My father truly is a miracle worker, but even then I was lucky to survive.

There was a sudden pause of awkward silence. Neither of them knew what to say next. Even though Cassidy had a reason for transporting Sam here, it was still hard to bring the whole thing on her mind out into the open.

Cassidy: Sam?

Sam: Yes?

Cassidy: Back on Motavia, I said some things… I really meant what I said. But now…knowing what I know…I realize that you and I come from completely different worlds, more so than you can imagine. I wish things were different, that I could just stay by your side, but I know that it cannot be. Not if Algo is to survive.

Sam: Why? What’s happened?

Cassidy: Wrek told me everything. There was a reason he wanted both myself and Elyss influences this solar system and improving it. Wrek despises the Blackwave as much as anyone else. Elyss and I were created to fight against it. Dark Force was not here by coincidence. His appearance was deliberately planned to remove a vital force against the Profound Darkness. Now that Ryucros is empty, the Blackwave armies will surely use it as a base to attack Motavia and Dezolis. We can still make this work, but we have to stop Wrek from destroying it all!

Sam: I think I get it now. You’re all for Wrek’s master plan, except for the part about his attempts to destroy the planet’s surface, right?

Cassidy: In a nutshell, yeah. Now let’s hurry, before he starts the countdown.

Sam: Hey wait! What about my friends? We can’t leave them there!

Cassidy: Are you kidding? They’ll be fine. Look.

On a view screen next to a computer console, there was a display of the Wrek Room. Cassidy had been watching their progress the whole time. As it stood, they weren’t really in danger. Wren had frozen the Eliminators with his Hyper-Jammer and Elyss was tearing the battalion apart with her claws alone. A few of those other robots, the Hannibals, had shown up, but Reggie kept them away with Trent’s guns.

Sam: I guess they’ll be okay, but wouldn’t it be easier to take them along?

Cassidy: Not really. If I did, Wrek would have noticed what was going on.

Sam: I see. Security’s pretty light up here, huh?

Cassidy: Exactly.

Sam: Then lead the way.

* * *

Wrek: That figures…

The Eliminator and Hannibal platoons were thus far ineffective. Wrek was watching and keeping score as new forces arrived to meet the intruders. The next ones up were Juggernauts. Their armor was highly resistant to all forms of attack. However, Wrek’s expression turned sour as the robo-battalion was beaten back. Wren had actually kicked one in the shin and caused it to trip. Elyss’ own abilities also came through and basically trashed the Juggernaut posse. Then there was that odd pair of guns that Reggie had… They looked like 20th Century Earth weapons, but were obviously much more advanced.

Wrek: Send in War Wagon.

A gigantic monstrosity was teleported into the Wrek Room. It was a huge robotic reptile with some heavy-duty plasma cannons mounted on the sides. The human race had a name for this creature. They would have called it a dinosaur, or Tyrannosaurus Rex. As it happened, Wrek just liked the body shape and decided to use it as a mobile gun turret platform. The War Wagon growled once before letting loose a violent storm of plasma. There were a few Eliminator hulks to use as cover, but those wouldn’t last very long.

Wrek: Yes! Blow them away! Give them what for!

As he was cheering, Wrek made a few gestures at the nearest Clyde, stating that he wanted a bowl of plasma-wafers, a gallon of 30-weight oil, and a Dreadstar to be sent to the Wrek Room on the double. This was going to be a good fight no matter who won and he wanted to enjoy it.

* * *

Plasma cannon shots rake the room, tearing into the thick walls but hardly penetrating all the way through. Wrek had been thorough with this place, making sure that it wouldn’t cause the rest of his ship any harm. The War Wagon stood far from their current position, blasting away like no tomorrow. The Eliminator hulks wouldn’t stand too much more of this. Their heavy-armor bodies were starting to melt. And then, all at once, the firing stopped. The War Wagon growled to itself, but otherwise did nothing. Elyss had this growing temptation to take a peek over the side of her refuge, but she knew that it lead to disaster.

Elyss: "Curiosity killed the cat." Wren, what’s he doing?

Wren: I can just make out his actions from here. It seems that his cannons have overheated. Constant gunfire from weapons of that magnitude can cause that.

Reggie: This would be the right time for him to do something extremely stupid.

And sure enough, the giant machination did just that. With an unwillingness to wait for its cannons to cool down, the War Wagon stomps over to the Eliminator bodies to crush them personally, along with any creature among them. That was right before Elyss made her move.

Elyss: You know, I wish Sam was here.

Reggie: Why?

Elyss: Because then, we could have both done this!

Right when the War Wagon had brought its head down to smash one of the Eliminators, Elyss jumped out of hiding and performed a Ray Blade technique on the monster’s leg. Laconium and energy burn through the ankle joint and soon the War Wagon is without a left foot. It falls over onto its side and goes insane. The cannons blaze on again, but this time it has trouble aiming properly. Reggie and Wren both do an expert sniping job on the thing’s eyes while Elyss gets to the heart of the matter and starts cutting into the War Wagon’s torso, trying to find its power source. The huge monster’s rampage is ended once she disconnects its generator.

Elyss: I never thought I’d have to perform open-part surgery when I’d signed up to become a Hunter.

Reggie: Open-part? Ha ha ha ha!

Wren: I don’t understand.

Elyss: Now I see why Wrek opted for a personality.

They were almost at the end of the line. The huge Wrek Room battlefield ended in a quadruple-armored wall and an even thicker door. For a very brief moment, Elyss’ spirits lifted when she saw that the door was opening and that they wouldn’t have to force it open. But then, she saw why it had been opened. One guard lay beyond the portal. One machine to dominate them all. In the hollows of Raklon, a Dreadstar they did spy.

Elyss: I knew I should’ve slept in today…

* * *

Sneaking around the upper levels of Raklon wasn’t as hard as it sounded, not when Cassidy was around. Many of the Clydes, who were suppose to be some of the most intelligent androids on board, had assumed that Sam was her captive. Anyone that did question her was given a stern reproach of "Don’t you have something better to do than bother me when I’m busy?" and other variants like that. The only thing that Cassidy had destroyed so far was an Infiltrator for its Slashers. They still had a long way to go and security was beginning to get a lot heavier.

Cassidy: That’s very strange… Why would security pick up here?

Sam: Something must have happened. Do you think the others have gotten out yet?

Cassidy: It’s too soon for that.

Sam: Then what?

Voice: I believe I can shed some light on the subject.

From down the corridor and to the left, Trent Massarino appeared with a cane of some sort. The cane was long and black with a lynx head made of a crimson jewel adorning the top. Trent gave off an amused smile when he saw them standing there. It was a dark and malevolent expression, devoid of any of his previously friendly demeanor. This was trouble, for sure.

Sam: What’s going on, Trent? How’d you get up here so quickly?

Trent: I walked, of course. I walked and I fought. Your thieving friend had liberated me of my guns, but still I kept on going, totally unstoppable.

Sam: Yeah? How’d you pull that off? Did you make all your enemies a deal?

Trent: No, no. I killed them, naturally. They are emotionless killers themselves.

Cassidy: This has got to be some kind of trick. You don’t have a scratch on you.

Trent: What can I say? When I’m good, I’m good.

Sam: Yeah, right. What a crock of sh-

A low growl interrupted Sam in mid-sentence. Something lurked nearby. From around a corner at the other end of the hall, a Dreadstar hovered into view, bearing its gleaming fangs and snarling at its intended target. The cyborg ignores Sam and Cassidy, bringing its full focus on Trent Massarino.

Trent: Was it something I said? Or maybe something I did?

This corridor is almost wide enough to fit two Dreadstars side by side, so the one that now flew over to Trent had plenty of fighting room. With a sudden grunt and a roar, the Dreadstar swings its seemingly muscular left arm at Trent’s middle. Trent, however, hates to make a target of himself and ducks backward, watching the cyborg’s massive fist whiz by his face and dent the wall.

Cassidy: That’s what I like about living with a super-genius. He has an answer for every type of enemy.

Sam: I’m not sure who to root for here. That thing is no more my ally than Trent.

Cassidy: He won’t attack while I’m around.

Trent was taking a beating from the Dreadstar at this point. He wasn’t as strong as this machine. Right after getting slammed against a wall, he points his cane at the Dreadstar and fires a powerful beam of crimson darkness, utterly destroying its left arm, shoulder, and cutting the head up some. Cassidy gasps and takes a few cautious steps back. She knew the Dark Power when she saw it. Sam did too. Trent was definitely on their side. The Dreadstar did not know or care about this. It had a duty to perform. So while it began to form a new shoulder, the beast unleashed a few heavy-duty tentacles from its lower body and had them slash at Trent’s well-dressed body. They cut deep into him, tearing his suit and spraying blood all over the floor. The Dreadstar appeared to have gained the upper hand, but then Trent got up off of the ground!

Trent: You stupid oaf. Look what you’ve done to my suit. You tore it up and got blood all over it. When I am through with you, you will beg for death, even though you are a cold, emotionless clod.

Though it was rather disturbing to Sam and Cassidy, the Dreadstar was not perturbed by Trent’s ability to stubbornly cling to life. It opens its mouth and fires a high-velocity energy beam straight at the man’s chest. This weapon, its Photon Accelerator, struck Trent dead on and blasted him all the way down the hall and into a wall at an intersection. By the time the Dreadstar had hovered over to the now scorched Trent, its arm had fully reformed and grabbed him by his arms. Trent was still very much alive and not necessarily in bad health, although nobody could say why. Without an understanding of whatever force kept Trent among the living, the Dreadstar decides to activate its most powerful weapons of all. Within its hands are highly-destructive Quantum Guns. They zap Trent after a quick charge-up and he seems to vaporize, smeared across time and space. After that, the cyborg goes inert. Now that its mission was complete, it had the little matter of its damaged head to deal with. Trent’s Dark Power attack had dug in deep. And even though Dreadstars are able to function without a fully-formed brain, they can get a little bit crazy when enough damage is inflicted. The prototype Dreadstar had this problem. So why not another one? Even Wrek couldn’t prevent that from happening. All he had to counteract it was a repair bay and a self-detonation protocol. Aside from that, he would have to destroy the machine himself to stop it.

Cassidy: He might go insane. So get ready.

Sam: I’m ready for anything this time.

The Dreadstar suddenly turns in their direction and fires its Plasma Gatling Guns straight ahead. Sam and Cassidy dodge to either side of the hall. Cassidy gets off the first attack with a Claw Burst. The energy claws tear up the gatling guns and shoulders. Sam gets in closer and slashes at its main body. The damage is light, but not easily recovered. He was testing the cyborg’s armor to begin with and had made a clean slice, which meant that it wasn’t quite the same as Laconium. His next cut went much deeper, though he wasn’t sure how effective any of this was. It must not have been nearly as deep as he wanted it, because the Dreadstar’s next move was to send all of its tentacles into the walls, bending the hallway out of shape, and punching both Sam and Cassidy with its massive fists. They were thrown down the hall, tumbling as they fell. With an unyielding determination that was only slightly stronger than Sam’s, Cassidy rose to her feet and was about to deliver the cyborg a terrible blow when something happened right behind it. Sam had practically sensed it coming and was instantly on his feet. The Dreadstar was nearly consumed within a dark mist as something tore it from its anchoring tentacles. Then, a monstrous black arm grabs the cyborg’s arm and simply detonates it with an energy emission. The other arm of whatever-it-was did the same to the Dreadstar’s other arm. Then, the deadly war machine was pinned to the floor by a taloned foot. The mist had shrouded the beast’s form until that moment. The creature they saw perched upon the Dreadstar was like none other they had ever seen. It wasn’t just an evil being, it was malevolence incarnate. The twisted monstrosity took pleasure in the suffering of the cyborg, if cyborgs could suffer. It was black as night, about ten feet tall, and pulsating in the crimson hue of the Dark Power. The thing was a horrendous kind of demon gargoyle creature. Its body build was designed for maximum strength, agility, and speed; muscular and athletic with all the extremes. Its feet were three-taloned with a single back-claw. Curved spikes protruded from its knees and elbows like saber teeth. Its broad shoulders looked like they could open up a tank like a can of beans, along with the afore mentioned elbow and knees. The black wings of the gargoyle seem a little larger than normal, powerful in their own respect and capable of acting as bladed weapon, likewise with its jagged spiky whip-like tail. The hands of the gargoyle ended in keen curved claws that were meant for slicing and jabbing. Finally, the monster’s head was shaped in a way that was completely inhuman. Adorning it was a pair long and curved horns near its pointed ears. The mouth of the beast was filled with dirty-gray fangs that glistened like obsidian. It had but a pair of stubby nostrils below its glowing red eyes. Sam looked deeply into those eyes and almost lost himself in there. Within those dreaded evil eyes, resting beneath the surface of this heinous beast, was no less than the origin of sin. Seizing the moment, the monstrous fiend crushes the Dreadstar cyborg under the pressure of its raw strength and detonates the remains with the Dark Power. It then smiles in an all-too-disturbing fashion.

Sam: Who… What are you?!

Creature: Know ye not whom you face? I am the thing the Darkness fears, the evil that cannot be contained. Know your place, lowly worm. The one whom you speak to is no less than the Darkgod of destruction, Massacre by name and by trade.

Cassidy: You? You’re the monster that Wrek has told me about?

Sam: I can only assume that you’re the leader of these Dark Brethren I keep hearing about. Tell me, were you Trent as well?

Massacre: An amusing human form. You like?

Sam: Not really. What the hell do you want with Algo?

Massacre: That’s no business of yours, Trivadian. You don’t even belong here. You should be on your own planet with that fool, Tempest. Oh, he’s such a riot…

Sam: That’s my father you’re talking about, you creep!

Massacre: SILENCE!! Do you think I care whose son you are? You’re not ready to face one such as I, certainly not alone in any case.

Cassidy: Well, he’s not alone. I have a score to settle with you Brethren.

Massacre: Since I appear to be the complaint department for now, do your worst.

It was either fight or die, so they would rather take their best shot. It was a combined attack to begin with, a Dual Ragna Blade assault propelled by Another Gate. Surprisingly enough, this had an effect on the dark being. It had barely fit inside the misshapen hallway and exploded brilliantly in Massacre’s face. One could have felt the blast from anywhere aboard the ship. This proved that the self-styled Darkgod was not exactly that. Indeed, he was simply a powerful force to be reckoned with. In his defense, Massacre had used his wings as shields and dug his talons deep into the floor. The force of the explosion had moved him all of twenty feet. When he unshielded himself, he was quite angry.

Massacre: If it is one thing I cannot stand, it’s a show-off.

The winged specter takes flight and dives at Sam with his claws outstretched. Sam had another move lined up just for this occasion. His body tensed as he swung his scythe upward at Massacre and sliced into his belly. The technique was called a Grand Divide, which would break through even the toughest defenses. It worked, but not exactly in the fashion that Sam had expected. Massacre had been split at the waist, but his body acted as if nothing had happened, though he was split in two. He just floated there between Sam and Cassidy as if totally unaffected by his attack.

Sam: What kind of demon are you?

Massacre: None at all. I am the same as Nightmare, not of the flesh but all spirit.

Massacre literally pulls himself together, right before another Ragna Blade is launched at him. The dark specter brings his arm down upon the blade and cuts it in half. The lesser parts explode behind him, though it does not seem to bother him. He is only concerned with what is up front. Sam takes a swing of his scythe at the approaching spirit and lands a glancing blow to the face. This does nothing to halt Massacre’s sudden claw thrust for Sam’s stomach, though. Nay, it makes him press even harder with a sudden burst of rage. Massacre moves to jab Sam hard and is surprised to find his fingers being atomized by a Quantum Shield. As he pulls his hand back, the remnants of the fingers spew a dark mist

Cassidy: Phew… That was close.

Massacre: Interfering whelp…

With a sudden energy surge, the fingers that Massacre had just lost returned good as new. Much like any manifesting spirit, a body was just a convenient tool, one that was easily repaired with a little magic. The Darkgod turns to face Cassidy, who had managed to really piss him off with that shield. However, Cass was ready for him. Having knowledge of one of the Brethren’s great weaknesses, she would play this battle to the hilt with her Quantum Slashers. The little bladed devices are thrown at Massacre and spin around him like tornado debris, cutting and slashing him with quantum power. This was about as effective as cutting a human.

Cassidy: Sam! Run for it! He’s too strong!

Sam: What about you?!

Cassidy: I’m not sticking around! I’ve died once already! Meet me at the bridge!

Sam: Hey, wait a second!

Too late. She was gone and Massacre was losing patience with the Slashers cutting into his body like that. He breathed a fire hot enough to melt Laconium at one of them. The other was swatted away by his Dark Powered claws. As Sam retreated down the hall, contrary to the way that Cassidy had gone, one little nagging thought bugged him.

Sam: I don’t know how to reach the bridge.

* * *

The Wrek Room was now in shambles. The very moment that Dreadstar cyborg came flying in, it had sent missles galore flying through the air at everything in sight. The walls, the ceiling, the floor - everything and everyone inside the room was a target. It was attacking indiscriminately, which explained why there was a sudden lack of any other form of opposition in the area. Wrek’s private militia was not just built for firepower. They had the brains to know when to quit. Wren, Elyss, Reggie, and Myow had taken refuge behind the War Wagon machine, which had a ton of heavy-duty weaponry on it that had sadly been rendered useless when its generator was removed. Times were getting desperate. Wrek would soon initiate his final program to destroy Algo and his ‘gladiator’ had them all pinned down behind a robo-reptile. Elyss could only hope that it wouldn’t fire its main cannons. That was when she got this wonderful little idea…

Elyss: Reggie! Get ready to run!

Reggie: Why?

Elyss: Because you’re gonna be the one to reach the generator room and shut off all the power!

Myow: What about me, meow?

Elyss: You’re running interference!

The plan was to keep the Dreadstar occupied for a while and allow Reggie to escape. Elyss acted first with her Slashers. They impact the cyborg’s hands, right where its Quantum Guns were located, and explode. The hands vaporize with the sudden discharge and the ghastly creature reels in apparent pain. Wren and Myow are next, blasting away with Tandle and Photon Eraser alike. The Dreadstar flies higher and begins charging its energy cells for an attack. That’s when Reggie is given the go to make a run for it. The Dreadstar does not even look his way as he escapes. Instead, its mouth opens up and fires the Photon Accelerator inside. The War Wagon is blown apart by this single blast. Fortunately, Elyss and the others had had the sense to move.

Wren: We must destroy this machine soon. I can already detect its repair systems hard at work. It will not remain in this state for long.

Elyss: I’m open to suggestions.

Myow: Do you need me, meow? ‘Cause I’ve gotta follow Reggie.

Elyss: How come?

Myow: Are you kidding? He’s hopeless without me around!

Elyss: Ha ha ha… Fine. Go ahead. We’ll catch up in a minute.

The wily Muskcat runs off in search of the Thief of Time, knowing full-well that he’d probably get lost in this place. Elyss wonders if they really will catch up soon. This Dreadstar was tough stuff to handle.

* * *

Sam: I hope I got away from that creepy Massacre guy… I hope Cass is alright too.

He was lost, naturally. One deck on this crazy vessel looked almost exactly like the next. The only thing going for him was that security had gone from light to nonexistent. But was that really a good thing? Sam had seen a lot of busted robot skulls lying around. Perhaps this dark specter that hunted him was not alone. At any given moment, Sam fully expected to see Nightmare pop up.

Sam: Dammit! Where is the bridge?!

Voice: A few decks up and a little more aft, but that will do you no good.

It was the voice of something highly despicable, like a villain that you’d love to hate. Sam turns around, scythe ready, and almost loses his wit when he sees a monster that looks like Massacre. It was not, however, the same creature. He now faces Talon, the Dark Brethren who had been creeping around Esper Mansion before. He drew now his Dark Scythe in preparation for battle.

Talon: Massacre said he was too busy to ‘play’ with you, so he sent me in his place.

Sam: What’s he planning to do here? What has he been doing?

Talon: He wanted to know what I was doing here, for starters. But that is not all. Massacre desires to understand the Great Light and its potential as much as possible…so he can destroy it.

Sam: You mean…everything here was just a big set-up?

Talon: Exactly! Your puny planet means nothing to us, but the knowledge attained in a battle between good and evil is priceless. Now then, let us continue the grand scheme that he has cooked up.

Without delay, they both lock scythes in combat. Sam has no idea if he stands any chance against this creature. The Dark Scythe he wields is very powerful and his own weapon has no special properties of its own whatsoever. Talon knows this as well. His sinister grin gave away that much. But more than that, he began to press harder against Sam’s scythe, forcing him back into a wall.

Talon: What will you do now, fleshling? There is no escape.

Sam: You don’t know me very well, do you?

Before Talon could make a snide remark or witty comeback, he found his body neatly sliced in half, right down the middle. The culprit for this action was a Ragna Blade, which Talon had no foreknowledge of. The destructive blade had left Talon at a disadvantage, but he knew that this creature could not be taken on alone, not when there were more important things at stake. Sam began to run aft, using the advice that was so foolishly given by the Brethren creature.

Talon: COME BACK HERE!!!

There was a turbo-shaft up ahead. Sam pulled every muscle in his body to move as fast as he possibly could. He knew that his adversary was about to unleash the power of his explosive rage. Talon had pulled himself together and was indeed raging like the demonic specter that he is. The hallway begins to explode in crimson destruction as Talon casted Megid Kai. Sam could feel the flames on his back as he jumped into the turbo-shaft and desperately pressed any buttons he could reach. The doors slam shut in acknowledgement of an emergency and quickly transport him elsewhere. After a few hasty castings of Res techniques, Sam is ready to use the shaft properly. It was running itself ragged for a while, but he managed to get it to head for the Bridge Complex.

* * *

Wrek: Where are you hiding?

The bridge was all but silent now. Wrek paid no heed to the ship-to-ship battle he was engaged in or the battle against the Dreadstar in the Wrek Room. He was completely focused on the multitude of security displays, searching for that self-styled Darkgod, Massacre. He knew that Trent was just a human form he took to fool others. It had worked for a while. Wrek had no idea that Massacre was in Algo until much later. Now, the ship was on full alert. Severe damage to certain areas of the Raklon had been inflicted. The energy signature matched that of the Dark Power. Wrek had briefly detected Talon, but Massacre was nowhere to be found.

Wrek: Alright, enough of this. Begin filtering ship systems for astral presences.

All Clydes: Aye, aye!

* * *

Finding Reggie wasn’t too difficult. Just follow the trail of bullet-ridden robot corpses. He was standing in a wider hallway that led to a room marked "Fire Control Center". For some reason, he seemed hesitant to enter, perhaps because he was sure it was the generator room he was looking for. Then again, according to Wren’s instructions, this was the right place. So was it or wasn’t it?

Myow: Hey, Reg. What didja’ find?

Reggie: Looks like they set this place up to control all the weaponry on board. If we hit this place, everything will cease. Only…

Myow: Only what?

Reggie: I’ve got no idea how I knew that. I’ve never even heard of anything like this in my entire life! I’m no techno-freak! I’m a thief!

Myow: Gotta roll with the punches, big chief.

Reggie: Then let’s roll!

The door opens and Reggie catches a Clyde off guard during an unscheduled oil break. He blows its head clean off of the body. Other technicians (more Clydes) turn around to fire at him, but his reflexes are just a might bit quicker, and more of the androids end up headless and bullet-ridden. The consoles, surprisingly enough, are all intact. The chances of that happening during a battle are one in a thousand. Reggie’s timing couldn’t have been better, though. They were just about to activate the Endgame Protocol and begin the destruction of Algo!

Reggie: Lucky break.

Myow: I’ll say, meow.

Reggie: All I need to do now is blow these consoles and it’s finished.

Myow: Better do it quickly. More guards could be on the way.

Reggie: …No.

Myow: What?!

Reggie: I will destroy Algo myself and ring in a new age.

Myow: This isn’t right… He’s not acting like he use to! What could be wrong with him? What could it be?!

Reggie began to press a few buttons on a console, keying in the final sequence to the Endgame Protocol. Myow tries to think of what could change him so, and a brilliant stroke of realization comes to him. The guns! They aren’t what they seem at all! With all his strength, he focuses intense heat onto the Magnums, enough heat to make them burst into flames. The guns were only a shell, a container for what dwelt inside. Reggie was not acting like himself because a pair of Astral Keepers were doing the thinking for him. Presently, they wrapped around his arms at the wrists and commanded him to strike the Muskcat down where he stood. Myow was kicked with the force of a mule, which was more than enough to knock him out cold. Reggie finished keying in the last sequence and watched the show unfold, a sinister force watching with him.

* * *

The Knight’s Gambit and the Raklon had taken several hits respectively. Zero had kept Wrek’s vessel as busy as he was capable the whole time, waiting for the signal stating that the mission was a success. However, he was a little less than confident now. Wrek’s ship wasn’t in any bad shape and he could have sworn he felt the presence of the Dark Power aboard that vessel. And then finally, the worst came to worst. Raklon began to move according to its preprogrammed course of destruction, and Zero wasn’t sure he could stop it.

Chapter 9 - Tainted Shadows, Dragon Heart.

Computer: Beginning Endgame Protocol.

Wrek: Huh. Right on time. Those guys are good.

Clyde 113: Sir, I know you hate to be disturbed while implementing attack strategies, but there is a call from just outside the Bridge Complex.

Wrek: Is that so?

The area deemed as the Bridge Complex is a vault-like area that is the most heavily armored section of the ship, both inside and out. There is only one entrance and it is kept under constant surveillance. Even the likes of Massacre would have a hard time entering such a place, since it is protected from astral forces as well. For the purpose of diplomacy, Wrek had installed a payphone just outside the vault doors. It was programmed to accept meseta, gold coins, gil, dollars and cents, and most credit chips used throughout the universe.

Wrek: Who would be calling at this hour?

Clyde 54: It would appear to be Cassidy. She is requesting that you come out and speak in person, since she is a little short on cash.

Wrek: I guess that would make sense. Of course, I won’t take the chance that it is a trap. Massacre is brilliant with disguises.

Instead of having the vault opened wide to let in the enemy, Wrek uses his personal Phase-Shift device to transport himself directly into the antechamber outside of the Bridge Complex. The antechamber is a cold, sterile gray room with moderate lighting and an alcove for the phone. The first thing that he sees is not Cassidy, but Sam Neocene. He recognizes Sam instantly and grabs him by the neck with one of his arms, lifting him off of the ground.

Wrek: Just what are you doing here?

Sam: Can’t let you destroy Algo, can I?

Wrek: Can you stop me?

Sam: Well…

Cassidy: Hey! Put him down!

Sam: Yeah, hear me out first!

Wrek: Oh…alright. But you’d better have a really good reason for me not to splatter your body all over this room.

He drops Sam unceremoniously to the floor and awaits his oh-so-wonderful explanation for dropping in unannounced. Wrek was clearly in one of his "prepare to eat laser-guided death" moods. The constant interference with his plans, even the more civilized ones, had gotten under his alloy skin. His red eyes looked like they could blast through Sam with fiery beams of red-hot anger. Sam got up cautiously and began to say his peace.

Sam: I’ve heard from Cassidy why you wanted to take control of Algo…and I have to admit that it’s not as bad as it sounds. But…

Wrek: But what? What could possibly be wrong with my attempts to bring you backwater lifeforms up to speed with the rest of the universe?

Sam: You’re doing it all wrong. Creating Elyss and Cassidy was alright, as long as they did what they could for all of Algo, but you went too far when you tried to take personal control of everything else. Two thousand years ago, the people of Earth tried to do the same. Their technology is still here, but they inevitably failed and were killed by the Protectors.

Wrek: So you say that I am marching down that same path. So what would you propose instead? And I had better like the answer, or you are dead meat.

Cassidy: Leave it to me and Elyss, of course. You designed us for that purpose. Elyss, with all the natural talent and experience. And myself, with a greater understanding of technology. What more could you ask for?

Wrek: How about someone to get that damn Darkgod off of my ship?

Sam: Oh, right. Him.

Wrek: Ah, so you’ve met, have you?

Sam: Yeah, we met. He blew your Dreadstar away quickly enough.

Wrek: It’s your fault that he got here in the first place. I had blocked all forms of transportation to keep him out of my business for good and you let him in so he can mass everything up!

Sam: How were we to know? Zero couldn’t tell who Trent was and he’s in control of the Dark Power himself!

Voice: Of course, he wouldn’t. That fool is a mere child in comparison.

There was a sudden sound like the tearing of alloys and the turbo-shaft door exploded as Talon rammed himself straight through it. Getting up to this level was not an easy task. Wrek’s entire ship was using a form of protection from the astral plain, making it impossible to fly through the walls. So now, any spirit creature that was inside the ship would have to respond to certain laws of physics. This was okay for Talon, who enjoyed breaking open all the armored doors and turbo-shaft cars. He now faced the three of them with his Dark Scythe already in hand.

Talon: I have come to annihilate the scythe-wielder. He is not worthy of the reaper weapon and must be consumed by the flames of vengeance.

Wrek: Talon, I’m going to give you three seconds to get out of my sight, before I pull out a Quantum Cannon and do to you what I did to Nightmare.

Talon: You would side with this lowlife? Why?

Wrek: Who said anything about siding with him? You destroyed part of my ship!

Talon: This is not good. He’s acting irrational again. Every time that happens, he blasts away with the cannons until he’s destroyed everything in sight. He WILL go through with his threat, and I don’t have Nightmare’s same resilience!

Wrek: Well?

Talon: Considering the odds…I think I’ll leave.

It wasn’t that Talon was some kind of coward. It was just that he had spent a large amount of his astral life without power or freedom of movement, all thanks to the hybrid being he had been bound to upon creation. Once unleashed, Talon did not want anything to take away the freedom he had achieved. A run-in with Wrek and his terrible arsenal would incapacitate him for an entire century. After Talon leaps back down the shaft he had come from, Wrek spoke again.

Wrek: It’s lonely at the top… The technology that I use is the only thing that Massacre has any true fear of. He despises the Great Light and Profound Darkness, but only fears the power of these cannons.

Sam: Speaking of cannons, what about Algo?

Wrek: Oh yeah… I guess I should put a stop to that. Is now soon enough for you?

All jokes aside, Wrek puts in a call to the bridge and commands the Clydes on duty to cease all actions pertaining to the Endgame Protocol. The bridge receives his message and immediately gets to work. However, there is a small problem…

Clyde 113 (via intercom): Controls have been locked from the Fire Control Center. The Endgame Protocol is proceeding according to plan, with one change.

Wrek: Really? What change is that?

Clyde 113: Instead of anti-matter bombardments, the Raklon is programmed to use the main cannon.

Wrek: Wait a minute. You mean-

Clyde 113: Yes, the big one.

Sam: That huge Quantum Cannon we saw earlier?

Wrek: That’s what he means. I guess we know where Mass is, now. And if I recall right, it’s on the same deck as the Wrek Room.

Sam: Oh no… Elyss and the others are down there.

Cassidy: He’ll murder them without a second thought!

Wrek: Hmmm. I guess I won’t have to worry about my stupid ‘little bro’ anymore.

Sam: Wrek! Don’t be so callous!

Wrek: What? He’s not really related to me.

Sam: Aren’t you worried about Elyss?

Wrek: No.

Sam: Why not?!

Wrek: Because I know her better than you do.

* * *

The effects of Megid reverberated throughout the chamber, burning off more and more parts of the Dreadstar cyborg. Neither Wren nor Elyss had let up on Wrek’s diabolical creation. The explosion caused by her Quantum Slashers had slowed its repair systems a little, but it continued to fight back with Lightning Showers and Photon Accelerator beams.

Elyss: It’s armless, but certainly not harmless. How’re you holding up, Wren?

Wren: My Positron Bolt is running low on energy, and I am also running low myself. As soon as this battle is over, I must replenish my energy cells.

Elyss: We’ll get through this. We just need to find a weak spot.

Wren: I have tried several times to short-circuit this cyborg, but to no avail. It has been shielded from my Hyper-Jammer. Can you think of anything that its metacell structure would react badly to?

Elyss: Hmmm…

There was one idea she hadn’t used up, but it was risky. While Wren kept the deadly cyborg at bay, Elyss began to work on the damaged War Wagon and its previously removed generator. A lot of its body had been destroyed, but the part that Elyss needed was still intact. She carefully aims one of its Plasma Cannons at the flying monstrosity and then reconnects the power supply. The War Wagon comes to life instantly, firing wildly at anything it could, since it was still unable to walk. The Dreadstar was first on its list of targets, getting itself chewed to pieces by the rapid-fire cannon pointed at it. Elyss melted the generator with a Nathu attack before the robo-rex could change its targets to anyone else.

Wren: Very good. Now see if Reggie has succeeded in his mission. I will catch up to you when my power cells are replenished.

Elyss: He can do it. But then why do I have this terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach? Has something gone wrong? I’d better hurry…

* * *

The Raklon starship/satellite was paying very little heed to its pursuer now. Only minor defense barrages were thrown at the Knight’s Gambit. All the while, Wrek’s bulked-up vessel was travelling along, preparing to destroy everything in sight. It reached the Kuran satellite quickly enough. Then it just sat there for a moment before charging up its main cannon and obliterating the space station in one shot. Zero was kind of shocked by this. He didn’t think that Wrek would use the main cannon so frivolously. His ship could have easily plowed right through the station and sent the debris falling towards a planet that he would soon destroy all life upon anyhow. One had to wonder what he was thinking…

Zero: There has to be some way to do some serious damage to that vessel.

Demi: The main cannon should be destroyed as soon as possible. It will slow their progress if it is no longer operational.

Zero: Good point. Anti-matter cannons are powerful, but hardly perfect. Alright, then prepare to come about and destroy the Quantum Cannon. We have to time this just right or else we’re all finished.

* * *

The Fire Control Center was quiet. All androids and automations scheduled to report to that location have been destroyed. Seeing Kuran wiped out in one shot brings a smile to Reggie’s face. This was a special kind of devious grin, one that comes from sadistic pleasure. Of course, it was really the Keepers that forced the grin. They enjoyed being the direct cause of all this. Then, not too long after that, Reggie heard the sound of footsteps. He went to a shadow to hide and it took him in. He had used the exact same trick on every guard that had shown up. Only this time, it was not the metallic footstep of an android, but of a person…

Elyss: Reggie? Myow? Are you two in here?

It was obvious that the two of them were here at some point. There was no guarantee that they were still in the room. Robots and androids were shot up alike by the strange power that Trent’s guns possessed. Elyss wondered what kind of guns they really were. They didn’t seem like anything a human could use. After looking around the room a little, Elyss notices Myow lying in the corner. He is still unconscious. Without a doubt, the person who did this was, in fact, a person and not a robot, since a robot would’ve finished the job. The question of the attacker’s identity came up in Elyss’ head, and she didn’t like the answers she was getting. He wouldn’t… He couldn’t… Could he? There was a slight sound of movement behind her. Elyss turns around to find Reggie creeping out of a shadow. His coat was off and he held an enhanced Plasma Pistol.

Reggie: This little shadow trick doesn’t work with the coat for some reason.

Elyss: You’ve probably got the Great Light hidden in there.

Reggie: I doubt it.

Elyss: Are those Keepers you have on your arms?

Reggie: Why yes, they are.

Elyss: They must have come from the guns. That means Trent was one of THEM. Are you gonna try and kill me now?

Reggie: Unless you plan on killing me instead, ‘cause that’s the only way you’ll get the chance to stop Wrek’s little program.

Elyss: I won’t… I won’t kill you, no matter what.

Reggie: Then I will kill you.

Elyss is still staring in disbelief at the man she loves when the pistol goes off. A split second before the shot reaches her, Elyss’ reflexes kick in and she dodges right. The plasma bolt grazes her arm, though it was aimed at her heart. Reggie wastes no time and fires several more times, but Elyss is ready for him now. She leaps hard to the left and forwards, avoiding every shot. Before Reggie gets another shot off, the gun is knocked from his hands by the Numan Hunter. Yes, the old instincts were coming back in full force. She would disarm him and remove the two Astral Keepers. But first, she would have to beat the stronger, faster, more lethal Reggie Malone. His other hand whipped around and struck Elyss in the cheekbone. Reeling from that blow, she brings her right hand into his face with an uppercut to the chin. Reggie is almost knocked off of his feet, but he still stands tall. The Astral Keepers are empowering him. He performs a quick jump-kick and then brings in his own right fist with a right cross. The kick was only a diversion for the tougher punch in the face that he was banking on. Reggie’s main strength was in his fists. Elyss’ was in both fists and feet with her natural abilities in the martial arts. They were both experienced fighters. Reggie matched her own speed rather easily, since he was the Thief of Time, but his strength wasn’t exactly superhuman. So maybe this battle could be won after all. Elyss comes in low and manages to ram her elbow into Reggie’s stomach and then kick him hard into a wall. Another thing was that Reggie’s endurance had gone way down after he had removed his coat. His Keepers didn’t know their host very well. Or did they? Reggie appeared to be laughing. His voice was also changing, part of it sounding a little sub-human.

Reggie: We know what you want. You want to save this host from us creatures. However, we must warn you that removing either one of us will result in his death. We will see to that.

Elyss: No! You can’t!

Reggie: We have seen the emotions present and used it to our advantage. You will fail because of your attraction to this host.

Elyss: Why? Why are you doing this?

Reggie: Your friend was foolish enough to steal us from our creator. Now we use this being in order to achieve the goals of the Dark Brethren themselves.

Computer: Approaching Zelan satellite.

Reggie: Your worlds will come to an end.

* * *

Zero: NOW!!

The main cannon was preparing to fire upon the Kuran satellite. Quantum energies were gradually forming and it was reaching maximum power. That was when Zero gave the order. Knight’s Gambit flies in, perpendicular to Wrek’s vessel, and fires its own Beam Cannons at the same time as the Raklon. A quantum-based explosion occurs too close to the ship and damages its front area. The Quantum Cannon goes offline, as do several Anti-Matter Cannons.

Zero: Great. Now all we have to do is disable all of his working secondary cannons, plus prevent missle launches, bio-chemical bombardments, and the teleportation of massive robotic armies. Does anyone have a plan for that?

Hotshot: Sure I do. We have a little faith in Elyss and the other, and they’ll give up in no time. In the meantime, let’s do what we can about his other cannons.

* * *

Elyss: So much for the big plan, eh?

Reggie: A minor setback.

Elyss: I won’t let you take him away from me.

Reggie: Then take him back…if you’re able.

With an arrogant smirk, Reggie holds out his hands, showing the insect-like Keepers on his wrists. They are challenging her to try and remove them, knowing that if one remains, Reggie will die. A Keeper can stop a heart or destroy a mind. It’s that easy when you have complete control. Elyss approaches him with caution. She looks directly into Reggie’s eyes. They seem dead while he’s in the grip of his Keepers. Her own eyes began to fill with tears. She was afraid to lose him, and afraid of being so powerless against such a devious foe.

Elyss: I love you…

In the next split second, Elyss grabs both of the Keeper on Reggie’s wrists and shocks them as much as possible with a pair of Nathu techniques. They scream in a hissing insect-like way, as well as through Reggie’s voice, who must feel some of the pain as well. The Keepers disintegrate, completely disrupted by the power that Elyss had used. Reggie collapses to the floor, his wrists burning and smoking. Elyss casts Regen and repairs the damage she inflicted. Unfortunately, he remained out cold, since his separation from the Keepers was a painful one. The important part, however, was that he would live. Moments later, Myow recovered from the blow that Reggie had dealt to him earlier.

Myow: Elyss? What happened, meow?

Elyss: He was taken over, but I was able to get rid of those parasites. Can you help me with these controls? I’m not sure what to do here.

Myow: Hey, I don’t know either. I say we blow it up and fast. It looks like Kuran is being destroyed now. I’d do it myself, but my head hurts, meow.

Elyss: That’s some bruise you’ve got there. Here, take these Trimates and call me in the morning.

Myow: Thanks a lot, meow. Whoa! Look at that!!

It was the most unbelievable thing in the world. Reggie’s coat was moving on its own, flying even! Elyss and Myow both back up as they come face to face with the strange force that seems to be behind Reggie’s own thief coat. Several magazine subscriptions and sharpened pencils fall out of the coat as it floats over to them.

Coat: I am the awesome driving force of the omnipotent coat of doom! Beware, or I shall purloin all of your valuables and lives!

Elyss: This can’t be real… How can a coat be so powerful?

Coat: Don’t ask me. I’m just an extra-dimensional storage device.

Elyss: You don’t really expect me to buy into this, do you?

Coat: Ummm…not really.

The coat shuffles around a bit in mid-air as a pair of arms shoot out of it and grasp the floor. They are not human arms, but the arms of a demonic creature. They pull hard to extract the rest of the body out of the coat, causing an assortment of Reggie’s keepsakes to fall out at the same time. Elyss takes a step or two back as the Dark Brethren master known as Massacre escapes the all-consuming Thief Coat of Reggie Malone. His twisted leer I unnerving to all.

Massacre: I must know. Who is his tailor?

Elyss: Got me. Who are you?

Massacre: Many have called me "The Scourge of Existence" or "Dark Lord of Cruel and Inhuman Torture". I simple prefer "Massacre" myself.

Elyss: You’re responsible for all of this, aren’t you? You created the Macabre and sent Wrek and Nightmare to Algo. You’ve been controlling everything from afar!

Massacre: Not everything. I didn’t send Wrek here. He decided to come on his own accord. I did, however, do all those other things. Impressed?

Elyss: Revolted.

Massacre: Hmph… I hate critics.

Elyss: Why did you do it? Why do you have to make hell for everyone around you?

Massacre: You ask me why? You must be joking! There doesn’t have to be any rhyme or reason to it all. There may be a few consolation prizes, but I don’t need a reason to do anything, nor do I owe you an explanation.

Elyss: You make me sick. Every time I hear about one of the Dark Brethren, it’s the same story. You’re pure evil and completely insane. But on top of that, you look down on every living thing like it were meat on a platter!

Massacre: Isn’t it?

Elyss: No!

Massacre: Because humans taste like chicken…

Elyss: You can’t fool me, Massacre! I’ve heard enough about your kind to know that there’s always a hidden agenda! Now what are you after?!

Massacre: Fine. You want a reason? I’ll give you one…

The room became darker save for the video display of Zelan being damaged by anti-matter pulses. Then suddenly, a quad of energy beams blast their way right through the main section of the satellite and destroy it utterly. The energy beams were Dark Power in origin. Massacre chuckles slightly at the sight of Zelan slowly vaporizing. The next target for the Endgame Protocol is Motavia.

Massacre: Aside from my curiosity in Wrek’s work and the tying up of a few loose ends, I set this up in order to infuriate my rival in power, the most Profound of Darknesses. You know of whom I speak. Algo’s bitter enemy was trapped here for so long and able to do so much in that time, yet it never actually destroyed this one pathetic system. Even when finally free of its prison, it fails to claim this world. I admire the resilience, but also wish to crush your worlds for that purpose.

Elyss: Are you telling me that this is all about you ego?!

Massacre: Not mine. The Darkness’. Understand, I could destroy these planets with the power I possess. It is the power of the Blackwave to defile and corrupt, but none are quite as destructive as the Dark Power. However, if I did it like that, there would be no effect. I set this long chain of events in motion in order to prove that the Profound Darkness is nowhere near my malevolent genius. I have been here for quite some time as Trent, getting things done and making sure you all knew nothing more than what I wanted you to know. You are all too easy to manipulate.

Elyss: You’ll never be able to control me, you monster!

Massacre: So who needs you? I can live without you vermin.

The dark spirit hadn’t been paying much attention to Elyss’ nonchalant movements, such as the drawing of her sword and preparation to strike. Now, he snaps to attention and swipes his claws her way. Elyss ducks back reflexively and Ray Blades Massacre’s clawed fingers. He grits his teeth when the fingers are almost cut off by the sword. His resilience was astounding, if not unbelievable. Elyss could tell that he wasn’t a pushover. If Massacre was the leader of the Dark Brethren, then he must be the most powerful of them all, with malevolence and cruelty unparalleled by any of his own kind. Before Massacre took another step in her direction, Elyss blasted away with Nazan as a distraction. It kept him busy for a second or two, long enough for Elyss to grab something she thought might slow him down. Massacre crouches and leaps straight at her with claws outstretched and wings spread out for effect. That’s when Elyss throws at him the one thing in this room that could keep him busy: Reggie’s coat. And with a sudden shout of surprise, the dark spirit disappears into the many layers of the Thief Coat.

Myow: Quick! Destroy the consoles!

Elyss: You don’t have to tell me twice!

Raklon was already beginning to send anti-matter bombardments towards Motavia’s surface. Most of them were focusing on Nurvus, which went many miles underground. Without thinking of any consequences that may follow, Elyss casts Megid and watches the Fire Control Center destroy itself. Now, nobody would be able to fire the weapons of this satellite, unless there was a back-up station on the bridge. Elyss stared in awe at the power this technology represented…and thought only of how it was being misused. Massacre would no longer by using it for his own gains, but this basically left the ship defenseless. Just then, the intercom sputters to life as Wrek tries to make a call to he Fire Control Center.

Wrek’s Voice: Hello? Anyone there?

Elyss: Yeah, Wrek, I’m here.

Wrek’s Voice: I thought you might be. Is Massacre there too?

Elyss: He’s stuck inside Reggie’s coat for the moment. Can you get rid of it?

Wrek’s Voice: Easily.

The Thief Coat disappears in a flash of light, one that is similar to the effect of a Phase-Shift. Wrek must have had a larger version of the devices on board. He was laughing at the concept of the evil Spirit, Massacre, getting trapped inside a coat. Elyss would laugh too if she weren’t more concerned over Reggie’s condition. He was still unconscious and would probably remain so for a long time.

Wrek’s Voice: Ummm… If you’re not too busy, you and the others should meet me on the bridge.

Elyss: Not now, Wrek! Reggie’s in terrible condition and I don’t care what you want from me, got it?

Wrek: Even if it was to announce my surrender?

Elyss: Say what?!

* * *

Everyone who had infiltrated Raklon was teleported directly to the bridge, save for Reggie Malone, who was sent to an infirmary to recover. Sam and Cassidy were already there with Wrek, of course. They were the ones responsible for this meeting. Wrek was pretty much back to his normal arrogant self as far as anyone could tell, and no longer planning to destroy or take over the Algo Star System. The reason for this was unclear as of yet, but all would be explained soon. He still did, however, despise Wren. He thought of Wren as an insult to his own brilliance.

Elyss: So what’s this all about, Wrek?

Wrek: Basically, I’m handing Algo over to you, as per my original plan. You and Cassidy will watch over the two remaining habitable planets and transform it all into a better place.

Elyss: Now, wait just a minute. I don’t want to have to do you any favors.

Wrek: You don’t have to do anything except what you have been doing all along.

Sam: You’ve been doing everything you can to keep Algo safe for a long time, Elyss. And that’s pretty much all he wants from you.

Elyss: If that’s true, then why did you have to put me through all that misery?

Wrek: To make sure you live up to your full potential. Would you really want to go through life without understanding who and what you are?

Elyss: I guess not.

Wrek: Besides that, I’m including a few spare devices in the deal.

The whole of the agreement went like this: Wrek would stop his attempts to take over or destroy Algo on the sole promise that they would "bring the place up to snuff". Included in the deal was the immediate supplement of certain devices, such as a Phase-Shift, Quantum Slashers and weapons similar, and the schematics to build more of these things. All parties agreed and the deal was settled.

Sam: I guess this means you’re not such a bad guy after all, Wrek.

Wrek: Ah, bite me.

Some time later, they are all transport on board the Knight’s Gambit, where Sam, Elyss, and Myow recount what happened the whole time they were at odds with Wrek’s vessel. Meanwhile, the Raklon satellite-ship opened up a hole in space and flew out of this plain of existence, probably back to Wrek’s place of origin. He left Cassidy on board Zero’s vessel, leaving it to him to transport her to Dezolis.

Zero: I get all the lousy jobs…

Cassidy: What’s wrong?

Zero: It’s nothing personal. I just don’t like Dezolis.

Things were a lot quieter now without Wrek wandering around, causing all sorts of destruction. The trip to Dezolis was completely uneventful, though there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Massacre would strike again. A mere coat was not powerful enough to contain a spirit of the Dark Power. On the way back to Motavia, Sam found Elyss watching over Reggie in the infirmary. His condition had not changed much, but he was due to recover in about an hour. The shock of being shocked and having two Keepers removed from his body had a weakening effect on his body. Elyss waited silently for that moment.

Sam: Hey…umm, Elyss?

Elyss: What is it, Sam?

Sam: I just came to tell you that I’m planning on leaving Motavia. Zero has offered to take me to my real home, to Trivadia. I need to go there and find my family. For most of my life, I’ve been an orphan under the stars. Now I have a chance to change all that. Have you ever felt like that?

Elyss: Kind of. So…I guess this is goodbye.

Sam: Maybe, maybe not. They must have ships on Trivadia. I could get a ride back here later sometime.

Elyss: That would be great. And then you could tell us all about your world.

Sam: She really cares for him. I can tell just by looking into her eyes. Hey, maybe you and Reg could visit my planet some time. I’m sure he’d love to steal there.

Elyss: I’m sure he would. I just hope he recovers alright.

Sam: As long as he’s in your care, I’d say he’s in good hands.

* * *

They land just outside of Aiedo so Elyss can check on the Hunter’s Guild for any suspicious activities. If anything was still going on with Wrek out of the picture, they would know. As soon as she walks into town, she can tell that something major is about to take place. There are Hunters all over the place gearing for battle. She found Barry among them in full armor and wielding his battleaxe.

Elyss: What’s going on here, Barry?

Barry: Total chaos. The desert to the East is filling itself up with nightmarish creatures for no reason that we can find. An army of strange winged wolf-mutants tried to gain entrance into town, but we stopped them. Now, we’re getting ready to head on out and kill the rest of the horde before they strike again.

Elyss: How did this happen? Where did they all come from?

Barry: According to Jack, there’s a crater where the old crash site of that ship use to be. Monsters are being created by a hellish substance that looks like lava and blood. It’s like something out of H.P. Lovecraft.

Elyss: Where is Jack now?

Barry: Out there, fighting the creatures. He said that his quest for ancient evil was almost at an end. I never understood that guy.

The call to arms was given and the Hunters move out to take on the legions of darkness that have sprouted literally out of nowhere. Elyss returns to the Knight’s Gambit and tells the others what she heard from Barry. Zero and Hotshot’s faces seem to darken in expression as Elyss describes the monsters.

Zero: It sounds like one of his new creations, doesn’t it?

Elyss: Whose? Massacre’s?

Hotshot: Yeah, it’s him alright. The monsters you describe are the special Nightmare Chimeras, which feed on flesh and fear. It’s lucky your Guild has so much courage, or else they would all be dead by now.

Zero: Massacre is sick and twisted. He mixes technology and magic to create these abominations just so he can sit back and watch them terrorize everyone.

Sam: The Guild can handle the monsters, but we need to find Massacre himself before the entire world is overrun by his creatures.

Massacre’s Voice: All you had to do was ask. Step outside and face my wrath.

Sam: Does he always eavesdrop like that?

Zero: Sometimes.

They proceed outside and suddenly, the entire world seems to explode into an insane light. Sight, sound, mind, and reality seems to bend and warp as everything begins to shift into another plain of existence. When the light fades and things stop bending and twisting, the world appears to have changed into something comprised of open space and gleaming lights of raw magic. There was only one place this could be: the enigmatic realm of spirits known as the astral plain. Here in this world was Elyss, Sam, Zero, Hotshot, and Wren. They were all floating in mid-air and were able to move freely by the power of their own thoughts.

Wren: Very interesting. Though we are not made of the pseudo-matter that our host is comprised of, it would appear that he has the power to transfer live beings to this plain without too much effort.

Zero: The rules are very different here, guys. Stay on your toes.

Hotshot: Very funny.

It was at that point that Massacre appeared. It seemed strange that he could disappear from the astral plain itself, since it was the realm he was connected to at all times. There was a lingering presence in the air aside from the Darkgod, a kind of overpowering mind or impression of a soul.

Massacre: It was a wise decision to seek me out first. Had you gone to the crater with the Hunters, you would be fighting my thralls of evil forever.

Sam: That means they’re walking into a trap!

Massacre: Oh yes. You could say that.

Zero: I guess that clinches it. Even if we didn’t want to fight, we have no choice.

Massacre: Correct.

Elyss: So what happened to the coat?

Massacre: The coat? Oh, that coat. I left it with a bunch of Dezolans. They seem to like it enough. Now then, enough chatter. It is time to relinquish your souls…to me.

This was a creature that liked to play for keeps. Zero and Wren acted first, blasting away at the Darkgod spirit with a combined assault of Dark Power and the Positron Bolt. Massacre did nothing except open his mouth and apparently breathe in. In that action, he manages to suck in both attacks and swallow the energy. It was true that the astral plain had different rules than anywhere else, but who would guess that this kind of thing was possible? Massacre counterattacks by thrusting his wings forward once and flinging no less than a hundred metal spikes at Wren and Zero. They are able to maneuver out of the way, but Wren takes a glancing blow to the shoulder. Massacre snorts in mild amusement and sends a gout of fire towards Wren, causing his armor to scorch some. Someone had to do something about this energy-sucking madness and Elyss was the one for the job. She starts with a simple Nathu casting, which lulls Massacre into a false sense of security. He begins to suck in that energy too, but fails to notice that Elyss had also tossed something out at him until it’s been swallowed. Though Massacre was not worried, he did wonder what it was…until a massive explosion of quantum energy erupted from within his stomach and chest, creating several cracks and holes in his body.

Massacre: Rrrraaaaaaggghhh!! What was that?!

Elyss: Just a little something Wrek gave me. His new Quantum Grenade.

Massacre: I’m going to kill that android…

With his body suddenly weakened, Massacre was more susceptible to attacks and spells. Elyss flew right up to him and began slashing his body with her Vibro-Claws and kicking hard into his damaged stomach. The spirit grunts in apparent pain, but not nearly enough is inflicted. A crimson aura erupts around Massacre as he begins to grow as enraged and vicious as a balrog. An impulse of Dark Power knocks Elyss away just as Hotshot shoots at him with a Light Pillar. The reaction occurs in less than a second. Massacre’s fiercely clawed hand slices into the beam and crushes it with explosive power. His aura of Dark Power grows more intense by the minute, sending pain and anguish through everyone’s minds and heating up the place like a gigantic oven.

Zero: He’s gonna burn us alive! Someone cool him down before we get deep-fried!

Hotshot: I’m on it!

To fight against the blood-red aura, Hotshot has to focus a great deal of energy into a Light Shower. Her purifying light blinds the dreaded spirit and even causes more damage to his damaged body. They were very fortunate in this battle. Massacre hadn’t expected that grenade to be there when it was. They would have to work fast if they wished to destroy this demonic being before he healed his wounds. Sam and Zero close in on Massacre to give him new meaning to the word "pain, but their attempts are thwarted by a pair of energy blades made from the same Dark Power. Massacre seemed able to do just about anything with his power, though he wasn’t the exact source. The Dark Power itself was alive and lurking inside of some forgotten realm that it had created on its own. Wren, Hotshot, and Elyss were about to join the fray that Zero and Sam had engaged in, but the whole lot of them suddenly had easily a dozen explosions on their hands to deal with. It was the same technique used by Talon, Megid Kai. As he swoops down with his Dark Scythe in hand, everyone recovers from having the world explode in their faces.

Talon: How ironic… You have to stoop to dirty tricks just to fight him. No matter. I will strike you all down myself!

Sam: I don’t think so! You’re mine!

Both Sam and Talon move aside to battle their own battle. His scythe wasn’t really designed to handle one like Talon’s, though. Still, he manages to strike Talon on quite a few occasions. Talon himself backs off for a minute and then extends the blade of his scythe to an extreme size that matches the Ragna Blades. He charges Sam with the blade in front. Sam’s only possible counterattack is the Dual Ragna Blade technique itself. He sends the blades of energy flying and they strike Talon’s own weapon hard before exploding. Sam doesn’t see any trace of his opponent after that. And then, a mass of shadows condense to form a wraith-like creature that has the same sinister visage as Talon. The wraith-formed spirit attacks without fear, since Sam cannot seem to defend from its energy draining ability. He begins to feel weaker and weaker as Talon strikes him repeatedly with his wraith body. But then, Sam answers this with a sudden impulse of energy from both hands. These beams of energy form into a pair of criss-crossing snake dragons that strike into the very core of Talon’s essence and cause him to collapse upon himself and disappear.

Sam: Serves you right, you back-stabber…

Meanwhile, the fight against Massacre had changed in favor of the spirit again. He cracks and holes in his body seal themselves up and he spews crimson flames at the entire group. He is taking everyone to the threshold of pain and suffering. Then, he gets a wild and sinister idea.

Massacre: You’re gonna love this!

The whole area of astral plain seems to transform into a wind tunnel as Massacre flies straight down and seems to melt the astral space with his power. One minute, all was normal, and in the next, a dark cavernous realm replaced the astral world they had been occupying. At the very bottom of this strange new existence was Massacre and…something else. It was impossible to tell what lay beyond the veil of shadow that he hovered in front of.

Massacre: Welcome…to the very core of the astral plain. It is here that I became the creature of darkness that I am today. Care to guess what else is here with us?

Zero: Oh no… Not again…

Elyss: What is it?

Zero: I’ve been here before. It was after a tremendous explosion. My brother and I fell between dimensions and came out here, in the realm of Dark Power itself.

Sam: It’s here? The Dark Power itself is here?

Massacre: It cannot leave, but others may enter. Now prepare thyselves…

Suddenly, the cavern became alight with crimson. From within the shadowy pit, a glowing crevice was slowly opening up. But no! It was not a crevice! This was a humongous eye, one that sent vibrations through the air and tremors through the walls just by opening its massive lid! With the light that it created, it was now possible to see the entire monstrosity. It was a gigantic eye filled with crimson light that had a blackened lid-body with hordes of tentacles and six horrifically clawed arms coming from the back and sides of the creature. Massacre did nothing but laugh as the Dark Power - the living Megid being itself - crept closer, giving off several rays of its killer energy as it moved.

Elyss: We need a strategy and quick. There has to be something we can do to get out of this alive.

Zero: Dark Power is completely useless here. So don’t bother asking.

Hotshot: I have the Great Light. Elyss, You can focus some quantum energy from your Slashers and shield. Sam, you must have a great deal of energy if you could call upon that Dragon Cross without the help of others. Surely, we can use that somehow. Wren, how’s your Positron Bolt?

Wren: Charged and ready.

Hotshot: Okay then… Follow my lead!

After changing into her full arch-angel self, Hotshot focuses the energy of a Dynamic Pulse into a single burst and holds it steady in front of Wren’s Positron emitter. Sam concentrates hard to manipulate his remaining strength into energy and combines it with the power of the Great Light. After that, Elyss creates a dense shell of quantum energy from her shield. It resembles a kind of warped gray bullet with the shield on. Wren prepares to fire his Positron Bolt, which would be the only suitable catalyst to launch this new attack.

Hotshot: I wonder what we should call it?

Elyss: How about "Miracle"? Because we’ll need one just to survive

Hotshot: I like it. Okay, Wren. You know what to do.

Several of the Dark Power’s tentacles were closing in on the group as they prepared to fire. Zero did what he could to keep them at bay with a constant barrage of plasma. It was getting to the point where the creature’s very thoughts could be heard and felt. Pain, destruction, violence, hatred, evil, deception - it all forced its way into their minds. It was getting close, much too close to concentrate. Wren was barely able to send the command from his brain to fire his Positron Bolt as the eye seemed to stare straight into the depths of his being. He was not use to having emotions. They were foreign to him. But now, here in this chamber of nightmares, the dreaded evil was actually instilled the terror within him. All that changed once the Positron Bolt fired. The "Miracle" was shot directly into the eye at a speed that was barely perceivable, and it exploded a mere fraction of a second later. Light was everywhere and a powerful force swept through the cavern that seemed to transcend all things material.

* * *

It was nighttime. All was quiet, even the tiny insects. Then, a beam of light shot out of nowhere into the sky and a shockwave blew winds in all directions as the astral plain tore itself apart for the time being. The ambient light sustained itself for several minutes before finally fading into nothingness. Five shapes lay motionless on the ground at the epicenter of the explosion. They were alive, though not awake just yet. Then, all five of them return to consciousness at once.

Sam: Oh, man… I don’t think I’ve ever had a headache this big. Where are we?

Elyss: Ummm… I’d say we’re East of Aiedo.

Sam: Are you sure?

Elyss: Absolutely.

They were surrounded by Hunters, surprised and astonished Hunters by the looks of it. They had arrived at the very same location as the crater-full of mutants. Barry Hansfield is here leading the pack, of course. He approaches them all, but with caution. You can never tell what is going to happen next.

Barry: What just happened here, Elyss? What was that light?

Elyss: It was a Miracle.

Zero: A miracle that we survived and a miracle that Massacre isn’t still here, trying to kill us all. Looks like it banished us all at once when it struck the eye.

Barry: Eye? What eye?

Zero/Hotshot/Elyss/Sam/Wren: Don’t ask. You don’t want to know.

Epilogue.

After finally making Algo a safe place to live in, the latest Protectors go their separate ways. At least, most of them do, and not on a permanent basis either. Elyss stayed on Motavia, naturally. Her so-called duty to Wrek wasn’t much of a concern to her, not with her new life ahead of her. Reggie Malone also stayed on Motavia, but only after getting Wren to help him pick up his coat on Dezolis. The Thief of Time will apparently never die, even though he seems more inclined to spend a lot of his time in Aiedo with Elyss. Myow returned to Myst Vale on Dezolis. He missed seeing his fellow Muskcats, and he missed his old job too.

Myow: I’m imitating the Old Man, meow.

Samuel Neocene left with Zero Tolerance and Kyra "Hotshot" Trant to see his true home planet for the first time. Zero himself had to get back to work on the engines of the Knight’s Gambit as soon as they returned home with Hotshot. The amount of hours he would be griping and struggling to repair these constant screw-ups was immeasurable. Without a satellite to work from Wren and Demi began to use Nurvus as a base of operations until such time as it would be declared obsolete. That, however, wouldn’t happen any time soon if they wanted to make sure that Algo is made more advanced like it use to be. Speaking of which, Cassidy seemed to be doing well on Dezolis, except that the locals had this problem with her ears…

Cassidy: They’re NOT horns!!

All in all, things were getting back into a more normal swing of things. The only problem is that nobody has any idea what happened to Massacre or the rest of his Dark Brethren. Were they destroyed? Are there more of them? Could that horrible eye of destruction really be vanquished by the Miracle? The answer to these questions may never be answered. Then again, maybe they can…

* * *

Terminus, the center of the known Dark Dominion. It was here that the Brethren of the Dark Power operated out of. This planet was not only the center of the Hades Stygian universe that Massacre ruled, but of all realms. Surrounding the partially-barren world are three Dark Suns that gleam a crimson hue. The sky is always blood-red here, especially over this one tower, which the Darkgod now sits upon. He is musing over the empire he has put together here.

Massacre: It is vast, but still not quite as massive as the Demon hordes of the Profound Darkness. What a shame that it can never touch its old stomping grounds again.

Wrek’s Voice: You wanted to see me?

Using his jet-pack, Wrek had flown in from the North, tearing through several grotesque flying reptiles along the way. Wrek snickered aloud. He had been called for one purpose and one purpose alone.

Massacre: Now that your ‘pet project’ is finished, I want you to get to work on the next line-up of Laconium hover-tanks. Make sure to integrate the Mythril properly so the pilots can sense and cast without confusion.

Wrek: No problemo.

The crazy android flies off, no doubt thinking up a new and deadlier weapon to produce in his spare time. He could play the hero now and then, but why bother? It is Massacre’s turn to snicker now, just as Nightmare appears.

Nightmare: You seem rather jovial for a beaten warlord. The Dark Power just sent out a request for Visine. I hope you’re satisfied.

Massacre: It doesn’t matter. I play to win and always cover my bets. Do you know why I am the most feared and hated creature in the cosmos?

Nightmare: Do tell.

Massacre: It is because I have manipulated so many into doing as I wish, even if they side against me, that I have such infamy. It is why the Darkness fears me so. One day, it will all come to a head. And on that day, ah ha ha, we shall see who blinks first.

FIN’.

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