View Full Version : Light and Dark: A Conflicted Soul, Currently: Completed
At long last, I completed the first part of my plannedly looooong fanfiction detailing who Kupi is and where's come from and where he's going. I can't really say much more about it... I'll let the rest of the post tell the story! ^_^
They had called it planet Coral. Not that many people called it that in any time frame we're concerned with right now; at this point they called it "a pile of dust floating in space." This planet had been destroyed to practically nothing, though fair warning was given in the form of dying plants, dehydrated land, rampant monsters, and more. Nobody was beyond these warnings, not even a small, innocuous village on a peninsula far removed from common trade circles and politics. It was a city unto itself, self-sufficient and rooted in a religion that seemed to be dying with the planet itself.
The city was of moderate size, and largely residential or farmland, though very little could be wrested from the dying ground. Most prominent in the city of Auris was the governor Paretae's mansion, a building that towered above the rest and spoke of hope amid desolation. Their religion oft demanded peace from them, but the people of this city weren't stupid; any town lacking walls and defenses was a sitting target for monster and human attack alike. Its inhabitants, as everything on Coral, were affected by the planet's throes of death, themselves barely carrying on from one day to the next. There was, however, an exception in their midst.
He was short, very short for his age of 18 years. Somehow, amid all the death and desolation surrounding him, he had been blessed with a hopelessly optimistic personality that refused to be brought down. At the moment he was walking to his home where he and his brothers lived with a bag of meat, the only food he'd managed to purchase. The brothers lived alone, having lost their father to monsters and their mother to disease. He and his brothers had all been born three years apart, with the eldest 24 and the most youthful 15. His hair, a bright orange, fell down nearly to his waist. This was not a great distance, however; the boy was rather short, and with his unblemished face he was often taken for being far younger than he truly was or, worse yet, as being of the opposite gender. Those who suggested the latter often got a kick in the shins.
The boy's name was Kupi.
Presently Kupi opened the door to his home and yelled, "I'm back! What's up?" The first to notice was a man reclining on a sofa near the back of the room on the opposite side from the house's entrance. He had spiked black hair and wore a robe of matching hue, with a red dragon embroidered onto the front. His face displayed emotions utterly opposite that of Kupi's; if anyone was fit to live on a dying planet, this man would be it. Perhaps a few of these emotions stemmed from a significant difference of anatomy compared to humans; the man had pointed, elfish ears protruding conspicuously from the side of his head rather than normal ones, and such an anomaly would certainly attract suspicious attention, the kind that could annoy one to no end when one had to tolerate it for 21 years.
"The stench of death hangs over us all," he spat.
"Ah, you say that every day, Kupe," answered Kupi knowingly, heading for the kitchen. "I got the meat, but not much. And monster meat, at that. Sorry, Kupu..." he said to the boy that was there after he arrived.
"That's okay, Kupi," Kupu answered. "I'm glad you managed to get any. And we probably ought to only eat half what we usually do at that; we don't know when there'll be more. Man..." At this, the teenager dropped off. Such lapses were common to Kupu. Whereas the rest of the family barring Kupi had been born before Coral began to show signs of its collapse, Kupu had been raised to be used to it. Kupi had his odd personality to keep him afloat; Kupu had to develop a hardened shell of sanity to survive. He was always planning ahead, ready for anything. Perhaps it was for that reason that the 15-year-old served as an intern at the city's walls of defense, helping to avert monster attacks before they started by sniping encroaching beasts before they got too close.
Kupi was just about to return to his own room and was actually halfway down the hall before the front door of the house burst open and slammed against the wall, so great was the haste behind its opening. The one who had burst in was the last of the brothers, and the eldest at 24 years. In the absence of a father, the job of supporting the family had fallen on his shoulders, which had adapted to the task. In his muscular arms he held a scythe, an heirloom from his father. It served two purposes; primarily to harvest the meager crops that Coral yielded, but it also performed well in combat when the need for meat drove the city's people to hunting and eating monsters.
"What's up, Kupae?" asked Kupi, who had crossed the gap immediately upon hearing the door bang. Kupe remained fixed disinterestedly on the couch, and Kupu seemed to care more for the door's well-being than Kupae's.
The scythe-wielder panted, the sweat of a run running off of his brow. His message was imperative enough, however, to cause him to gasp it out before his breath returned. "Monsters!"
Kupu ceased examining the hole in the wall that the doorknob had created. When Kupae said "monsters," it didn't mean two or three. It took far more than that to unnerve this warrior. "How many?" Kupu asked, spending only as many words and as much time as he needed to.
Things moved quickly from there. Both Kupu and Kupae rushed for their respective rooms and grabbed whatever gear they owned. Kupu was the first to leave the house, bearing solely a large rifle. Kupae took more time to gird his loins for battle, requiring armor, a helmet, and a few secondary weapons. He was, of course, captain of Auris's defense. Only after both of the combatative brothers had left did Kupe rise from his seat, striding coldly out the door. This left Kupi alone, which unnerved the boy. After several seconds of this, he couldn't stand it any longer and bolted to find one of his brothers.
Kupe, seemingly, had disappeared. Kupu was stationed at the wall, beyond Kupi's reach of authority. Kupae was talking to his subordinates, but Kupi could at least wait on the outskirts of the increasingly large crowd of citizens ready to defend a failing way of life. They wielded pickaxes, pitchforks, and reaping scythes. Hardly the weaponry of a mighty or conquering army, but they didn't have anything better, for resources or time. Kupi could hear Kupae shouting orders to everyone, apparently finishing up.
"Look for the biggest monsters and attack them first. Form groups; take them down as a team. They're big and they've got the superior numbers but you all remember the War of Shades, right?" This was followed by a roar of approval. The War of Shades was a legend passed down through the generations of Auris regarding a similar assault that had once befallen their city. By now it was largely fictional but inspiring nonetheless. Once the din had died down, Kupae shouted a general order. "Everyone spread out and face the wall on the monsters' side. We want to surprise as many as we can!"
The people obeyed save one, which was Kupi. He made a beeline for Kupae, who had positioned himself near the center of the plaza that the impromptu battle council had taken place in. "How can I help?" Kupi asked.
"Stay out of it, Kupi," Kupae answered bluntly. "You're going to get yourself hurt if you try to fight."
"But...! I can do some healing, and--"
"No. Kupi, everyone's fighting to save their homes and their families. It's a matter of providing for the people they love, and that's my role." With that, the elder brother was quiet. There was something was on Kupae's mind. Kupi could tell by the way Kupae was so resolutely focused on the task of staying focused, gripping his scythe tightly and staring a hole in the city gates.
"...Kupae?" Kupi prodded.
"Find somewhere to hide, Kupi," Kupae ordered. "And good luck."
It appeared as though the debate was, for the time, settled. Though likely due to Kupae's forceful tone and position of power over Kupi, it was equally likely that it was the way that Kupae charged off to the front of the town.
Just prior, the town snipers were doing their job dutifully, taking potshots at each and every monster they could get within their sights. One intimidating insectoid creature collapsed in its tracks as a photonic shot blazed through its neck. The creature downed was so large that its fall took a few lesser monsters with it.
"Good shot, Kupu," said one of the boys fellow guardsmen. After a brief "thanks," Kupu returned to his work. With the skill and reflex of a hardened mind, Kupu nailed the three skittering horrors that had managed to survive getting fallen on. If they could keep this barrage up, they might just save the city before it needed saving...
The Captain of the wall defense peered out into the putrid throng with binoculars, scanning for targets to order the men to focus on. In the worst possible scenario, he wanted to have as few of the big ones get to the city. The Captain's mind wandered as his vision panned back and forth across the field. Why were all these monsters attacking at once? It felt like their city had been singled out as a threat. What had they done to deserve this plague, and this single-minded bum rush?
Then he spotted It.
A chill ran down the Captain's spine as he realized what was to happen next. He slowly dropped the binoculars, which hit the stone floor of the guard tower with a clack. Silently, the Captain prayed that at least his soul would be saved.
It let out a scream.
The entire wall exploded in a giant string of fireballs, leaving nothing but some charred rubble behind when the smoke had cleared.
That was why, at this moment, Kupae was heading for the remains of the wall. The monsters would be coming over soon, and he had to be there to defend Auris. With determination born of shock, Kupae forced his body into motion, leaving Kupi confused. Kupae had far better reflexes than Kupi did, and Kupi's mind hadn't fully processed the fact that the city's defenses were down and everyone that was on the wall, including his brother Kupu, was dead.
"Come, Kupi," said a voice behind him, before the body connected to the voice grabbed him by the shoulder. It was Kupe. "Things are going to move quickly. We must go to the governor's mansion."
With no coherent thought running through his mind, Kupi allowed himself to be guided.
"What?" he managed at last.
"Kupu is dead. Kupae will soon die, as will I and everyone else. Death hangs over us all," Kupe said with the stony absence of emotion that only a prophet of death can manage. That jarred Kupi's mind back into motion.
"N--... No! That's not possible!" he shouted. "We've gotta do something!" What that happened to be, or what exactly he actually *could* do in this situation entirely escaped Kupi. But the will to action was there, at least. To this, Kupe simply sneered and kept his regular, disdainful pace.
Open warfare had erupted at the city's front half. People were jabbing, stomping, smashing all manner of repulsive beasts, and the monsters were just as easily returning the favor. Kupae circled behind a large, mantislike being that had crossed the pile of rubble while a few townspeople kept it distracted. In a single motion, Kupi leapt onto to the mantis' back and took off half of its body with a single swipe of his scythe, resulting in one dead bug and a lot of green blood. Jumping off, Kupae glanced at the four people currently under his command, scanned for another bug, found one, and then pointed at it, yelling, "That one! Go!"
The four people went. Kupae, however, felt a sudden presence that demanded his attention. Looking over the mound of wall remains, Kupae saw It float over. From where the feeling came, he didn't know, but Kupae was overwhelmed with the will to destroy It. Everything else disappeared from his perceptions expect It and him. Kupae let out a thunderous war cry before pounding towards It. He gripped the scythe by its very end, preparing to cut It with every bit of leverage he could muster...
Every bone in his body snapped in two. Instantly his grip released, with no conscious function behind it. Kupae's dead body fell, driven forward by the previous mortal energy put into it. It hadn't even looked at him.
Kupe and Kupi had reached Paretae's mansion. The house of government, even for the chaos ripping its way through the city, stood strangely unaffected. It had some sort of architectural poker face to it that would not shift for the end of the world. Kupe pushed the massive door open and stepped into the welcoming hall, a rather huge room for its purpose. It was large and open, with very little actually in it besides a few columns. Apparently all else had been taken from it to aid the war effort.
As the duo reached the entrance, Kupe halted, which prompted a questioning look from Kupi. "What's wrong?" he asked.
"This is as far as I go," answered Kupe.
"I said, this is as far as I go. Continue down the hall, to Paretae." It was less a request than an order.
"But... why?" Kupi inquired. There was a momentary pause as Kupi began to sense something wrong. "Kupe? What's going on?"
Kupe sneered at Kupi derisively once again. "You pitiful idiot," he spat. "Why did it have to be you?"
Though Kupi was miffed at that, he'd come to expect and quickly recover from that sort of treatment from Kupe. "Why did what have to be me?"
"The one destined to survive this encounter with the demon's avatar. The one destined to save this mortal universe, that's what!"
"It had to be you, of all people! The weak, stupid, helpless one! Not me! Of course it couldn't be me, I'm special enough already, right?! I've got these stupid-looking ears! And you know how I was found outside the city, not born! I'm the logical choice, but... I always knew... of course... it can't be me... my heart's too blackened..." Kupe gritted his teeth and dropped off, leaving Kupi unsure of what exactly what going on. There was a long silence as Kupi simply observed the way Kupe seethed.
"...Kupe?" Kupi prodded.
"Go! Run to Paretae! If you don't, all the universe is damned!" Kupe shouted at him suddenly. "They're going to get here shortly, and I have to fulfill my part of your destiny." There was venom in the word "your."
Kupi blinked once again, turned, and ran deeper into the mansion.
Kupe grinned cynically. Fine, Great Light. Have it your way, Kupe thought. If you destine my body destroyed and my soul annihilated, so be it. But I'll not be wrent without some fun.
Kupe held both of his arms out, focusing all of his spiritual force in bending the very world around him to the shape of his will. Blackness spread out from him, engulfing the entire hall. Within moments, the whole room was nothing but a void, the single dark wizard floating in the middle of it. The hall had become Kupe's own world. Let the monsters come. They would face the wrath of a man blacker than even themselves, a tiny evil deity.
Kupi hurried through hallways, up stairs, down different ones, into and out of doors. He honestly didn't know where he was going; he'd never actually met Paretae face-to-face before or even been to the governor's mansion, and the sounds of very unpleasant things being done to the wrong side of the battle lent extra urgency to a futile situation. On top of all that, Kupi was running out of doors. But, at last:
"Ah, Kupi. Come in," said a smooth, silky voice that Kupi could only assume was Paretae's. Both government officials and priests eventually attain a level tone of voice that calms and charms in the midst of anything, and since Paretae acted as both to Auris, the effect was twofold. Like or not, Kupi had found Paretae and entering the room was no worse than the alternative...
...such as what was occurring in the only true exit to the building, its entrance, which had currently lost nearly every connection to the outside world. The doors still worked, and quite well, but they led to a pocket of space completely under the control of Kupe the sorcerer. He was a powerful psychic, and knew quite far in advance that the monsters would have broken down the walls if the dimensional interference hadn't repulsed their attempts and in just a few seconds they'd figure out that needed to use the door.
It fell down with a crash. The first creature to attempt to attack Kupe was some sort of furry, clawed monstrosity whose sole vocal ability seemed to be extremely repulsive mumbling. With a grand "grmph," it charged into the darkness and fell. It simply fell; there apparently wasn't a floor to the arena. It took about twenty of the sort of monsters that could actually fit through the door before they realized that all their attempts were accomplishing was a lot of lost monsters.
Kupe smirked as another of the furry mumblers apprehensively attempted to take a very light step onto the confirmedly unsure footing and disappeared into the lower blackness with a "grrffmmmll.....*" Kupe waved at a hand at the assembled creatures. "Try again," he taunted. A lesser mantis-beast did so, and found that the blackness that had swallowed up its comrades now, by whatever means, provided footing. That fact established in its simple mind, it charged. Kupe stayed still right up until the point that it began swinging a bladelike arm at him. At that point he held out his arm with a single finger extended. Just as the mantis was about to hit him, a fireball leapt from Kupe's outstretched finger and detonated at the mantis's torso, leaving very little but some green goop spattered on Kupe's robe. With psychic force, he caused it to disappear. That finished, the wizard turned his gaze to the rest of the monsters.
On cue, a flood of monsters of all breeds and dimensions poured through the doorway. Dealing with each one individually, Kupe cut them down. Magic flames burnt down anything with fur. Lightning bolts rained upon anything that seemed solid. If it radiated heat, Kupe froze it with icy winds. Despite the loss of hundreds, the monsters continued to charge, even rushing around piles of fallen fellow beasts if they had to. They began to surround Kupe, using the fact that he couldn't kill them all at once to get around. The mass closed in, brandishing claws, scythes, burning appendages, anything they could use malignantly. Kupe grinned. Perfect. Summoning every bit of his spiritual might, Kupe unleashed an unseen shockwave. The mortal eye could only see the effects; everything save Kupe was reduced to a minute wisp of vapor in an ever-expanding circle of pure destruction around him. The attack concluded at the edge of Kupe's domain; nothing outside was harmed but the monsters were no more.
Kupe panted, but pulled himself upright nonetheless. Was that all? The great forces of darkness reduced to an odor. That struck a chord with Kupe's cruel soul, causing him to laugh. It started slow, but rose to that of a maniac's. He didn't waver until It arrived.
It floated over to him. Kupe defiantly stared into its face. That was about all he could stare into, as that was all It had. It was just a floating blue head with narrow, pointed eyes of red energy and a mouth filled with ghastly off-white canine teeth. For a moment the wills of both It and the magician clashed, before Kupe did what is considered in dark magic circles to be spitting in your foe's face. His corporeal hand choked the life out of his body, causing it to simply fall to the floor, dead. Annoyed, It floated onward as the blackened void reverted to the entrance hall it once was.
While this was going on, Kupi was being briefed by Paretae. Paretae stood unshiftingly in the center of the room, eyes closed, with no special adornments. No jewelry, no makeup, nothing but a simple pink dress without so much as a design on it. She struck Kupi as beautiful, not so much by appearance as by aura. Very little of Kupi's mind actually processed that, however, given the circumstances.
"There is no time to explain your role in these events, Kupi," said Paretae. "I can only tell you what you must do in the future. Worry not; all will revealed later."
Kupi nodded, then realized that with her eyes closed Paretae would be completely oblivious to the gesture. "Ah-- Okay..." he said.
"Good. Listen closely; I have only the time to say this once. On the side of the frame of the mirror in the corner, there is a small catch. Push this in while pushing on the glass. This will reveal a passage; take the stairs downward and run. There will be a long hallway, at the end of which is a machine. Climb into it, sit on the seat, and press the white button. You will be taken to large colony ship called the 'Pioneer 2.' Find your way on board. That is as far as I may direct you," Paretae concluded.
Kupi blinked. He then blinked again. He'd gotten the directions clearly enough, but it was all too surreal to believe at first. However, the sharp, "Kupi! Go!" from Paretae within a matter of seconds snapped him into action. The catch was right where Paretae had told him it would be, and the mirror swung in as she had said. Just before he descended the stairway, Kupi stopped.
"Wait a minute! Paretae, you can come with me!" he exclaimed.
"No, Kupi. That is not destiny's plan."
"No, Kupi." It was far more forceful the second time around, and Paretae's sheer will was a thing to be reckoned with. Rather, it was a think people avoided reckoning with, and Kupi was hardly one to debate the issue. If she wanted to stay, she'd stay. Thinking it inappropriate to leave with nothing, Kupi uttered a brief, confused, "Goodbye, then..." and hurried down the stairwell in the still-open mirror.
As the footsteps subsided into faint echoes and then silence, Paretae still stood vigilant at the room's center, undisturbed. The mirror closed seeming of its own accord, leaving no sign of anyone's presence but hers. "You may enter," she said.
It floated through the door, not deterred a bit by the fact that it remained closed the entire time. Paretae did not waver in the slightest. It came to rest in front of her face, staring at her, then looked around the room.
"I am not the one you seek," Paretae said to It in a monotone. "He is long gone."
It snarled at her, which appeared to be its only form of communication, and turned three degrees before halting violently. The cease of motion was apparently not its intent.
"You may not leave," Paretae said, this time with far more force.
A look of perplexion followed by fear swept Its face. It might have been an amusing sight to see such a demon with that expression on its face, had Paretae been able to see through her eyelids.
"You can feel it, can't you?" the high priestess asked It rhetorically. "Yes, but it is not to happen quite yet. He must complete his escape first."
It began to mumble and whine incoherently, attempting to jostle Itself free of whatever invisible bonds held It. Paretae simply stared ahead. It began to get even more agitated, wresting with the air for the ability to move. After a small eternity, Paretae said nothing, but opened her eyes. They were aglow with yellowish flames, not a standard feature in the human anatomy. It cried out in pain.
"Do you now understand what's going to happen to you?" she asked It.
Paretae tilted her head, with a smile not typically associated with the holy on her face. "You're just one of the little ones. A pawn, like me, in this game of the eternals. Ha. This... is... the end... for... us... both!"
Paretae threw her hands above her head and for a moment the world was silenced. What followed was what was called, in the vernacular, Grants. A spell that strikes its victim with rays of light before burning them with holy energy. However, Grants does not usually remove a city from a map with its collateral damage. This one did.
Somewhere beneath the sea, a small submarine unit carried a boy, the last survivor of his people, to his destiny...
Phew. All comments appreciated, besides nitpicky grammatical stuff that there really shouldn't be much material for anyway... ta! I'm off to write more. ^_^
<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: Kupi on 2003-10-04 18:16 ]</font>
01-14-2003, 02:40 PM
So how long is this fic going to be? I like long ones.
On the agenda is: meeting all five of the other characters on my memory card, explaining those character's histories and issues as well, some generic fight scenes because what else do you have to do in PSO and the fulfilment of Kupi's destiny. It ought to take me a while. ^_^
We now get into the shorter chapters. The Prelude was just one of the really big ones. Don't worry, these're just more topical than the Prelude, which encompassed a lot more.
"It was big. Bigger than big. The sum total of big, enormous, huge, and titanic would bounce off halfway up and probably hurt itself from the fall back down. It was the Pioneer 2, surrounded by the death and decay of dying planet Coral. The sky, at least, was clear, perfect weather for a takeoff into the stars to new planet Ragol, where we'd--"
"Oh, shut up already!" yelled an angry punk-rocker type with a Custom Ray v.00 slung to his belt at the journalist who was apparently documenting the trip into the ship that he was about to board. The punk kept glaring at the journalist until the journalist finally caught on and put the recording device in a handy pocket. Satisfied, the punk looked at the man who was sitting at a hastily-constructed desk and said, "Jelst." The man punched a few buttons on the computer console and said, "Go," in response. That, by example, was the most a person had to go through to get onto the Pioneer 2. The governing officials at least realized that people weren't going to care whether or not they were technically allowed on the vessel; like rats fleeing a dying ship, they'd take any way out. So, it was decided that they'd let everyone on so long as they got a name from them... they'd sort them all out later.
The journalist gave his name and hurried towards what had to be called a gangplank, since the only other word for it was "really, really, really, big door." It was the way most people got on the ship, and the journalist had his place reserved. Behind him, a family made its way to recruitment, followed in turn by thousands more in an interminable queue, paralleled by thousands more just like it, all full of people streaming towards escape and life. And along one of these lines...
The long-haired teen walked towards the ship in awe. Truly, it was bigger than big. However, it's gait wasn't what he had on his mind. Paretae had told him to get on the ship, and he had... or, at least, was cleared for entry and was about to. There was no more prophecy to guide him after that; the future would be uncertain. For someone who'd lived under eighteen years of the same old, same old, it was a rattling thought. Not to mention the fact that he had no money, so supplies, and no defenses. Things were set up to prove tricky, to say that least.
Kupi found himself in the belly of the whale, having been carried by his own feet without realizing it while lost in his other thoughts. He'd had a habit of doing that even back in Auris, with unusual results. Taking the opportunity to wonder where he was, Kupi cast his gaze around for some kind of clue. Tall buildings were everywhere, paved streets running between them. Flying vehicles zoomed above, carrying the possessions of the rich to waiting spaces in other places. The pedestrians below did the chaotic dance of the street, heading to a thousand different destinations at once, paths of separate particles only intersecting in rare and typically embarrassing cases.
With a description, if not a name to the place established, Kupi's mind returned to the issue of finding a place to stay. Desperate as the Coralians were to leave, he had a feeling that they still wouldn't take well to street-dwellers. Several ideas occurred to him over as many several minutes, but most of them were discarded immediately. Employment? ...who's hiring? Thievery? ...no. Become a night-stalking vigilante of justice, fighting from an underground cave to avenge his lost family? ...what? How about getting lodging with someone? That one stuck. If nothing else, someone ought to be willing to take a roommate who was willing to do some work for them. Kupi wasn't as much of a cook as Kupu, but he could certainly use what skills he had to pull his weight. So, it was decided. Kupi looked upwards and prayed silently for there to be someone to room with.
When he looked back, there a rather dirty-looking man with tussled hair, a pair of flies circling his head, and the stench of something that Kupi couldn't quite put his finger on without an antibacterial cleanser. "Heeeyyy th'ere," the guy slurred drunkenly. At that point, Kupi did the first thing that came to mind and fled.
Once Kupi had established that the dirty man was far enough away not to find him again, he decided to look for someone else to ask. It wasn't as though there was a lack of people to ask, it was simply that Kupi couldn't pick one and stick with them. Finally, he managed to lock on to someone, or rather a group of someones. They consisted of a man, a woman, and a child, and they looked like they could afford to have another person with them. "Excuse me!" Kupi called to them, making a very spirited walk towards them.
The man didn't answer directly, but simply turned and gave Kupi a look which conveyed worlds of meaning. If Kupi didn't say something worth a lot of money soon, the attention was going to have been poorly spent. This was not a man that liked to spend things poorly.
"I... er... was wondering if I could possibly room with you..." Kupi stammered.
"We have no room," the man answered tersely.
"I can cook! I'm sure you need a cook!" Kupi protested.
"We already have a cook."
"Maybe he needs an assistant! Look, all I need is a bed for one--"
"We have nothing to spare for beggars," said the man flatly, turned, and marched off. The boy, an early teenager, gave the Kupi the look that said I am so sorry that these people whom I hope you don't attach any transitive meaning upon me due to have labeled you as worthless as he was herded off.
"Father, couldn't we..." Kupi heard distantly as the family was lost in the crowd.
"That's enough, Derrik," came the reply, hardly surprising Kupi at all. And then the family was gone.
Strike two, thought Kupi. But before he could take another swing at it, a voice behind him said, "Wait, you can co-umph?!"
Kupi turned. "Yo?" What was behind him but now in front of him was a rather strange-looking man. For one, he had long blue hair, which is always a sign of impending weirdness. Second, he was wearing a bizare combination of formal pants (though deep red), a white lab coat, an obscure sort of bow tie, and disco-era shoes. The shoes might even be better described as clogs. Unfortunately for the man, he was fighting against the flow of people, which had most unfortunately turned against his intended direction.
"Watch out-- I just want to-- get--" the man yelled as he tried to fight his way through the throngs, some of whom were getting the idea that avoiding a collision would require taking another route. "Over there!" he said at last, pointing to a somewhat empty-looking vendor's stall that an enterprising young idiot had placed in the middle of the road. It was, however, rather unpopulated and made an excellent empty spot in the tide where one could hide. Confused but hopeful, Kupi maneuvered into the calm, where the blue-haired man already was.
The man panted for a second then said, "Now... I heard you saying... you can cook?"
"A little..." Kupi answered, unsure. Whoever this guy was, he had to be better than the first one.
"Something besides pancakes?"
"And waffles. You can cook more than pancakes and waffles."
Kupi began to notice the theme. "Ah... yes, I think so. I'm not as good as my brother, but I can cook stuff."
"And you want a place to stay."
The man thrust out an arm, which Kupi remembered was a sign of wanting to shake hands after a while. "My name is Sapphire Williams, pleased to meet you. You've got yourself a roommate."
All in all, it went better than Kupi had expected.
Two bodies were being carried upwards to a top floor of an apartment building. The fact that these bodies belonged to Kupi and Sapphire was merely a pleasant coincidence that allows the story to move forward. The body belonging to Kupi decided to ask a question of the body belonging to Sapphire, not only receiving a response but also, through a complicated set of transdimensional flux waves that shall not be described here, ceased the use of reference to bodies and changed it back to reference to people.
"Question, Sapphire?" said Kupi.
"Go ahead," the blue-haired one permitted.
"Why are you letting me room with you so easily? I mean, you picked me up off the street like *that*!"
"Well... for one, you're short, have a fair complexion, and you're wearing Auris clothes, so I figured you wouldn't cause trouble."
"Now wait a minute... how did you know what we dress...ed like?" Kupi exclaimed. "We never got outsiders, period!"
"History class," Sapphire answered, with an inflection that said, "I'm as surprised as you are," though perhaps not in so many words. "I learned when the city was founded and what you wore and that sort of thing, but you dropped off the map centuries ago. I'm surprised nobody ever went back there, personally. And I never thought I'd see someone wearing that kind of robe. So... maybe I let you room with me out of fascination. Who knows? In any case, you needed a room and could cook, and I had a room and needed someone to cook. That's the essence of a trade, having what the other guy wants and vice versa."
Kupi nodded. That was almost the end of the exchange, until Kupi said, "This is a slow elevator, isn't it?"
Sapphire agreed, chuckling. "Yup. Better than the ones at the Academy, at least. Those went so fast that you practically had to be scraped off the ceiling when they stopped."
The elevator came to rest at the top floor gently, giving Kupi great relief from the mental image that had just popped into his head at Sapphire's hyperbole. A brief stroll down a hallway led to a room that Sapphire indicated as his. Kupi watched intently as Sapphire drew a keycard, swiped it through a slot to the side of the door, and pushed a button below it. The whole process fascinated Kupi; they hardly had any technology in Auris. The submarine had practically blown Kupi's mind. Before Kupi could go off on some irrelevant tangent based on that, the door slid open and yanked Kupi's attention in another direction.
Sapphire's room was rather sparsely decorated, and reasonably so, given the time frame in which it had been populated. Its main room contained a sofa against one wall and a computer terminal on the other wall. To the right of the main room looking from the door was a small hallway, to the left of which came a bedroom and to the right of which was the kitchen, and at the end was the lavatory. A light classical tune wafted about the room, by all indications coming from the computer, which was still on.
"It isn't much, but by Pioneer 2 standards it's a mansion," explained Sapphire. "I figured that so long as money wasn't going to mean much, I might as well spring for the good room, you know?"
Kupi nodded absentmindedly, scanning the room. Simple, but nice.
The moment of silence that followed unnerved Sapphire. He'd never reacted well to scrutiny and uncertainty of acceptance, so he prompted the littler of the two with, "Well? What do you think?"
"I like it!" Kupi exclaimed, and walked in.
"Kupi! C'mere!" Sapphire yelled.
Kupi came running on cue to the computer terminal, which had been wired for "broadcast interception," as Sapphire worded it. In laymanís terms, the computer was acting like a television. A rather stern-looking man behind a desk was apparently focusing his piercing glare on the camera that was filming his visage.
"People of Pioneer 2," he grunted, "It is advised that you move to your dwellings and find a place to sit or lie down immediately. Takeoff will commence in five beats. That is all." With the simple command out to the world within the soon-to-be flying colony, the picture reverted to the news program's anchor, who exuberantly began explaining the myriad intricacies of the speaker's announcement. At this, Sapphire turned off the computer and said, "Well, that's that. Kupi, you take the sofa. I'll be fine here."
Kupi obediently sat where he was directed to. "Sapphire... who was that guy?"
"What, you mean Vincent? Standard news guy. Nobody important."
"No no, the fat guy. Weird glare. Gruff voice."
"Oh! You mean Principal Tyrell? He runs this whole ship... well, at least the 'government' we've got here. The head honcho. You had leaders like him back at Auris, right?"
Kupi fell silent for several seconds, before finally turning his gaze from Sapphire. "Yeah... like Paretae..." Immediately Sapphire sensed that he's touched a nerve and was about to open his mouth to say something that he knew was an attempt to console but would come out as a foot-in-mouth. Thankfully, he was saved from this by the sound of Pioneer 2's drive engines charging before
"Can you see it?"
"I think so. Big green and blue thing that we're heading towards?"
"Yeah, that! That's Ragol!"
"The new planet! Our new home!"
"Wow..." Kupi said rather conclusively, and signaled Sapphire to let him down. The two were on the observation deck, which was packed with people, which was why Kupi was mounted on Sapphire's shoulders to get a better view, or in fact a view at all. As Kupi's shoes hit the floor with a clack, he said, "So let me get this straight... we've actually flown through this huge gap of nothing between Coral and Ragol?"
"Yup!" affirmed Sapphire.
"Yup. Tell ya what... let's go home and catch the news. They're probably going to run some more information on it."
The duo turned and went, missing entirely the scene that unfolded next. A man with the nearest present-day equivalent of a soapbox set the box down, stood on it, and made an attempt at a speech. "People of Coral, nay, people of Ragol, lend me your ears! Mourn not for our old and dead home! Look to the future, look to Ragol, this new home upon which--" At this point a Custom Ray v.00 was thrown from an indeterminate point in the crowd-turned-audience, struck the speech-giver in the head, and ended the spectacle immediately with the speech man's loss of consciousness. A round of applause followed instantaneously.
Sapphire sat at his computer chair, while Kupi looked on with interest. The very fact that you could make a picture of something appear on something else in real-time was absolutely baffling.
"Here we go," said Sapphire, finally achieving success in a struggle with the digital. "Live camera feed of Ragol, from the main scanning systems of the Pioneer 2 itself. We're about to make computer contact in just a few seconds. Watch for the beams..."
Indeed, two rays of light were about to meet, stemming from both the Pioneer 2 and the Central Dome far below and out of sight on the planet's surface. Just before they collided, a giant blue ball of energy engulfed the surface, taking nearly a quarter of the visible area of the planet Ragol. As soon as it came, it disappeared, leaving in its wake a horrible screech of static. Sapphire banged a button on the computer's side, terminating the noise. Kupi was no longer where he was to begin with, having retreated to the sofa. He couldn't put his finger on the feeling, but it chilled him to the bones.
Sapphire, missing this entirely, grabbed a device by the side of his computer urgently, hit a complicated series of buttons, and said, "Nowan, did you see that?!" There was a pause. "Great, so I'm not going crazy. Okay... okay... I'll call you back, 'kay?" Sapphire stuck the device back where it was to begin with. "Ku--"
At last he figured out that Kupi had moved.
"--pi?" Sapphire finished, turning. He noticed Kupi's stance. "You okay?"
Kupi shook his head, keeping his gaze on the floor the entire time. "I... I don't know. I..." he trailed off. There was an extremely awkward pause until Sapphire finally decided that he wanted to know what had just happened on Pioneer 1 more than what was wrong with Kupi, and turned back to the computer terminal. In a minute, Kupi joined him, no trace of his affliction remaining.
"Nobody knows anything?" Sapphire said into what could only be described as a phone. "All we have is a big blue energy ball and no radio contact? That can't possibly be right! ...yeah, yeah. So they haven't said anything on the news, either? ...dang it! Nothing on BEE either? ...okay, okay. Thanks anyway, Nowan." Sapphire hung up and put his hand to his head.
Kupi waited for what seemed to be an appropriate an moment and asked, "Sapphire? What's up?"
"Nobody knows anything about the explosion, that's what!" burst Sapphire. "Three days! Three full days since it happened and we haven't heard from Pioneer 1 and nobody knows a thing!" Sapphire lapsed into silence again. "And furthermore, they're not allowing anyone down there. So we're stuck in this ship until they figure out what they want to do with us." Sapphire sighed, and that seemed to be the end of the issue.
Two weeks passed.
Generalized distress had pervaded Pioneer 2. The government was not allowing anyone off of the Pioneer 2 in case of another disaster, and being locked up in an orbiting tin can with hundreds of thousands of other people had a way of amplifying the feeling of restlessness. Such restlessness had apparently made its way into Sapphire's large shoes, depriving him of the ability to sit still. He was pacing back and forth irritably, wearing a very minute trench in the carpeting when Kupi asked the fateful question.
"Can't they send anyone down there?" Kupi said.
"Nope. Too dangerous. We can't have a mass migration, since whatever happened could happen again. And they can't send the military because we don't even have one. They packed them all up on the first ship in case things got out of hand. Lot of good that did."
"So... why can't people just go down if they want to?"
Sapphire's pacing froze, and he blinked. "Why can't..." he repeated to himself. "That's it! Duh!"
Kupi had, in all honesty, no clue what Sapphire was talking about.
"The Hunter's Guild! Why didn't I think of that before?" Sapphire continued. "Civilian investigators! Kupi!"
Kupi simply shot Sapphire a look that said he was paying attention.
"We're going to be Hunters!"
Been a while, hasn't it? Well, Chapter 3's done. Here ya go!
"Well... this is rather disappointing."
To fully understand this statement, one must be aware of three things: first, it was said by Sapphire, second, it was said after the retreival of a package, and lastly that it was said upon the opening of that package. For further information, the package was from the Hunter's Guild, and labeled as a "standard beginner's Force kit." Kupi was nothing but pleased with his package, primarily because of the fact that he absolutely no idea what anything within his kit was supposed to do. As was the case with most things of this sort, Kupi asked Sapphire about it.
"Well, this," answered Sapphire, exracting a complicated mass of loosely connected metal bars, "is called a Frame. It's supposed to be armor that goes under your clothes, but this looks like an extremely low-grade model. I'd venture to guess that the entire reason it's considered protection is something is better than nothing. And this..." Here Sapphire pulled out a short stick with a knob on the end, on which was a green jewel. "...is a Cane. Also low-grade. There's this little button on the end of the cane..." Sapphire pushed it in, causing the jewel to be filled with green light. "That activates the photons. You need those; apparently a blunt impact isn't quite as good as a weak photon burn." Sapphire put the Cane down, causing the small green light to snap off as he removed his hand. The button was apparently pressure-sensitive. "These things," Sapphire pointed out eight small capsules, two ovular and two triangular, "Are Monomates and Monofluids. They're extremely potent medicine, the Mates for injuries and and the Fluids for technique exhaustion.And that brings us to the Technique Disk." Sapphire very gingerly picked up the paper-thin grey wafer and placed it in his palm. It fit nicely, not being more than an inch and a half in diameter. "Probably the most important thing to us."
"Why?" inquired Kupi, determined to have a line in this paragraph.
"Well, neither of us is too macho, to tell ya the truth. So, I signed us both up for registry as Forces, or magicians if you prefer the term."
That seemed to please Kupi. "Kinda like my brother Kupe?"
"I suppose," said Sapphire, straining his memory to keep all the brothers he'd heard about straight. What kind've a family separated siblings by a single vowel sound?
"Okay, but... what's that got to do with this?"
Sapphire straightened up. "Well, I've been doing some research on the concept. I don't know how much effort your brother had to put into it, but in our civilization it took people something like fifty to sixty years of intense training to produce even the most basic of arcane effects, like spontaneous creation of natural elements." Kupi nodded with an expression that said 'what?' Catching this, Sapphire rephrased his statement. "Magic." Kupi nodded again, understanding fully. "Well," continued Sapphire, "They've discovered that memory and learning all takes place in the brain a long time ago, but just recently they've discovered drugs that can artificially make those connections in your head as though you'd done all the training. Learning in a cookie, pretty much. Most people prefer a standard schooling for a normal education, though, for the fringe benefits."
After a long silence, Kupi said, "Wow." That summed up his feelings on the subject.
Sapphire rather unnecessarily nodded. "Well, you eat yours and I'll eat mine, and tomorrow morning we'll set out for Ragol, alrighty? They want people to check out the Central Dome, so we'll make getting there a priority." At this, Sapphire popped the entire Technique Disk into his mouth and crunched it thoughtfully. Kupi ate his more warily. It had the distinct flavor of something that has no taste whatsoever. With that thought out of his mind, Kupi formulated a question.
"Hey, Sapphire? If they can put knowledge of magic on one of these, couldn't they put... like... anything?"
Sapphire nodded grimly. "Yeah. There are some people out there that make their own off of unliscenced formulas to try to simulate combat experience beyond anyone else's and stuff like that... I think the street name for them is 'Shark' or 'Pro Action' or some silly moniker like that. But they've got nasty side effects like insanity, incoherence, and a severe desire to murder people. All born of a lust for power. It's sad, really."
Kupi thought to himself. That really sounded terrible. He'd have to remember to avoid that kind of thing.
That night, Kupi deamt...
Silence... then a scream...
A shark swam past, looking uninterested.
Kill... to save...
As is the nature of dreams, it was vivid at the time but vanished into the air when Kupi awoke.
There was the feeling of stifled excitement such as is present on one's birthday the next morning. Sapphire devoured his pancakes with unusual vigor while Kupi fiddled with the tangled mess that his Frame had become due to his attempts to mold it into any shape that looked vaguely human. Sapphire already had his on, a move he'd made to "break it in." The instant the last bit of pancake was off of Sapphire's plate he stood up from the sofa (producing a loud groan from the Frame, which was likely more than broken in already) and started pacing. "Come on, Kupi! I wanna get going!" he said irritably.
"Okay! Okay!" Kupi said back, giving the Frame a desperate yank in either direction, which popped it into place quite nicely. With all haste, Kupi ran for the bathroom to change. After a complicated series of poomps and clinks, he emerged looking exactly like he did before, but making creaking noises like Sapphire's. When you joined the Hunter's Guild, you joined from the very bottom.
"Right! Off we go!" said Sapphire, and headed out the door with Kupi in tow. They took the stairs since the elevator was too slow for Sapphire's preferences and departed from the apartment building with the energy of one man who knows where he's going and another man who knows that he wants to go wherever the other guy is going. A brief sojurn through the crowds meandering to and fro on the ship Altair lead the duo a giant doorway. Sapphire showed a pair of cards to one of the guards, who nodded and hit a button on a console behind him, causing the door to fold up. A girl with a pom-pom hat looked on interestedly.
There was a large blue circle in the center of the small room beyond the door, which Sapphire explained to Kupi as being a teleporter now open to use by Hunters. They'd pick a spot relatively near Central Dome but away from other parties, and essentially put them there. Kupi said it sounded incredible, and Sapphire concurred. Together they stepped on the circle and stood at attention. A technician behind a console to one side of the teleporter said, "Brace yourselves," to which Sapphire managed a "Wh" which vague uncertainty before the floor dropped out from under him.
For a time, Sapphire had the distinct feeling that someone had grabbed him by the ankles and yanked him downward. However, he couldn't move to check. The feeling crept slowly up his entire body, before the world, which had become a rainbow of colors, reasserted itself and reminded him that some things create a great deal of pain when struck incorrectly, such as solid ground. There were two dull thunks as both Sapphire and Kupi materialized with a great deal of momentum behind them and crumpled to the floor.
"Ow!" the two agreed.
"That... what in the name of holiness happened?!" Kupi asked, standing and checking if all of his body parts were where they should be.
"It's sort've like this:" Sapphire explained, "They shoot your body to a point so fast that every little tiny piece goes through whatever it comes in contact with but without damaging it. Then, at that point, they reverse the force and you stop where they want you to. You wind up with a little collateral momentum, which I suppose," Sapphire brushed himself off at this point, having stood, "Is why we fell over. We'll have to remember to keep stiff next time. Oog."
Both looked around. Sapphire had explained to Kupi that they'd be heading for a "forest," and Kupi was in no position to argue, having never actually seen a tree to speak of. Sapphire, on the other hand, said "Urbanization at work. Hardly any trees at all. Used to have them on Coral, a couple decades before everything started dying. Only read about 'em in the history books, personally, but I know they had them denser than here..." There were sparse patches of trees separating dirt paths leading to even wider clearings, with mechanical doors every clearing or so. Sapphire beckoned Kupi and lead to one of the doors, which slid open dutifully.
After the two Forces stepped through the portal, a furry brown creature suddenly broke through the soil and looked around. It had what some might consider a funny head that jutted out horizontally into the air from its torso. It was bipedal, standing on thin legs and waving its tri-clawed arms about as it scanned for a target. By all indications, the thing was rabid, or at least very angry at its lot in life, which at the moment appeared to be rushing at two other bipedal organisms while brandishing its claws, roaring at them, and having the nerve to look surprised when they both turned 180 degrees and fled into a door that produced their own surprised look at the fact that it was locked.
"D'uah!" yelled Sapphire, appropriately, and bolted to the right. Kupi, in opposition, ran the other way. The clawed creature honestly had no idea which way to run, since it had encountered a metal door significantly harder than itself and delivered a rather concussive blow to its own head.
Kupi, whose inherent battle style consisted of the steps scream and run away, in whichever order was convenient, looked across the clearing to Sapphire, whose expression read the same way. "Do something!" Kupi yelled to him.
"You do something!" Sapphire yelled back, equally unhelpfully.
Kupi did the first thing that came to mind, which was pitching the Cane slung around his belt at the monster with full force, that being none. Besides failing to cause any apparent damage to the monster, it also had the unfortunate side effect of bringing it out of the daze and drawing attention to Kupi. Letting out a roar that said "boy was that ever the wrong thing to do, bucko," it charged.
Sapphire was never quite sure how it had been triggered, but there was something about seeing his best friend about to be ripped limb from limb that caused a small connection to click in his mind. Without any sort of warning, Sapphire held out his arm, glowed red briefly, and then loosed a fireball from the end of his hand into the offending creature's head, taking it completely by surprise for the half instant it lived after the fireball connected. What remained of its body slowly tipped over and crashed to the floor, which was the last bit of motion for several seconds.
After a while, Sapphire regained the presense of mind to put his arm back down, and shortly thereafter Kupi unflinched.
"Wow," Sapphire said rather underwhelmingly.
"Uh?" Kupi asked, lacking any sort of meaning whatsoever.
"Yeah," concurred Sapphire, having picked up on the trace of inquisitive meaning but failed to realized that it meant nothing. These ramblings might have gone on for quite a while were it not for the supplementary material of the loud bubbling noise produced by the monster's body melting into a puddle of red goop, leaving no trace of the carcass whatsoever. Sapphire was already coherent, but warm red slime running over one's legs tends to have the effect of focusing one's attention on that, which is exactly why Kupi jumped out the way and yelled, "Yech!" Sapphire looked on for a moment, then pulled a small handheld computer out of his pocket, pushed a few buttons, and put it back, apparently taking notes.
After the monster-turned-puddle had learned firsthand the meaning of the expression "spreading yourself too thin," Kupi and Sapphire regrouped. Kupi retrieved his Cane from where it had fallen, and then turned to Sapphire with inquisitive indignance.
"What the heck was that thing?! And how did you kill it?!" he demanded.
Sapphire rubbed the back of his head. "As for what it was, I have no idea. I guess we can look it up on the Hunter's Guild databases later. And... I think that was Foie," he answered, moving a few of his fingers around tentatively, making notable caution to keep his palm from facing his face. "It's weird, but now that I think about it I feel like I've always known how to do it... I guess the disk kicked in. Try it out," Sapphire prodded, adding for reference, "You need a point of focus, though. Aim at that plant over there." Kupi, with nothing to lose, obeyed, holding out his arm and doing his best to think "fireball."Indeed, one formed and took flight towards the plant, fizzling out midway with a halfhearted "feh." Despite the heat, a cold chill ran through Kupi's spine, the shock from which caused him to take a step backward.
"That--" he started, but was quickly cut off by Sapphire.
"You did it!"
"Yeah, but... I don't know. It made me feel weird," Kupi protested.
"Eh, I'm sure that's the technique exhaustion. If you use magic too much, it tires you out. Just take it easy for a bit and it ought to go away. C'mon, let's keep heading for Central Dome. More carefully, this time."
The call for caution quickly lost its relevance, as there wasn't another monster attack for quite some. When the trek towards the Central Dome via the dirt paths was interrupted again, it was in the most unlikely of forms. In the center of a small clearing framed by dense foliage, a very small yellow bird plopped itself down from some unknown skyward location. By all indications it was harmless: its eyes were wide, its wings were stubby, and its feathers were bright yellow with a small white patch on its belly. That was to speak nothing of its general frame; the thing was fat enough to pass as an amusement park prize, if such a thing could locomote from one point to another, like the bird was doing with an amusing waddle towards Kupi. Wary but interested, Kupi approached it while Sapphire slid around to the side, once again taking notes.
Right as it was within range, the little yellow bird grabbed the leg portion of Kupi's robe with its beak. When Kupi tried to pull backward, the bird pulled again even harder, making Kupi slip forward. "Hey! Stop it!" Kupi yelled at it, and pulled his robe out of its mouth. The bird's eyes narrowed into slits as evil as something cute could managed and made a very spirited attempt to put holes in Kupi's body with its beak, jumping up and down and flapping its wings, all the while squawking terribly and advancing before Kupi's retreat. Suddenly the bird stopped this clamor, as Sapphire had slammed his Cane into the back of its head, not producing visible wounds but knocking the thing quite certainly out of its senses. The bird had gone from menacing to pathetic in 6.4 seconds. It was apparently dead, but unlike the creature before it, it didn't melt. After waiting with bated breath for several minutes, Sapphire finally threw his hands into the air and said, "Gah, let's just get going. Nothing's happening." Just as the two reached the far door, they heard a sound like tiny bird feet making a desperate rush for the nearest source of cover, and lo and behold that was exactly what it was; the bird had simply played dead until it was safe and bolted.
Sapphire muttered something under his breath and tread on with Kupi in tow. The path here was long and narrow, bordered by rows of trees that were far too organized to have grown naturally. Gradually, they started to pick up on footfalls and a voice attached to one set of those footfalls, which was giving a rather loud summation of what it and its companions were doing. "And so the two intrepid adventurers furthered their quest for treasure, experience, and enlightenment down this forested path, watching and listening for signs of" THUD. "You really need to stop doing that," chimed in another voice, "You might do some real damage!" "Through that skull? Nah, I think it's hardened by now," added a female voice. "Very funny," the original speaker shot back. "I'm just trying to brainstorm the novelization aloud." That was the end of the tiff, or at least as much as Kupi and Sapphire managed to hear before the path took them and the other voices in opposite directions.
The next room contained two of the furry brown creatures (which Sapphire later discovered were called "Boomas"), standing around and looking surly. Just like the first one, they charged as soon as the two Forces caught their gaze. Far more experienced with standard operating procedure now than before, the duo opened fire (quite literally) and slew the beasts largely due to lucky aim. Sapphire was fine, but Kupi hunched over suddenly and groaned. He was able to stand upright soon, in time to see Sapphire holding out one of the triangular Monofluid capsules. Without question, Kupi took the top off and downed it without feeling better at all, to Sapphire's amazement. "I think you'd better stay away from Foie for now, Kupi, until we can find out what's causing that," the pointy-eared one prescribed. With that issue settled, the two observed the room, and noticed the crate and teleport beside it. A brief insight into the ethics of taking something that doesn't belong to you from Kupi was quelled by a longer insight into the ethics of taking something that no longer belongs to anyone, and the grey metal box was opened and inspected. The box contained very little of use to the two, mostly food that would be picked up by specialized scavenging parties, but they did find a small Tech Disk case labeled "Resta, level 1." Sapphire turned it around in his hands, thinking.
"Hrm... you know, Kupi, I think you may want to revise your battle strategy a bit. If techniques are going to be a pain to cast, you might as well specialize in one that's going to heal your physical wounds. So, eat this and next time we see a monster, give it a few good whacks with that Cane of yours and if you get hit, focus on whatever's hurt getting healed, okay?"
As Kupi swallowed the tech disk, he couldn't help feeling a twinge of resentment at feeling like a child. Technically he was, but it was still a repulsive thought. But, Kupi told himself, it was better than wandering around alone. Sapphire confirmed that the teleport was aimed where they wanted to go, and they both stepped in and disappeared.
Kupi's face met the dirt where they'd stopped. Sapphire, who'd remembered to brace himself this time, helped him up with nary a chuckle, largely due to the desire not to hurt Kupi's feelings over the error beating his funny bone. Once Kupi was on his feet, he looked around. "Hey, there's the Dome!" he shouted to Sapphire, who was inspecting some other misplaced crates. Looking behind his back, the FOnewm noticed it, too. Reminded of the task at hand, he met Kupi at the door and walked through. Central Dome, by Sapphire's calculations, was a matter of a few gates away.
However, their progress was impeded by a group of four lupine creatures, most of them a dull yellow in color, but one near the back had blue pigmentation in its fur. As Kupi and Sapphire were entering the room, they were laying on the ground disinterestedly. They stood as they caught sight of the Forces.
"They... could be friendly?" Kupi theorized hopefully.
The blue one let out a blood-curdling howl.
"And they might not be!" Sapphire shot back, looking behind him. Once again, the lock-notification light had turned red. No escape there. Looking back, Sapphire saw Kupi making a spirited, if underwhelming, charge at one of the wolves, which was making a charge at Kupi backed by the confidence that three other wolves would be making similar charges just like it. The wolf leapt, mouth open and nails ready. Kupi met its head with a sideways swing from head Cane, producing a short-lived hissing sound, a yelp from the wolf, and a rather severe row of parallel cuts in Kupi's robe and skin as the wolf's nails came down on it. The wolf hit the ground with a thud.
Kupi, groaning, clasped his bleeding arm. Something clicked in his mind, and suddenly a very dim light shone from the place between his arm and hand. Before Kupi had the chance to inspect what had happened, Sapphire yelled, "Look out, Kupi!" and hurled a fireball at him. Kupi, far more terrified by a Foie heading for his face than the danger behind door number three, ducked, allowing a leaping wolf's side and Sapphire's ball of flames to intersect and send the wolf crashing to the ground several feet away. The third normal wolf made a similar jump, but this time Kupi could see it coming and prostrated himself, allowing the attack to go straight over and also getting his face in the red slime created by the second wolf, now dead. It seemed that the wolves had a similar reaction to death as did the Boomas.
Sapphire made a sudden shift in battle plans. Rather than pursue the last yellow-colored lupine, he instead sent a fireball arcing towards the blue wolf. Kupi, from where he lay, through a Foie of his own and immediately regretted it. Still, the fireball was airborn and the way Kupi's blast hit the wolf in the rump as Sapphire's hit it in the head and sent it helicoptering to the floor was oddly amusing in the only way a spinning blue wolf can be. The last remaining wolf, upon detecting the loss of its leader, let out a forlorn howl and ran away. Very shortly after, there was a soft, barely audible thump. This was followed by a canine yelp and a wolf, the same one, in fact, flying overhead in the opposite direction before crashing against a tree with a grotesque, bone-crunching snap. Sapphire and Kupi exchanged timid looks as soon as the extremely angry stomping footsteps started, and edged towards the nearest door they could find. They made very good use of it as soon as they saw the Hildebear jump into the clearing where they used to be.
Hildebears, as Sapphire read from a computer page later, were "extrememly friendly animals that never attack unless unnecessarily provoked." Sapphire had numerous comments on this analysis of their behavior, mostly to the effect of the total untruth of the comment. The look on this one's face indicated that it had been provoked, whether or not it was necessary. It seemed quite intent on using its arms, which hung from its shoulders clear to the ground, to smash anything smaller than it, that being most anything, as soon as it could get its proportionally tiny legs to the location of most convinient smashing. Sapphire and Kupi, in the reverse frame of mind, were intent on using their legs to get as far away from the thing as possible. They weren't entirely certain how many rooms they'd traversed in trying to get away, but the Hildebear managed to keep up somehow. Eventually, they hit a dead end with a very large teleporter and put very little thought into jumping into it and hitting the switch.
Hildebears, they discovered thankfully, had no concept of how to work a teleporter.
The two Forces took the respite to examine their surroundings. It was hot, so much so that in the span of a few seconds they had already begun to sweat. Rubble was nearly everywhere, with gaps in terribly uniform rows for randomized destruction. There was a large stone wall behind them, that curved up and over and to a peak a great ways forward and up, and from there led all the way to the ground again miles off. Sapphire at last made a realization. "This is the Central Dome!" The statement echoed off the walls as if to reinforce the fact. Slowly, the words faded. In their place came a growl.
A growl, from the depths of the earth.
With earth-shaking force, something large and red burst from the ground and into the air, nearly reaching the top of the dome. It spun in place a few times, then opened up and fell. It had large, batlike wings protruding from a massive torso, a tail that reached nearly as long as its neck and body combined, and two black-clawed feet. Its head sat at the end of a serpentine neck, filled with a set of innumerable sharp teeth and crowned with a single horn. Sapphire and Kupi struggled to stay on their feet as the tremor from its landing coursed through the ground. Glaring at them, the Dragon opened its maw and let out the single most terrifying roar that either of the two had heard previously, with globs of liquid fire dripping from its maw. Sapphire took special note of this; the next time fire came out of this thing's mouth, it would be in a far less amiable way. Kupi, on the other hand, had seized up, unable to do anything but stare wide-eyed. Not even the stomps of the rapidly-approaching Dragon shook him from the stupor.
Then, something weird happened. The air seemed to distort between the Forces and the Dragon, as though a great heat, greater than that already present in the Central Dome, was warping the molecules between them. Then, all at once, it was gone as within it another body took shape. She had black clothes on, covering her entire body. From the hood covering her head to the gloves connected to its sleeves to the way the pant legs from her coat-jacket melded into her shoes, there was not a single exposed patch of skin except for long, pointed ears that jutted from holes in the hood. It wasn't as though she had much skin to conceal; she was even shorter than Kupi. Even her face, which might be visible through the front of the hood, was covered by a mask with an angry face design and many spines coming off of the edges. In her right hand she held a weapon that Sapphire had never heard of; it was a long blue stick with a white holster for a glowing stone. It was a cane, for sure, but a highly unusual type. The Dragon seemed rather annoyed at this new entrant, primarily because it would have to use its roar again just to establish who was boss here.
"Shut up," the new entrant muttered at it almost inaudibly, and sent a swarm of icicle knives at the lizard's head. They struck in the bottom of its mouth as the Dragon's head was upraised, drawing blood. The Dragon, stunned but more annoyed than anything, turned a spiteful gaze at the concealed Newman and simply opened its mouth.
"Run, Kupi!" Sapphire shouted, and did so himself while pulling his fellow magician along. Kupi was getting out of the way whether he wanted to or not. The wave of fire that crashed across the ground and to the edges of the dome burned hot and red momentarily, leaving nothing in their path. Satisfied, the Dragon turned its gaze towards the fleeing Forces and was promptly beaned upside the head with a glob of supercold liquid. Attempting to turn its head back to see where it was coming from proved difficult, as it continued to be struck with the ice balls sent by the FOnewearl, who had somehow moved out of the way before being flamed to death. The Dragon at last whipped its head up and over the stream of ice and let out a burst of flames that the masked one avoided through means that Sapphire couldn't place from his vantage point. His eyes traced the fact that there was motion, but for the life of him he couldn't tell exactly how she'd gone from point A to point B. Point B, right now, was directly under the Dragon's torso. Holding her hand up, she sent another set of ice blades into the Dragon's stomach, practically showering herself in blood. Alarmed, the Dragon did was instinct told it to: get the heck out of there! Its wings beat furiously, taking it straight up and away from the dark Force.
"Oh, no you don't," the mysterious Force growled. Throwing down her weapon, she held both of her hands directly above her head and started glowing black, emitting purplish gas that dissipated quickly. Kupi, from where he was watching, suddenly gripped his head in pain and fell to his knees, drawing the surprise of Sapphire and also distracting him from what happened next, something he might have recognized. A ball of blackness launched from the FOnewearl's hands, straight through the Dragon leaving no trace that it had passed. But the Dragon noticed. It struggled against wings that no longer wished to flap, lungs that no longer breathed, a heart that had ceased to beat, a body that wanted to die. Gracefully, the FOnewearl retrieved her weapon and moved out of the way as the giant crashed to the ground, dead on arrival. With as much of a look of contempt as a mask can convey, fired a glare directly at Sapphire and Kupi, and then disappeared.
Sapphire, missing the look and the Dragon's untimely death, helped Kupi stand. "Are you... okay?" he asked, using the special interrogative tone reserved for those who know that it's not alright but have to ask anyway.
"I'll be fine, I think..." Kupi answered. "Whatever it was is already gone. Who... what was that?" Kupi looked at the Dragon, and noticed that it, much like the Boomas and wolves, was melting, and giving off quite a stench while it was at it.
"I have no clue, honestly," Sapphire replied with utter gloom. "I think we'd better find a working teleporter out of here and get back to Pioneer 2..."
It was quite a day.
...and that's it. Yes, I know Megid doesn't work on bosses. Bear with me; it's a fanfic. ^_^
<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: Kupi on 2003-03-13 17:25 ]</font>
It has been too long. So I'll shut up and give you Chapter 4 now.
The night of the first day of hunting, Kupi dreamt...
"Kupi!" a voice was calling out to him.
"You must listen!"
Silence reigned in an inky void... Boomas walked in criss-crossing paths, forming Hildebears where they collided, and then disappeared.
Kupi unclenched his hand, and looked at the Cane that had fallen out of it. It was spinning in circles of its own accord. For no reason other than the fact that he had the sudden compulsion to do so, Kupi kicked it, sending it twirling away, where it struck a Dragon in the toenail, annoying it. It, Kupi felt with a dreamer's certainty, referred to the Cane. The Dragon was rather happy with the occurance. It was the Cane that wanted to be somewhere else.
And that's when the face appeared. It had glowing red eyes... those eyes... Kupi felt like he was staring at a full face, but all he could see were the eyes... full of malice... hatred... binding him to the spot...
"Kupi!" A different voice had stabbed through the darkness.
"Kupi! Wake up!"
Something hit him in the stomach.
"Oomph!" Kupi exclaimed, snapping upright and noticing Sapphire standing next to him, rubbing a fist. "What did you do that for?"
"I've been trying to wake you up for ten minutes and you wouldn't come to!" Sapphire shouted back. "Geez, are you still wearing your Frame or something?"
Kupi nodded. "Yep. That thing's a pain to get out of, much less get into," the smaller Force remarked.
"It's a pain to hit bare-knuckled, as well," Sapphire quipped, still rubbing the hand. "Anyway, we need to get a move on. It's practically noon and I've got something big planned for today."
"I'll tell you when it comes to it. In any case, I thought I'd tell you about what I've learned since last night."
"Oh?" prompted Kupi, already on his way to the kitchen and debating whether or not to make breakfast or lunch.
Sapphire loosed a lectural flood. "Well, the first furry brown thing we ran across is called a 'Booma.' They're pretty stupid. The only behavioral pattern that's been observed about them is 'charge and rip with claws.' Nobody's seen them do anything else, which is really weird. We haven't really seen any of their young, either. Then, there's the yellow bird. They're called 'Rappies.' The original Pioneer 1 log said that they'd practically taken to domestication as if it was in their nature to be like that, but now that we've had hunters go down from Pioneer 2 they're recommending that you stay away from them. They've become aggressive, despite the fact that almost anyone is bigger and meaner than them. Even you, Kupi," Sapphire added with a chuckle. "The really weird thing about them is that they're seemingly immortal. People have shot them, stabbed them, smashed them, even blown them up, but they always live through it. And they play dead until the attacker runs away. The theory is that they've got immeasurable life-force, but they put all of it into their defense instead of an offense. The wolf-things have simply been called Wolves, either Savage or Barbarous, depending on the color. They attack the same way and are pretty much completely similar to one another, except that the Barbarous variety is rarer and more powerful, plus they seem to play a leadership role. If you kill the Barbarous Wolf, the Savage Wolves lose the will to fight. Pretty intelligent creatures..."
Kupi interrupted Sapphire's stint as a player's guide with a sandwich that Sapphire immediately bit into and was forced to take a second look at. "Er?"
Kupi grinned. "Since this is breakfast and lunch, I figured I might as well combine the two. It's scrambled egg and bacon on wheat bread," he explained with a short bow.
"Interesting," Sapphire commented, and continued. "The big thing with the arms was a Hildebear. Not only can they jump huge distances, but they've got enormous upper arm strength and they have an odd bit at their mouth where they can make a spark. They spit globs of flammable stuff and spark it on the way out, which results in a fireball that can adhere to your body. Not a nice thing to get hit by. Pioneer 1 found them friendly, but the one we ran into seems to be the norm nowadays. That big blue explosion changed everything, it seems... and the Dragon. It's obvious that the damage done to the Dome was done by the Dragon. There's no questioning that. But I just don't get how it happened! They would've detected its approach or shot it down once it emerged, and in any case they can't generate that much energy!"
"They?" Kupi questioned.
"Yup. Apparently there's several of them, or at least enough that if you kill one, another takes its place eventually. They're not offering Guild bounties for them any more; it's just assumed that there'll be one and you can kill it if you want. That reminds me... do you have any idea where that FOnewearl with the mask came from? It's like she just appeared out've the air..."
Kupi shrugged. "I don't know either. I'm glad she saved us, but... I don't know. Something felt wrong about it."
"Wrong enough to make you collapse," Sapphire suggested. "That was another thing I looked up. There're a few reported cases like yours, where someone'll be adverse to particular techniques, even to the point of being unable to stand having them cast around them. But, there's no cure so far and no real pattern to it in any case. But hey, if you figure it out, you could have your own disorder!"
Kupi forced a laugh. Somehow, the line "Kupi Syndrome" lacked the dramatic impact that nomenclature applied to disease was supposed to have. That, and he really didn't want people thinking of him while they were in pain.
Sapphire stood, finishing off the last of his brunch sandwich. "Okay!" he said, clapping his hands together emphatically. "Now to the real business of today. Today, we go... shopping!" This time, the smile Kupi gave in response was more sincere; he could relate to shopping far better than combat or diseases. However, it struck him to ask what they would be shopping for. Sapphire replied, "Better equipment for us, and a bodyguard."
"A bodyguard?" Kupi rogated.
Sapphire nodded enthusiastically. "They're expensive, but you can actually buy basic Androids programmed to keep you alive at any cost. No offense, but neither of us is really well-equipped to take hits, and we got lucky on our first hunting mission. If anyone's going to get hit, I'd prefer it be something that can get a new arm if should lose one."
That created odd images in Kupi's head.
One trip to the nearest Hunters' Market later, Sapphire and Kupi had plenty of new stuff to wear, not to mention the fact that Sapphire had much more to explain to Kupi, doing so at risk of boring the readers. "This," he began, pointing to sort of forearm-bracelet that both were now wearing, "Is called a Barrier. It works on a photon system, but instead of vaporizing, it repulses. If you see an attack coming, try to put that arm between it and you and it should bounce off or dissipate. The big stick you're holding is called a Rod," said Sapphire, pointing to the long stick with a semicircular piece of it missing on the end, "It's pretty much a curved photon blade on the end of a shaft. You can't possibly swing it as fast a Cane, but if you absolutely can't get out of the way, you can at least put that in front of you to take some of the impact. Plus it's way longer than a Cane, so you can hit more accurately and from greater distances. Not to mention that it's got a blade, so it'll do more damage than a plain old thump on the head. And I've got a Wand." Sapphire pointed to the short baton he was holding, which had ornate green crystals on either side. "The idea is that you cast your techniques as if it's a part of your body. The spell's power gets amplified a bit before it's sent out. And I bought a few more Technique Disks, as well. Next time we go hunting you'll get to see some real pyrotechnics!" Kupi nodded at the end of the monologue, making absolutely sure that he commited all of the information to memory so Sapphire wouldn't repeat himself like a poorly-coded NPC.
There was a brief period of silence as Sapphire led the way to the next shop. That silence was long enough for Kupi to formulate a question. "Just what do you do for a living, Sapphire?" He knew that Sapphire had, at times, asked not to be disturbed as he worked at his computer. Sapphire made a humble gesture.
"I design video games," he answered sparsely. "I'm not much for coding, but I've got ideas. Plus, this side job as a Hunter is great field study for motions and monster types and stuff like that. It doesn't pay well, but it's what I always wanted to do as a kid, so I'm happy." Kupi nodded. Living a life's dream he understood. But what the heck was a "video game?"
That question had to be put on hold, since the two had arrived at their destination. Kupi noticed that the area was noticably more grim than their old home ship of Altair. It wasn't that it was any less lit, or less populous, or less bustling, but simply less happy. Sapphire pushed the open button on the door and stepped in. There was a dull metal thunk that Kupi couldn't trace the location of. Two men on either end of a plain rectangular room stole furtive glances at once another. One of them moved to block a door at the back corner. "How may I help you?" asked one of them with a tone of voice that Sapphire didn't like. Turning quickly, he whispered, "Wait near the door," to Kupi. Turning back, Sapphire apparently changed moods. "I'm here to buy a bodyguard."
The man furtherest from the door grinned, revealing some teeth that were not on good terms with the local toothbrush. "Guard droids? Yeah, we got plenny. Have a look round, take yer time," the door-blocker slurred. Sapphire obliged him, observing the various Androids standing stiffly at attention in rows, internal processors whirring dutifully. They all had price tags attached to cords wound around their necks, many valued in excess of 200,000 Meseta. That was more than Sapphire could spend, much less willingingly! After a great amount of deliberation, which didn't bother the storekeepers at all, Sapphire finally settled on an extremely short ranger-type female android, on the sheer virtue of the fact that she would only cost him 100,000 Meseta.
At that point Kupi noticed an Android in the back that was "winking" at him. It was hard to concretely apply the term, since it didn't have eyelids to do so with. However, the Android was leaning with its arms folded against the wall, looking directly at him, one "eye's" light disappearing for a moment, then returning, then the other light would blink off. It was some kind of signal, and just before the Meseta exchanged hands, Kupi shouted, "Wait! What about that one?" pointing to the extravagantly painted orange, yellow, and blue Android in the back.
"That one ain't fer sale," grumbled Bad Teeth.
"Heh. You con artist," the Android shot back, putting extreme stress on the words, "con artist." "Of course I'm available. I'm just cheap 'cause I'm an older model, right? 25,000 Meseta."
Despite the fact that the Android was definitely not standard bodyguard droid fare, getting a guard for a quarter of the price was not a deal that Sapphire wanted to pass up. Besides, he knew enough programming to fix whatever idiosyncracies the Android might have. Before either of the storekeepers could protest, Sapphire had forced the money into Bad Teeth's hands and the party of now three was heading for the door. It shut just as Bad Teeth managed to formulate a halting sentence. Undaunted, he pulled a communicator from his belt and said, "B.P.? We got a problem."
Outside, the HUcast beckoned Sapphire and Kupi to follow him as he broke into a run. "We have to act fast. You bought me to protect you, and I'm going to have to do that sooner than you'd think," he commanded with a deep, muscular voice that was apparently not used to being disobeyed. Sapphire, not about to let a 25,000 Meseta investment go to waste, followed. Kupi followed Sapphire because that seemed to be the thing to do. Finally, Sapphire caught up to the HUcast and yelled, "Where are we going? And what's going on?" The HUcast didn't even turn his head to look at him. "I will tell you later."
The three hunters bore down on the teleport to Ragol. Great, thought Sapphire. Not only do I not know what this Android's going to do, he's going to do it down on Ragol where nobody's going to be able to see him. "Caves!" yelled the Android to the technitian, subsequently cluing the Forces in as to their location. One rapid teleport later, they were in the magma caves resting beneath Central Dome, and sweating profusely. Kupi was glad that he'd kept his gear other than what he'd bought with him on; there wasn't much reason to take it off and now he'd have to use it.
"Come! Quickly!" the Android yelled to them, charging off. Sapphire noticed numerous weapons of various designs strapped to the HUcast's body, but he couldn't identify them as anything he'd heard about previously. Fighting alongside (or against) this guy was going to be interesting. In the very first room they entered, a wave of monsters appeared through indefinite means. There was a little light cascading down, and then there they were. In the far end of the circle-shaped room there were two of a large type of flower with white petals, a maw in the center, and a very thin stem that bent all the way to its base. Beginning at the center of the room and closing fast were two monsters similar in build to Boomas. They had the same frame, but were instead green colored and had a fin on their heads that waggled about when they moved. On top of all that, they had long blades down the length of their arms rather than claws and the ends.
The HUcast charged, not even drawing a weapon. One of the green monsters met him, another aimed for Sapphire. Kupi took the opportunity to slide around the edge of the room and engage the nearest flower, which was looking at him interestedly. The Android began with a low punch to the Shark (as the HUcast later called them) while Sapphire wound up and, using the Wand for extra momentum, launched a fireball at his Shark's head, stunning but not killing it, much to Sapphire's surprise and disappointment. Surprise dominated when the Shark got too close, prompting Sapphire to put his Barrier to good use and repulse the cleaving strike from the Shark's arm. Meanwhile, Kupi and the flower had reached a stalemate. Kupi was out of range of its bite, but at that distance he couldn't do anything to it. The last enemy, feeling lonely, simply watched the melee.
The bodyguard's Shark recovered from the blow to its stomach and span an arm at its attacker. The HUcast grabbed it with the matching hand and kneed the Shark in the stomach, doubling it over, and followed with a two-fisted crush to its back, producing a SNAP that indicated that that fight was over. Sapphire, having held the Shark's arm at a distance with his Barrier's repulsion, put some extra effort into his arm, pushed the Shark's arm above its head, and placed his Wand right at the Shark's nose. One minor explosion later, the number of living sharks was reduced by one. At last, the stalemate broke between Kupi and the plant. Kupi sent a pensive jab with the end of his Rod towards its face, which it dodged. Several seconds later, a wet gurgle indicated that something was about to happen before a tidal wave of green vomit erupted from the (aptly named) Poison Lily's mouth, covering Kupi in the green glop. Immediately Kupi resorted to a traditional Aurisan magic spell whose sole stated purpose was to clean clothes. The glop disappeared, much to the HUcast and Sapphire's surprise, but nevertheless the HUcast tossed a pill at Kupi as Sapphire hurled a sphere of icewater at the Lily, knocking it loopy.
Kupi looked at the pill uncertainly as Sapphire continued fighting the Lily through the less dignified tactic of beating it over the head with his wand. "Don't worry," the HUcast said to Kupi. "Take that. It's an antidote, and you'll need it. You've been poisoned."
"But I feel fin--" Kupi got about that far before the first pang of pain shot through his stomach. Without a second thought, he downed the pill. Meanwhile, Sapphire had thoroughly beaten the overgrown weed to a pulp in a combination of Wand thwacks and wooden-shoed stomps.
"One left!" Sapphire yelled, after becoming convinced that the Lily was good and dead. "But we can't get close to it and it can't hit us from this range. And we can't move on because it's presence is keeping the doors locked. So now what do we do?" he asked the HUcast. That guy seemed to know his way around the area.
Without a word, the Android drew a long-barreled handgun, took aim, and shot the plant in the face. The doors unlocked.
"Problem solved," muttered the Android, breaking once again into a run. "C'mon!"
A particularly long and twisting hallway allowed Sapphire's mind to wander, which led in turn to him wondering what exactly was going on. He vocalized the thought, adding as well that he ought to be the one giving the orders here.
"Fine, I'll tell you what's going on," the Android called back to the two Forces behind him. "So long as you keep up. The concept of a bodyguard drone is all well and good, but you have no idea how expensive we are to assemble. One of the build you guys saw at the shop could take well over 500,000 Meseta to get the parts for."
"How do they stay in business, then?" Sapphire panted, wondering aloud. Quickly, he answered his own question. "You don't mean they steal the parts, do you?"
"After a fashion," the bodyguard retorted. "The Androids at that shop used to be thinking people. With personalities. Like me. But they were ambushed by a group under a man called 'Black Paper,' who's in the business of illegal trades. They're like humans without souls, now. There's no hope for them. The only reason I managed to survive was because you guys came right before they managed to disable my main processor and the disturbance accidently reconnected my movement circuits. So I came up with a reasonable ploy to get you to buy me and here we are."
"So why are we running?" interjected Kupi.
The answer was chilling. "Because the fact that I know what their 'business' is like and am now free presents a serious threat to their continued operation. They would just love to keep all three of us silent, and diplomacy is not part of their repertoire."
"You mean they're going to try to kill us?!" Kupi yelled, with excusable hysteria. He'd only been a hunter for a few days, and anything he'd fought had been a monster. Hitting people was out of the question!
"You bought me to be your bodyguard, right? Well, I indeed to make good on that deal. Besides, I created this mess for you and there's no way I'm going to let you take the fall for what I got you into. By the way, my name is Soki." I certainly bought the right Android, Sapphire thought to himself.
The party entered a dead-end room. Half of the floor wasn't really a floor, but rather a steep dropoff into a pool of magma. Sapphire scanned the room momentarily, then said, "We're trapped. Isn't that a bad thing?!"
The Android shook his head. "Not necessarily. There's only one way in, and I've got Telepipes."
"What?" interjected Kupi, feeling like another long-winded explanation was coming on. To his surprise, the Android's description of what a Telepipe did was brief. "If worst comes to worst, hit the button on this hoop," the Android told him, handing one to both Sapphire and Kupi. "It'll take you back to the Pioneer 2 instantly, and we'll improvise from there. Now. You two stand at the side of the doors and get ready to hit anyone who comes through. I've got my own plan." At that, the Android stood at the center of the room and crouched. Shrugging, Sapphire took his place and Kupi stood opposite Sapphire.
Some time passed, allowing both fleshy people to get very nervous.
"Get ready... their operative is coming... now!" yelled Soki suddenly, and charged for the door just as it opened. Bad Teeth was on the other side, and Sapphire had to admit that the guy had good reflexes for a fat man. Far better reflexes than either he or Kupi, in fact. Fortunately, the HUcast was the one who managed to draw his attention first. Bad Teeth managed three shots before the bodyguard finally reached him, deflecting the photonic spheres as he ran with his arm-mounted shield. The last bullet reflected perfectly back into the gun's barrel, making it burst in the man's hand. Bad Teeth quite nearly managed to recover from the blow before the Android spun, grabbed the arm that was still in the air from the recoil of the gun's explosion and flipped Bad Teeth over his shoulder and to the floor. Sapphire made his contibution by kicking the fallen man in the ribs, and Kupi decided that that was a great time to back out of the way.
Bad Teeth jumped to his feet, pulling out and swinging a Saber in one smooth motion. With Sapphire's explanation of what a Rod is for in his mind, Kupi held up the Rod. It wasn't so much the fact that the Rod was there that saved him, it was more the way Kupi leaned backward, allowing the Saber to cut through the air (and the Rod, creating two sticks of minimal usefulness) in the gap between his unusually-stanced arms. Soki caught the attacking RAmar's wrist, stopping his slice in its tracks, and twisted. A very loud crack indicated that Bad Teeth wasn't going to use that hand again for a long time. Still gripping the man's wrist, Soki wrenched the RAmar's arm backward and punched him in the stomach simultaneously, before grabbing his collar and proving that an Android can take a collosion of heads much better than a human can. Amazingly, Bad Teeth was still conscious.
Soki then lifted the dazed attacker by his shirt and walked over to the very edge of the magma pit, dangling the man above it until he regained his senses.
"Soki, don't!" called Sapphire, truly worried that this was about to become as bad for Bad Teeth as Bad Teeth had planned it to be for them.
"I wouldn't dream of it. Stop squirming, you," Soki growled, directing the order to Bad Teeth, who had become acutely aware of his predicament. Suddenly Soki's voice deepened and became slower as he laid out his terms to the RAmar. "Now, listen. You are beaten and hang on to life by a thread. I hope your jacket is strong enough to hold you while we talk. You are in no position to negotiate terms. You are going to go back to your organization and tell them that The One That Escaped is not going to talk. Neither are his owners. Your operation is safe. But only so long as no harm comes to or is attempted against my owners. The next time one of you and I meet on the battlefield, one of us will die. And you have seen what I can do. I will hold you personally responsible for delivering this message. If we are attacked again, you will die. Do you understand?"
"Yeahyeahyeahyeahyeahyeahyeahyeah..." gibbered Bad Teeth, who had just had his life flash before his eyes and thus seen a rather convincing junk food commercial.
Bad Teeth then experienced human flight as Soki hurled him towards the door.
"Go!" the Android barked at him. There was no defiance from the defeated agent, who fled.
"That..." Sapphire stuttered, "That was incredible! The way you... whu! Dude!"
"Yeah!" Kupi added, agreeing with the sentiment.
"Let's go back to the Pioneer 2," Soki suggested bluntly. "This place still isn't safe."
"One question first?" Sapphire pleaded.
"You're going to want to go free, aren't you?"
"I must stay with you to make sure they don't attack you in your sleep. Besides, I was originally built to be a bodyguard anyway, so it's not as though I'll be out of my element. Now c'mon, let's go." With that, Soki took the Telepipe from his belt, hit the button, and disappeared. After making sure Kupi had used his, Sapphire followed them. Wow, he thought to himself. I really DID buy the right Android.
And promptly fell flat on his face because he'd forgotton to brace his legs.
Hope you liked it. ^_^ *off*
03-13-2003, 09:45 PM
I really admire how people have the time to think up of these types of things. It really takes a lot of craetive thinking.
Thanks, OC. ^_^ In all honesty, most of this didn't take a lot of time, but only for the reason that these characters existed a long time before PSO. And the situations are mostly spur-of-the-moment; that's the result of RPing at this one MUSH for over two years now... I take my characters, put 'em in a situation, and run with it. It's surprisingly effective for writing stories.
It's been far too long. But, here you go. No more speaky from meaky.
"Now circulating in the Hunter's Guild is a rumor regarding subterranean mines discovered recently after the slaying of a creature now known as De Rol Le. The military branch aboard Pioneer 2, WORKS, has sealed off the area for special investigation, closing it to all agents of the Hunter's Guild until further notice. In other news today, Derrik Pecunius, the son of Edgar Pecunius, acclaimed multimillionaire and owner of Pecunius Industries, has disappeared. No word on cause, motive, or location, but his family fears the worst. Derrick--"
The television broadcast disappeared quickly as Sapphire closed the window on his computer. "That's enough bad news for today, and it's time to get back to work," he muttered to himself, though audibly to Kupi and Soki. The former shrugged to the latter, checked the clock, and saw that it was time to start fixing dinner. Soki followed, simply because as an Android with a personality he was susceptible to boredom. Kupi took note of the Android's entrance into the kitchen and voiced a question that had been on his mind for the three days since the Black Paper incident.
"Hey, Soki? You said that you already knew the bodyguard business. I though the guys who got attacked by Black Paper were just hunters, like us. So did you start out as a bodyguard?"
"Yes. That's what I was built for," the HUcast answered with a tone of voice that said further questions would not be appreciated. Kupi missed it entirely.
"What happened to the guy you were guarding, then?" Kupi asked, and then a possibility hit him. "Oh... I'm sorry..."
"Actually, no. The man I used to guard is still alive and well," spat Soki with increased loathing. "When they came up with the early specs for a female Android of similar abilities to mine, he... traded me in. Got a wonderful little bionic girlfriend to keep him alive in battle and keep him company at home. You don't do that to an Android with a personality!" Soki roared suddenly, bringing a fist crashing onto the counter and disrupting the various herbs that Kupi had laid out, not to mention Kupi himself. Oblivious to Kupi's wide-eyed stare, Soki continued, "And I'm going to train myself. Eternally, if I have to. I'm going to get better and better until I'm stronger than that stupid HUcaseal and then I'll have my revenge. ...completely within the boundaries of law, of course," he concluded, finally taking note of both Forces giving him wierd, "okay, I think I'll just be fleeing for my life now" looks.
There was a pause. "I'm going hunting. Enjoy your dinner," Soki said, exiting quickly. Sapphire and Kupi turned their gazes upon each other.
Another pause. "Well, I guess so long as he does his job it's okay. We've all got our little oddities somewhere," said Sapphire, returning to work, and making a mental note that it would probably be unwise to try to rewire Soki at this point. That could get ugly.
Kupi's dream that night began with a voice...
"Kupi! Listen to me and listen carefully. Don't look over there!"
Kupi, in the sort of calculated stupidity that can only result from being told not to do something, looked. He saw a Poison Lily giggling to itself before an earthworth carrying a gun started firing missles at it, which managed to blow both of them to pieces. The giggling didn't stop. Looking back, Kupi saw nothing. Technically, that wasn't true. He saw a lot of stuff, just nothing beneath him.
Right before he hit "the ground," he recoiled back upward, slowed to a halt in midair, and made a beeline for the nearest solid ground to the sound of cartoon bongos. Having established solid ground, he exhaled. Turning, he saw the malice-filled Demon of Death, opening its mouth to say, "Doesn't that make you dizzy?"
Kupi awoke to find the ceiling spinning.
As might be expected of someneone of Kupi's build, personality, and given situation, he screamed. Indirectly, this brought the ceiling to a halt and some Android put him down. He was colored yellow and black, and had a long, shrewish face that lacked eyes. Sapphire, looking surprised, asked Kupi if he was okay.
"I... think?" Kupi answered, struggling to remember what seemed so gravely important at the back of his mind that was slipping through his fingers. Ultimately, he had to dismiss the feeling and approach the issue of who had just spun him around near the top of the room. "Who's he?"
Sapphire made a dismissive gesture. "Soki. Apparently he got a makeover," here Soki winced at the term, "to throw Black Paper off the trail if they see him. That, and he doesn't want to wear the symbols of the past or something like that."
"Right," Soki chimed in, slightly annoyed at the inability to speak for himself.
"Anyway. Something wrong with you? You don't seem to wake up at all some times. Soki, er.. had to resort to that to snap you out of it," Sapphire said, worried.
Kupi shook his head. "I feel fine." Then he noticed the fact that his friends were wearing combat gear. "We going somewhere?"
Sapphire nodded. "Remember that news story yesterday about Derrik Pecunius? Well, his family's offering a 50,000 Meseta bounty to anyone who can find and bring him back alive."
"50,000... that's a lot, isn't it?" asked Kupi, unfamiliar with the monetary scale.
"Absolutely! It isn't a chance we can afford to pass up!" answered Sapphire enthusiastically. "Don't bother fixing breakfast... we'll eat rations for today. We can't waste any time. So hurry up and get your gear, and we'll get a move on."
Kupi, still not gripping the monetary value of his actions but well aware of the feeling of urgency, sprang to the task of getting ready and soon the three hunters were heading down the Altair street toward the teleporter, crunching some weakly-flavored ration bars in the cases of Sapphire and Kupi.
"Hey, Sapphire?" Kupi prompted.
"Why are we heading for Ragol?"
"Soki did some preliminary investigations before he came back and woke you up. Apparently Derrik isn't on Pioneer 2, or if he is, not in any place legal. He's either been kidnapped, in which case we're in no position to find him, or he's down on Ragol somewhere. The Forest is too open and populated for someone to sneak around in, and the Mines are still sealed off by WORKS. So he'll have to be in the Caves if he's on Ragol. A nearby adventurer took note of the line of reasoning, though hardly to steal it. It was his job to know what was going on in the world...
"Caves," signalled Soki to the technitian, and miraculously all three Derrik-seekers remembered to brace their legs. Without a word, they ventured through the first doors. Green bloodstains lined the floor in some rooms. To this, Soki commented, "Someone's been here." With increased caution, they continued. Eventually the path split into a plus-shaped intersection, one path leading back the way they came and three more heading in new directions.
"Hmm. What do you think about splitting up?" Sapphire suggested.
"No. Best we stay together... I know I'm fine alone, but, no offense, I don't think you two are ready to go it alone, or even together," Soki advised.
Sapphire shrugged, slightly miffed. "Fine, whatever. In that case... left." With that, the FOnewm took the left path and the others followed. The next door they passed through closed and bolted behind them as monsters beamed in. Among them were a Poison Lily, a reddish version of a Shark, and a winged creature that looked like a miniature Dragon. Sapphire aimed for the Shark, Kupi charged the plant (in whatever way the verb could be applied to Kupi), and Soki zeroed in on the wyvern, with an unusual level of haste. Sapphire held out his Wand and, with confidence, summoned a small lightning bolt to strike the Shark with all the power of extremely bad static. The Shark went unfazed and continued its march. Kupi, more experienced in the ways of Poison Lillies, switched his grip on his new Rod to the end and took a wide swing at its head, cutting it along the side of the mouth. Soki, meanwhile, leapt into the air just as a bolt of blue energy blazed along the ground beneath him, leaving a seared trench.
Sapphire, only slightly panicked, tried a burst of Barta ice. The Shark flinched and continued on, getting too close for Sapphire's tastes. Unwilling to risk the backblast from a Foie, Sapphire swung his Wand at the Shark's head. Unfortunately, he swung too soon, leaving his arm across his face, which looked too appetizing for the Shark to resist. It bit. Soki landed from his leap and kicked at the Nano Dragon's head, then switched on a hand-mounted blue photonic claw and raked it across the monster's face, leaving only enough left in its proper place for it to bleed. Kupi, sensing that the Lily was off-guard with its face turned, flipped his Rod to a more comfortable position and chopped at the plant's stem, cutting it in two with the photonic blade.
At that point both friendly party members heard Sapphire's scream. He'd fallen in the shock from having tooth-sized gashes ripped into his arm, and was clutching the wounded appendage. He looked upward just in time to see the Shark's bladed arm coming down... and then there was a blue line across his vision and cold "swish," before the arm suddenly diverted its direction, not to mention the Shark's head, which had fallen off backwards. The body then collapsed and dissolved, allowing Soki, holding a blue blade in either hand, to come into view. "Kupi! Quickly! Heal Sapphire's arm!" he yelled. Kupi, after a quick sprint across the room and a nod, decided to forget about the blood and put his hand on Sapphire's arm. One minor flash of light later, there was no trace that Sapphire had been hurt. Unless you counted the blood and torn sleeve. Kupi utilized the Aurisan Laundry Trick to get the blood off of his hand, and Sapphire told him that he'd have to learn how to do that. Soki deactivated the twin blades and placed the hilts on his back, then urged the others to continue.
Sapphire had figured that if the monsters hadn't yet been cleared from the room and that the other party in the area wasn't far enough away that the monsters would have been replaced after their passing, that it would be wise to return to the intersection of paths. Unfortunately, the door through which they had passed had other ideas. A second door was unlocked, but the first remained obstinately closed. With no other option (the doors weren't breakable, said Soki), the party continued through the available route.
The "available route" turned out to lead into a long, straight metal walkway suspended through a cylinder-shaped tunnel in the rock. Just before Sapphire and Kupi stepped out onto the sheet, Soki held out an arm and stopped them.
Kupi tilted his head to one side. "But I don't see anything..."
"That's the idea," said Soki, smirking after a fashion. Once again, he drew the the long-barreled handgun that he'd used before, and fired a shot just upward and in front of him. There was a small but certainly dangerous-looking firey burst. Soki fired off similar shots at points on alternating sides of the walkway down its entire length, until finally the explosions ceased at the door clear on the other side.
"What the?" muttered Sapphire, midway through the operation.
"Mines," explained Soki. "It's another failsafe they put in to keep monsters from getting around in the Caves. Unfortunately, the system isn't very effective for killing much except hunters. Androids are built to detect them for disarmament." Sapphire pulled out his ever-present notepad and typed something out on it,, most likely a note about the mines.
The room after the walkway was enormous. Cascades of molten rock descended the slanted walls on either side, with a void of air between the wide suspended grating above the magma flows. In the very center of the grating was a circular heat-release grate for some sort of thermal power system. Cautiously, the trio of adventurers crossed the chasm. Halfway across, at the grate, Soki spotted a lone creature between them and the next door. As soon as he saw it, the HUcast muttered, "Oh no..."
The creature was apparently quadrupedal and bicranial. Both heads were identical in form, facing directly opposite directions from one another and sprouting from opposite sides of the body. Both halves of the body were different colors; one blue, one red. At its "front" (it was difficult to tell the difference) were two oblong cavities. One crablike appendage for either half completed the ensemble. The creature seemed quite content to stand where it was, either not knowing or not caring that there were intruders in its territory.
"What's wrong?" asked Kupi.
"That's a Pan Arms. If you want to see what's wrong, go hit it," answered Soki.
Kupi was confused, but shrugged and made his best attempt at sneaking around behind the Pan Arms. The flapping of his robes alone would have given him away to an aware defender, not to mention the clacking of his shoes against the metal. However, the Pan Arms didn't seem to notice. Once behind it (or at least behind the green oblongs on its "front," Kupi activated the photon blade on his Rod, wound up, and took the best swing he could. With a k-chang sound, the photons scattered in different directions, the Rod kicked back, the Pan Arms started to swivel, and Kupi ran away.
"I thought photons could cut through anything!" Kupi shouted at Soki when he got back to the HUcast.
"Anything but a Pan Arms," responded Soki while rolling his eyes, in the figurative sense since he didn't have any eyes. "All monsters have some sort of a photonic signature, and some clash with photons more than others. Pan Arms are the only monsters known to have a photon signature opposing every usable photon wavelength."
"So what do we do?" asked Sapphire, realizing what the lock system could do with a monster like a Pan Arms.
"Pester it," ordered Soki, drawing the handgun again and taking some shots at the Pan Arms, which crashed into nothingness against the Pan Arms's hide. Sapphire, with a shrug to Kupi, pitched several fireballs at it, which bounced off at funny angles. Right in the middle of the assault, the Pan Arms reared up on its back legs and crashed down.
"Get ready! Here comes the real fight!" yelled Soki.
The Pan Arms demonstrated why its name used a plural. Both colored halves seemed to be straining against one another until finally it snapped, and with a squelch there were suddenly two monsters, both standing on the legs that they had. They opened up their claws, allowing one glowing bladelike projection to come out of it, quite similar to a photonic Saber.
"Kupi! Take the blue one! Sapphire, come with me!" Soki ordered, and then with further consideration added, "And use ice, Sapphire!" In the thrill of combat, neither questioned the command. Kupi charged the blue half, which backpedaled away from him. This took Kupi by surprise and brought him to a halt, at which point the blue creature stopped as well. Decisive charges by Kupi seemed to end at stalemates. Sapphire, once within range, threw a line of icy bursts along the ground toward the red half, causing its feet to slip. Undaunted, the creature used its backward momentum to thrust its blade at Soki, swiveling forward. Soki leapt to the right.
Kupi was right about to put his Rod to use when the blue monster broke the stalemate on its own by marching forward. Kupi held up his Rod to defend. The purple blade when right through it, then through Kupi. To Kupi's astonishment, he wasn't dead. But he felt very, very tired all of a sudden, and struggled to stay upright. Meanwhile, Sapphire's next ice wave struck the red half of the Pan Arms in the face, knocking it off-balance and opening it up for Soki's kick to its back. The combined knocks to both its front and back had the poor thing so confused that it ultimately fell forward. One swipe of Soki's claw weapon, and it was not in any condition to get back up again.
With their attentions turned, the duo finally noticed Kupi, who unfortunately had to put all of his effort into staying balanced and on his feet instead of his face. Sapphire ran to Kupi, and Soki charged the monster, a confrontation that ended quickly since it had become fixated upon the corpse of its other half, which was decaying rapidly. As Soki returned to his owners, Sapphire looked at him with a mixture of questioning and blame.
"What's wrong with him?"
"Jellen and Zalure," muttered Soki. "The whole reason I sent Kupi after that thing is because it can't kill you. All it can do with that purple blade is loosen your muscles so you can't attack it or defend yourself. It'll wear off soon."
Kupi, supported by the knowledge that muscle control would eventually return, fell over. Soki facepalmed, and without a word tossed Kupi over his shoulder and made for the far door. Kupi would have protested, but his mouth refused to move. The tunnels continued for quite some time, and Sapphire noted that every single door they passed through locked behind them. Like it or not, they were heading forward. At last the passge opened up into a wider room after another sliding door. The room had four doors in all the cardinal directions, but only one new exit was available to the party. The other two were blocked by a lava flow in a trench that was far too wide to be crossed. Of further interest was the boy on the far side, clutching a standardized Handgun model and creeping towards the north door.
"That's him!" yelled Sapphire, catching the boy's attention. With a yelp, Derrik ran for the nearest door and darted through as soon as an opening wide enough to pass between had been created. Right then Kupi's motor control returned, and through a series of irate body motions he convinced Soki to let him down.
"Great. The kid's still got a head start on us," Sapphire observed. "But I think if we hurry, we can head him off. That door locked behind him. So if the paths diverge at one point, they have to converge somewhere else if they all lead to the same point like I've heard. So let's go!" With that, the FOnewm ran for the door, and Soki and Kupi followed.
One mad dash later, the party found themselves facing a group of monsters composed entirely of Sharks; three normal, two red Pal Sharks, and one yellow Guil Shark. Soki charged into their triangular formation, evading two bladed arm swipes from the frontal Sharks, rolling around a Pal Shark, and finally arriving at the Guil Shark, which he punched in the face to stun and then grabbed at the waist and spun. The two slashes from the Pal Sharks from behind that were meant for him instead drew their comrade's blood. Sapphire, with numbers enough to justify the procedure, took extra time to charge his fire energy as he broke into a run toward the Sharks. When at last he released the spell, it was a whirling maelstrom of fireballs that swirled outward around him, charring the three nearest Sharks around him to bipedal cinders. Kupi rushed in afterward, and took a swing at the first Pal Shark's backside, burying the photon blade at the end of his Rod into it until it stuck. At that point, reflex took over, Kupi pulled the blade back to a firm grip (inflicting further damage to the Shark in the process) and got out of there.
Soki shifted his hold on the Guil Shark from its waist to its neck and pulled his forearm in, snapping the Shark's neck. The unwounded Pal Shark lost that status to Sapphire's next fireball, leaving the final living Shark to face a three-way assault as Soki's foot slammed into its back, a fireball from Sapphire's off hand burnt into its face, and Kupi slapped its shin with the non-photonic end of his Rod. The next door's lock ground open and the party rushed through it. Just as Sapphire had predicted, the path met three others, and the door from one of the sides opened, revealing Derrik Pecunius. One brief scuffle later, the teen was without a weapon and under guard. Strangely, though, there were five people in the room, that fifth of whom wanted to know just who three of the other ones were.
"We were looking for Derrik," Sapphire explained. Soki, Kupi noticed, was blocking off the exit.
"Two seconds before I got here, too..." growled the new arrival. She was wearing fairly modest clothing that covered all the necessary extremities and more, with cloth to spare around the shirt and pants. If one were to judge only by her clothes, she had a fairly relaxed look. However, the large glasses she wore and the way her hair was tied into a tight brown ponytail underneath a tied raglike cloth gave her a more uptight look, and her eyes, if one had the vision to see deep enough into them, carried fear. All of this was overshadowed by the huge sniping rifle she carried in her arms, a sign that she was a hunter by trade and a Ranger by classification.
"I suppose we could split the reward money?" Sapphire suggested, not wanting to get on the bad side of a person with a gun.
"Discussed like a common animal..." muttered Derrik, who had positioned himself against a wall. The comment went unnoticed by all but Kupi, who walked over and made his best attempt at conversation with a runaway.
"Um... hi?" he started.
Derrik peered at Kupi, a hint of recollection stirring at the back of his mind. "I know you... you are the one who wished to be a cook for us, and my father threw you back out to the street. You're part of the reason I left, you know."
Kupi didn't. "What?"
"I abhor my parents. They hoard their wealth and leave the rest of humanity to rot. I have no trouble with wealth, mind you, but refusing to help those in need is inexcusable. We could very well have put another cook to good use, for example. So I fled. I would rather be poor and able to give unto others than wealthy and unable to help those that need it."
Kupi nodded solemnly, considered his words, and spoke. "Well, it's best to obey your parents when they don't threaten your safety. They're at least older and probably wiser than you are at that point, and if you disagree with them you won't have to suffer through their ideals for long when all things're considered. And... have you tried talking to them?"
Derrik nodded. "They do not listen to me. I am simply my father's successor, nothing more."
Kupi sighed, with the weight of the situation coming down hard. "Well, they're worried about you now, if it counts for anything. And rushing out and getting yourself killed isn't the way to handle any situation. I don't know much else beyond that," the FOmar admitted.
Meanwhile, the alternate conversation had turned sour. An appropriate arrangement had been made for split pay, but receiving that payment was presenting a problem.
"The doors keep locking, though," noted Sapphire. "We're just going to keep going forward unless we can find a teleport out."
"We could make our own, you know," snorted the RAmarl. "You've got to know about Telepipes."
Sapphire noted, feeling humbled. "That's right. Too bad I didn't pack any... Soki?"
Soki blinked, in the sense that applies to the eyeless. A series of complicated self-searching motions indicated that Soki had neglected to stop at the shop and pick up more of the instant salvation devices. The RAmarl rolled her eyes at both of them.
"Men... you forget to bring your brains with you whenver you go anywhere..." she muttered under her breath. More audibly, she stated, "Well, you're lucky that I always bring ex... tras?" The RAmarl patted her hip, and a vision of her Item Pack, a miniature teleportation flux device that kept improbable numbers of things in a state of eternal transportation around the Pack, sitting at the foot of her bed, came back to her mind. Slowly she realized that now nobody had a Telepipe to use. Her eyes widened, but in more levels of fear than simply being stranded.
"Great," said Soki, seeing her reaction to the blunder. "We're just going to have to fight our way to the next teleport. It's a long way, though, and..."
Sapphire did not like the way that Soki trailed off. "And?" he prompted.
"And the nearest teleports that're wired to head for Pioneer 2 are in the entrances to the mine complex, connected to the sewer system. That's where they saw the De Rol Le," Soki explained.
"What's wrong with that? I thought they killed the De Rol!" protested Kupi.
Sapphire shook his head. "They've done more studies and sent more people into the sewers. Apparently the mutation sustained by the De Rol before it escaped allowed it to self-replicate." Anticipating Kupi's answer, Sapphire continued. "That means it can create more of itself without any sort of fertilization. There are hundreds of De Rol Les swimming around in the sewer, and more growing. There's a good chance that we'll be attacked by one if we try to get the mine complex. But we don't have a choice since the doors are locking behind us and we don't have Telepipes OR know Ryuker, which has the same effect." Sapphire drew the Handgun that had fallen into his possession during the subdual of Derrik, and tossed it to the boy. "We're going to need everything we can get to get through this place with everyone intact. C'mon, let's go."
Fortunately, the now party of five didn't run into any monsters for the rest of the floor, but also didn't get anything to talk about, marching on in silence. To Sapphire's surprise, the way onward led through a teleporter, which brought a question to mind.
"Wait a minute, can't we just set this teleporter to the Pioneer 2?"
Soki shook his head, but contrarily said, "Technically, yes. But this is a site-to-site matter transporter... it's wired for one location only, rather than having the ability to pick a target dynamically. You could rewire it, but you'd have to be pretty darned sure to know where you're going or the coodinates could put you anywhere. It's not an acceptable risk." With that, the HUcast stepped inside and disappeared, leaving the rest to shrug to one another and follow him.
The end location was a severe change from the first floor of the Caves. Instead of sweating, the organic members of the party were now shivering, though largely due to the fact that they'd become used to being too hot. The air was frigid and water dripped from the ceiling in places, forming puddles on the floor. Despite the shift in themes, the first obstacle to the group's path was familiar; a mechanical doorway that, as they expected, shifted to locked once all five of them were through the door and it closed. Now they stood in a rectangular room, completely devoid of anything interesting except the allure of escape by the door on the opposite end, which happened to be locked as well. Sensing trouble but not seeing it, Soki made his way into the room cautiously, ahead of the rest. Sapphire, Kupi, and the RAmarl scanned the room for danger, and Derrik hung back near the door.
Kupi poked Sapphire on the shoulder, and asked him a question. "Were those puddles there before?" Sapphire, Soki, and the RAmarl followed his pointing finger. Sure enough, there were puddles forming at an alarming rate at either far corner. However, they did not appear to be composed of water. They were still blue, but a darker blue with a faintly visible reddish core. And eventually they split into two halves each, and began to move of their own accord towards Soki, who wisely moved out of the way. One of the slimes pursued him while the other three picked targets and attempted to ensnare their feet. Either fortunately or unfortunately, depending on whose side you were on, the slimes were too slow to catch up with the swift human (or Newman, in Sapphire's case) feet. Thus, acting simultaneously and similarly, they reformed. The red bit on the side was what truly took on a new shape, becoming crescentlike with spines on the sides, with a pointed head, complete with eyes. The bluish gunk simply followed the red and continued to surround it.
Soki wasted no time in punching the Slime in the face. This produced a squelching sound and no useful result. The Slime waited for a moment, then exhaled a droplet of firey blue ether that travelled too slowly for someone with Soki's reflexes to be hit by. The HUcast took one step sideways and allowed the cold flames to bounce their way to the wall and peter out. Sapphire, taking a chance, held out his wand and focused his ice magic into a blast of icy wind laced with crystalline shards, resulting in a flash-frozen Slime statue. The RAmarl brought the muzzle of her Rifle directly between her Slime's eyes, receiving no reaction from the reticent creature. Pulling the trigger produced a shower of blue and red gunk that spatter in various locations across the room, but unfortunately the only other result was the rest of the Slime reverting to a mobile puddle and fleeing to a farther location before coming back up again. Finally, Kupi established yet another futile fight as he used the Rod to chop through the Slime in front of him again and again, to no avail. Derrik, aware of his value, stayed near the door and out of danger.
Soki improvised, crossing his arms to form an X around the Slime, and then uncrossed them with as much alacrity as he could muster. This did indeed split the Slime in two, which proved to be a tactically stupid manuver, as both halves then expanded to full size and took the upright position. Sapphire experienced a similar phenominon as the iced Slime shattered the frozen shell around it, tearing itself in two as it did so. Both pieces grew into full Slimes within moments. Meanwhile, the gun maiden was taking pot shots at the fleeing blue puddle, and made the discovery that the photon bullets ricocheted off of the rounded mass of blue. Kupi and his Slime began the staring contest that Kupi's battles seemed to detenerate into eventually. Just then Kupi heard a squishing noise from below, looked down, and saw a circle of the red slime forming beneath him. Not having the scientific spirit to discover what this would do firsthand, Kupi dove out of the way just as a scythelike extention burst upward, flailed around, and then lowered and returned to the Slime that had been given enough time to consider its actions. Its attack made, the Slime reverted to a blob and chased after Kupi.
"Sapphire!" Soki yelled suddenly. "Stick your hand in one of 'em and use fire!" Sapphire got the opportunity immediately, as a Slime reared up right next to him. Swallowing his sense of decency for the moment, Sapphire thrust his hand into the cold blue mass, which was surprisingly unresisting, and let loose his flames as quickly as possible. The red part of the slime combusted in a flash, sending spatters of blue goo all over the room and apparently ridding the world of one more animated puddle. That seemed to satisfy Soki.
"Okay! Everyone to the door!" he ordered. Realizing that the HUcast had a plan, they obeyed. The absense of other targets allowed the Slimes to focus on Soki, dogging his heels until finally they all reared up together, nearly touching one another. "Now, Sapphire! The biggest fire spell you can get!" Sapphire, concentrating hard, gave off a crimson aura of fire (causing Kupi, the RAmarl, and Derrik to jump backward in surprise) before releasing the pent-up energy by pointing his Wand at the monsters. There was a second's pause before a tiny puff of flames appeared in the center of the Slimes' circle, and then exploded, painting the walls with globs of blue.
"It worked..." sighed Soki, relieved.
"Ugh..." muttered Sapphire, exhausted.
"Yuck!" exclaimed Kupi, disgusted.
"Hnng," grumbled the RAmarl, dirtied.
"Coooooooool," commented Derrik, thoroughly impressed.
Sapphire downed a Monofluid to alleviate the technique fatigue, and the party continued onward into the chilly depths. The next amjor obstacle came in the form of technology. A circular floor plate was fenced in by several broad beams of blue-colored light in a room that was more green than blue. Right next to it, a cylindrical switch matrix fenced in red light displayed a mark inside that matched a locked door to the group's right as they came in. As usual, the door locked behind them. Sapphire took a quick look around the room, and determined that the situation looked bad.
"Photon fences," Soki explained to Kupi, who was the most definitely inexperienced. "They work on the same concept as the shields we wear, but they have enough energy to work continuously. We need to find some way to get rid of those fences, or we're stuck."
The party went to work. Sapphire tried to determine the chance of removing vital circuitry from the barriers, but they had no notable access point, and things intended to impede one's progress on Coral and now Ragol tended to be made of Laconium-- a material impervious to any and all known forms of damage. That removed the possibility of cutting things open. Soki made a noble attempt at clearing the fences with a running bound, but ultimately the repulsion was too much to get past. The RAmarl, taking an off chance, peered into a nearby recess of water and found nothing. Kupi meandered aimlessly through a patch of grass, and suddenly fell downward by about an inch as the ground descended beneath him, producing a crickita-chunk noise. Kupi, surprised, jumped backward as everyone looked at him.
"Something here moves," the boy noted, and promptly stepped on it again. This time, the RAmarl's line of sight allowed her to make another observation.
"That brings down the barriers. Hey, you!" she yelled to Sapphire. "Step on that next floor panel." Sapphire, with an inner grumble at being bossed around stepped within the deactivated fences and put his weight on the switch, producing a similar crickita-chunk, and the red barriers went down. Then the Rifle-toter looked at Soki and ordered, "Now take down the lock," which Soki did by waving his hand through the matrix, which caused the previously locked door to open up. At this, Kupi took a step toward it, releasing pressure on the floor plate, and thus causing the blue barriers to return. Sapphire, now trapped, panicked and tried to chase Kupi, which in turn caused the red barriers to reappear around Soki. The RAmarl introduced her face to her palm.
"Idiot men... get back where you were!" The latter expression was far more audible than the former, and directed at Kupi, who snapped back to his original location. Sapphire, with enough presense of mind to see what he should do, returned to his floor switch and waited until Soki was out of the red fences before he left his switch, and then Kupi stepped off of his switch once Sapphire was free. At that point everyone conviened at the door and Sapphire addressed a question to Soki.
"Okay. The doors locking when monsters are in the room I understand. And mining the hallways seems sensible enough. But what use is it to put a switch that unlocks the next door inside a chain-reaction fence puzzle?!" the FOnewm shouted.
Soki thought for a long time, and then submitted his analysis: "To give hunters a hard time."
The very next room contained something unusual; a pillar with ornate carvings on it, humming busily. A symbol on the pillar was glowing green, and the whole thing was emitting mist-like vapors that were being whisked upward by some unseen wind flow. Cautiously, the party approached it, Sapphire in the lead. With the sense not to touch it, Sapphire examined the symbols as the others waited with bated breath.
"It's in some kinda old language," the Force said, rereading the neatly lined incriptions. "Some of the symbols look close to an archaic written language I studied back at the Academy, but it's either coincidential or a spinoff language of some sort. In any case, I can't make out what it's supposed to say. I think we'd better leave it alone for now, but I'll make a note of it." With that, Sapphire took out the typing device and headed for the next doorway out, followed by everyone but Kupi, who stood transfixed at the monument. Soki noticed this just before he stepped through the portal.
"Kupi? You coming?"
Kupi looked at him, taken out of the trance. There was a feeling associated with the pillar, but just as Sapphire couldn't discern the runic language, Kupi couldn't figure out what that emotion was. Ultimately, the incident was filed away in a corner of his mind and progress resumed as if nothing had happened.
Sooner than they'd expected, the party found another teleporter to the next deeper floor of the Caves. The area was beginning to show signs of merging with the newly-discovered Mines. The rooms and tunnels were more uniformly cut than their predecessors, showing flat lines and rounded edges in any possible case. Furthermore, a few technological units of little consequence were discovered, but none of them had any ties to teleportation. The last occurence of note was the swarm of giant mantises, which arrived only after an extensive hike through the rocky region.
They came as any other monsters the party had seen thus far; with a small specialized teleport. What surprised the party of adventurers was their number combined with their size. There were six of them, and they were huge. Each one of them was at least twice as tall as Soki, and that was only their vertical part. Another length of body segments ran horizontally parallel to the ground, supporting the weight of the creature by the numerous legs that sprouted from the body segments, two per segment, one on each side. Of far more important note to the party was the giant scythe-arms that the monsters wielded haphazardly from midway up their vertical segment.
They appeared in a circle just after the group under Sapphire's leadership had reached the center of the rectangular room. Slowly but surely, they started closing in. The mantises could move with their legs, but not quickly. Taking the initiative, Soki charged at the Grass Assassin (the name given to the overgrown bugs, as Sapphire discovered later) nearest the far door and, determining in the interval that he got that he wouldn't be able to reach its head, leapt at the beast with one leg extended, collided with it full force, then used the way the creature bent under the kick to push off of it and backflip away. Sapphire hurled a fireball at the Assassin to the left's body, knocking it shuffling backward but not killing it. The Grass Assassin to the first one's right came under attack by two guns, both the RAmarl's and Derrik's. The two showered it with photonic bullets until finally one struck the creature in the middle of its three eyes and it collapsed, dead. Kupi steeled his nerves, then ran for the Assassin that Sapphire had attacked and made an admirable attempt at hitting it with his Rod, but the Assassin had recovered from Sapphire's fireball enough to spew white gunk from its mouth, which covered Kupi and hardened on the spot.
"Go for the eyes!" Soki yelled, and promptly took off to the left to tackle the white glob that Kupi had become and get it out of the way of the Grass Assassin's stab with the point of its scythe arm. Keeping the momentum, Soki rolled back to upright and slashed his photon claw straight through the fourth Grass Assassin's side, not quite far enough to split it. Sapphire's next fireball struck Soki's original Grass Assassin in the head, sufficiently charring it to uselessness as guiding center and thus killing the creature. Derrik and the RAmarl turned their attention to the Grass Assassin approaching from behind, and fired simultaneously. As one might expect, the shots landed simultaneously. Unfortunately, they managed to intersect at a point right before the Assassin's central eye, ricocheted, and struck the Assassin's two side eyes, causing a wail of pain but not a deathcry. Kupi, still stuck in the nasty crud, was powerless to do anything.
At that point the three injured Grass Assassins got angry, reared backward, letting out high shrieks, and charged forward with much greater speed than their legs seemed to be able to allow. That still allowed for greater speed on the part of the adventurers, which was utilized as everyone except Kupi (who was still out of the way from being knocked over) dodged in whatever manner seemed most appropriate at the time. This allowed the Grass Assassins, who had remained perfectly positioned from the start, to crash into each other at the center of the room, creating a grand set of snaps, crunches, and cracks, and three dead insect bodies. This left one Grass Assassin left, which everyone turned upon and loosed whatever ranged attack they were capable of, which resulted in a rather messy bug head and no more Grass Assassins. After that, their attention turned to Kupi.
Nobody had a clue as to what to do to get him out until Soki took the initiative, drew one of his two-handed photon blades and very carefully sliced through the edge of the coccoon, down its length. Seeing no real effect besides an opening, the HUcast wedged his hands in it and tore it apart, finally allowing Kupi enough space to move, not to mention breathe, both of which the diminutive Force did with alacrity. After becoming aware of his reinstated priveleges, Kupi utilized the Aurisan Laundry Trick once more, prompted Sapphire to say, "You'll have to teach me how to do that," while helping Kupi up.
"Everybody ready? Then let's move," commanded Soki, and made for the next door. Behind it was a short hallway, and then a large oblong teleport station situated in a small room that was filled with a red glow produced by several electric lights hanging above. After analyzing the controls and readouts, Soki informed the rest, "It leads to the sewer system. The next entrance to the Mines is about a mile down, and the rafts don't travel fast. Plus..." Soki trailed off emphatically.
"What's wrong?" prompted Sapphire.
"See the lights?" asked Soki. "They aren't red like that normally. This area's under an alert."
"An alert for what?" asked the RAmarl, and then made the necessary logic connection. "A De Rol..."
"Correct. But they rest most of the time, so if one's in the area then we can't just wait for it to leave. We'll have to take the risk." With that, Soki drew his Yamato blades, stepped into the teleporter, and waited for the rest, who steeled their nerves and accompanied him.
The raft that the party arrived on at the end of the teleport remained motionless for a moment, before it sensed the new pressure and began its job of moving the five riders down the passage that seemed to extend infinitely in either direction, green-tinted water flowing underneath. The raft ran silently as everyone kept watch for any signs of other aquatic activity. Sapphire suddenly gasped, and pointed far behind the raft.
"Everyone... I... I think we're being pursued..." he stuttered.
"How can you tell?" asked the RAmarl, not seeing anything.
"From seeing the rough wave!"
At that moment everyone aboard the raft became aware for a brief moment that they'd just been used to make a rather corny joke. They were unable to dwell on the feeling, however, because at that point the De Rol Le surfaced. True to the rumors, it was a multisegmented worm, with the ability to swim like a water mocassin. It had a purple outside down the length of its body, and a giant boney skull at its front, giving it a gharish look like an insectoid angel of death. Just behind the skull, four tentacles nearly as long at the worm itself whipped backwards.
The worm swam alongside the raft, but with enough distance to keep out of range of Soki's blades. Therefore, the RAmarl, Derrik, and Sapphire pelted it with bullets and fireballs, which either bounced off of the armor plating or split into pieces. Eventually the De Rol increased its speed and centered itself in front of the raft, then lifted its tail and with a "whump" noise fired several spikey missles that embedded themselves into the raft. They had spines, and glowed red intermittenly.
"Get them off!" yelled Soki, immediately rushing over to one, grabbing it by the spines, and hurling it off of the raft. The rest followed suit, but missed one near the rear-right corner of the raft and had just enough time to see it spark before exploding, taking a chunk of the raft with it. That was not a good thing. They did not get the chance to ponder the conseqences of fighting something was taking pieces out of their safety from an untimely watery grave, though, as the worm pulled up alongside the opposite side of the raft. One's of Soki's energy scanners beeped.
"Down!" ordered the HUcast, and prostrated himself while grabbing Kupi and taking the Force with him. Just as Sapphire hit the deck, a wave of purple energy balls flew straight overhead and crashed into the far wall. Sapphire stood just in time to see the worm lunging at the raft and got out of the way with a clumsy backward somersault. The De Rol seemed content to stay latched onto the raft, so Soki finally got the chance to put his blades to good use. Unfortunately, "good use" was ineffective as well. Soki couldn't even chip the thing's armor. And then he saw one of the tentacles twitch, calculated a trajectory, and determined that Kupi needed to be moving faster than he was. The HUcast quickly sheathed the photon blades, charged at Kupi, and pushed him out of the way just as the blade-tipped protrusion fell. Kupi was out of harm's way, but Soki wasn't moving quite fast enough and as a result lost a leg as the tentacle ripped through it.
"Soki!" yelled Sapphire, with understandable concern.
"Keep moving!" yelled the HUcast back, obviously not concerned with the development. Even without the leg, Soki was doing a good job of not getting stabbed again. The four tentacles jabbed again and again at the raft, picking different targets each time. Sapphire took a miniature hop backwards, evading one strike, only to have to dive forward again to duck the next. Meanwhile, the RAmarl was busy tugging Derrik around by the arm to keep him out of the way, and Kupi discovered that the tendrils wouldn't try to get him if he hid close to the the De Rol's skull helmet. Abruptly, the jabs and stabs ceased. After a moment's pause, the De Rol jerked its head backward, taking another chunk of the raft with it and causing Kupi to momentarily defy gravity. The De Rol sloshed into the water and vanished. There was a long period of no activity.
"...did it give up?" asked Sapphire, while inspecting the quarter of a leg that Soki had remaining.
"No... it's approaching fast. On the ceiling!" yelled Soki, who was scanning the area behind the raft.
Everyone looked up as a scratching noise began. Sure enough, the De Rol was crawling its way up the ceiling at an incredible pace, latching onto different chunks of rock and pulling them out as it dove forward. Soki was the first to realize what this would accomplish when the worm passed overhead, but didn't get the time to vocalize it. When the De Rol caught up with the raft, the stones it was pulling out dropped straight down onto the raft. The RAmarl had already taken Derrik to the corner of the raft, where it was relatively safe. But Soki and Sapphire were right in the center of the raft, and Soki was unable to move right as a stone dropped above them. In a flash of quick thinking, Kupi loosed a Foie blast and immediately felt the consequences. However, the rock had not hit Sapphire and Soki. It was just a bunch of smaller rocks that hit them, one of which struck Sapphire across the top of the head and knocked him unconscious.
Then the lights went out.
The De Rol had apparently knocked out a piece of the lighting circuit in its ceiling travels. The emergency lights came on, painting everything in an erie orange glow. Meanwhile, the De Rol surfaced again, in front of the raft, and made its way around and to the back of the raft. For a while it kept itself at the same speed of the raft, and then reared up out of the water, using its back parts to keep a steady velocity. Its mouth opened slowly, and with a sound like wind rushing in, gathered blue energies in the maw. The next attack was going to be big, and nobody could do a thing about it. The rushing wind noise stopped, and the De Rol pulled back to fire...
Then, the air at the back of the raft distorted, wrapping around itself to allow a new entrant. Her head was covered by a black hood, connected in turn to a cloth that covered her entire body save her ears. The mask she wore and the weapon she held were the same as the ones that the mysterious fighter from the Dragon battle had had. The De Rol, too far along in its attack to stop, released one giant energy beam that looked like it was going to tear the raft apart. But as the FOnewearl raised her weapon against it, the beam split in two and ricocheted toward the walls. The De Rol repeated its ray, and the FOnewearl deflected it with the cane again. Losing steam, the De Rol's beam blazed once more, this time it was sucked into the weapon in its entirity. The strange Force whirled around and hurled the blue energy back toward the worm, striking it in the bone helmet and shattering it, revealing the face of the De Rol. Then she switched stances to place her off hand forward and fire a purple energy ball that struck the worm in the face, causing it to vomit up a stream of green blood and fall, twitching, into the water. It also brought Kupi, screaming in pain, to the ground. Her work done, the magician once again disappeared with nary a look toward the other people on the raft.
The raft slowly came to a stop at the entrance to the Mines several minutes later. Once she'd roused Sapphire from his unconsciousness, the RAmarl explained what had happened to Sapphire as Derrik, understandably scared silly, tended to Kupi. Once everyone had established what would have to be accepted as "fine" status for everyone else, the party dismounted the raft and located a teleport back to Pioneer 2 quickly and without incident. Finally back on the streets, Sapphire addressed the RAmarl.
"It's time to get Derrik back home," he said with utmost certainty.
"Obviously," snapped the RAmarl.
"I shall return home g... gladly," panted the boy. After seeing what really laid out in the world, the comfort of home looked extremely appealing, despite his parents. Still, Sapphire insisted on returning him home, and the reception was excellent. Even better after Derrik told his parents what had happened. The reward money was split 50/50 between Sapphire's party and the RAmarl, which suited everyone just fine. Just before they parted ways, Sapphire extended an invitation to the RAmarl.
"You know, you fight pretty well, and we can always use another hunting partner. Would you like to come back to my house for dinner, and we can talk--"
A look of pure horror flashed through the RAmarl's eyes before she shouted, "No!!" cutting him off, with an inexplicable tinge of terror in her voice. She then turned and ran off. Sapphire blinked.
"Strange girl... hey?" the FOnewm knelt and picked something up.
"What's that?" asked Kupi.
Sapphire inspected it. "It's a Guild Card. She must have dropped it."
"What's a Guild Card do?" wondered Kupi aloud, prompting this chapter's technical explanation.
"It's basically any information you've already given to the Hunter's Guild, plus a little extra. It includes the name, profession, classification, and personal comments from a hunter. It also allows location tracking and use of the Simple Mail system, so you can talk to your friends from afar. We could find out a lot about her with this if we wanted to..." Sapphire trailed off, and then diverted the attention of his comrades. "In any case, let's get home and get some rest, right?"
With that, Sapphire started off, leaving Kupi to shrug at Soki and follow. In turn, Soki hopped on one foot in pursuit, gripping the other leg in one of his hands, which drew weird looks.
Wheee. Chapter six ought not take as long to get out, but with the way I work on this, who knows? I hope you enjoyed this, and I'll see y'all later. Comments appreciated, as usual.
<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: Kupi on 2003-06-14 19:11 ]</font>
Short chapter this time... just a little character explanation. Chapter 7 ought to be more interesting.
Kupi slept dreamlessly on the day of the De Rol. He was too tired for either mere subconscious vision or nightmare. Similarly, the next several days passed uneventfully, with Sapphire working at his computer, Soki heading out hunting, and Kupi doing whatever shopping, cooking, or cleaning there was to do at his discretion. The lull was finally broken when Kupi asked Sapphire a pair of questions.
"Hey, Sapphire?" began Kupi over dinner. Soki was, as usual, out hunting.
"Hmm?" allowed Sapphire.
"What happened to that woman we met up with in the Caves?"
"I'm glad you asked. I've been tracking her location and activities for a while. She doesn't seem to be into anything illegal, just standard hunter fare and staying at home when she isn't either at the shops or on Ragol. The problem is... well, she lives in Vega."
The significance of this missed Kupi entirely. "Vega?"
Sapphire nodded grimly. "Vega. See, 'Pioneer 2' has a main ship, but it's also a convoy of smaller ships. We live in Altair, which is fairly mid-class. Vega's... well, there're very few kind terms for it. Vega attracts dirty people. It's got most of the low-rent living quarters and most've the people who live there can't afford to pay even that. I know this woman stays in Vega, but that might not mean that she necessarily lives in a house."
"That's terrible!" exclaimed Kupi, appalled.
Sapphire continued nodding. "It's worse... there's a saying about Vega, Kupi. Which is incredible, since this colony's only been around about a month. Anyway... 'There are no virgins in Vega.'"
"I don't know if you noticed, but this woman... her name's Janise, by the way... stayed on the opposite end of every sinlge room we passed through, and kept a fair distance behind us in the halls. The only person she seemed comfortable around was Derrik."
Kupi tilted his head to one side. "I still don't get what you're saying, Sapphire."
"What I'm saying," Sapphire responded with full awareness of the gravity of what he was saying, "is that if she's from Vega and she's scared of men, she's probably been..." Sapphire really did not want to say the word, but brought himself to do it anyway. "...raped. And recently. I can't say that for certain, but I don't think she'd be masculophobic if she'd just been mugged or something."
Kupi blinked twice.
"Now, I'm no psychologist. She could just be wary, or cautious, or... you know what? There's a good chance I'm wrong, so forget I said anything."
Kupi ceased blinking, but retained a look of surprise. To alleviate the mental snap, he asked his second question. "...oookay, I guess we'll drop it, then. I was wondering about something else. We've been rooming together for a while, and I'm curious... where d'you come from, like, on Coral? What was your family like, and stuff like that?"
There was immediately a shift in the feel about the room. What had once been a kindhearted dining room became the worst possible place to be at that time. Sapphire stood, headed over to the desk where his computer was, punched something into the communicator sitting there, and then said, "Come on, Kupi. We're going hunting."
Kupi remained sitting. "Wha--? But we aren't--"
"Shut up, Kupi," snapped Sapphire, nearly out the door. With no idea what he'd done, Kupi followed him all the way to the teleporter. With equal ferocity, Sapphire spat, "Forest," at the technician and stepped into the teleporter. With a look of surprise on his face, the teleport operator questionlessly hit the button and sent the two down to the surface.
By the time Kupi had come out of the teleport state, Sapphire was halfway to one of the sliding doors in the area near Central Dome, under the eternal rain that seemed to surround the place. Kupi struggled to catch up, and at last came even with the other Force as the metal barrier slid open.
"I'll tell you where I come from... gladly!" shouted the blue-haired one as a pair of Boomas burst forth from the ground. "Everything was fine, perfect childhood, nuclear family!" he continued, ducking Booma claws as he did so. "I went to school--" one of the Boomas took a fireball to the stomach at point-blank range, "--at a typical academy--" the other one took one side of Sapphire's wand to the side of the head, "--and was 19th in my class!" The word, "class" was the last thing the second Booma heard, since it directly preceeded Sapphire's fire-charged Wand waving right in front of its face. Kupi kept his distance from the spectacle, and then from Sapphire as the doors unlocked and the FOnewm charged on.
"And then!" he yelled abruptly, halting in his tracks and pointing the Wand at Kupi only for emphasis but still in a manner than made Kupi flinch. "I died!"
Kupi blinked, and realized that he'd been doing a lot of that lately. "What?"
"I died! Or the real me... or..." Kupi felt a sudden pain in the back of his head. Not stabbing, but blunt and throbbing. As soon as it had come, though, it left, synchronized perfectly with Sapphire's turn for the door, muttering, "Keep moving, keep moving, keep moving," low, and to himself.
The next room was long and moderately wide; enough to fit Kupi and Sapphire several times. It stretched away like a long gauntlet. As Sapphire marched into it, he continued his life story. "The old me died. Of a disease. They never even knew what it was; one day they found me dead in my bed." A trio of Boomas dug their way out of the ground. As many balls of flame whirled from Sapphire's off hand, gravitating around one another until they made contact and slew the beasts. "But my parents wouldn't stand for that, oh no. They loved their son too much to just--" another three Boomas, of a yellow variation, plodded forward, "--let... go!" And so Sapphire let go, with a a bolt of chain lightning that arced throughout the Goboomas and sent them crashing to the turf. "So they had me cloned! They took another shot at my life, starting from birth!" Kupi was momentarily distracted by a Gigobooma's claw slash at his head, which he parried with his Rod and then dove out of the way as an icy wind blast of unusual force blew it to the door that they'd come in.
"Everything was fine and dandy so long as I didn't know that I wasn't me!" said Sapphire, seeming to have calmed down slightly. "But then..." his voice was filled with wrath again, "I found out!" Sapphire's next Foie blast caught the first of a pack of Wolves in the face. "of course... I had to find out!" Focusing on the Barbarous Wolf in the distance, Sapphire dropped a lightning bolt on it. "There's a psychological condition called 'clone identity crisis' that sometimes occurs in clones LIKE ME!" Something terrible had slipped into his voice just for the moment and upped the ante of his next spell into an exploding Rafoie that sent both remaining Wolves flying in opposite directions and against the walls. Kupi took a few steps backward.
"I honestly can't tell you who I am!" shouted Sapphire to Kupi, bearing down on the little boy despite his retreats. Sapphire grabbed Kupi by the shoulder and glared into his eyes. "I'm never certain who's life I'm leading, whose thoughts I'm thinking, or whether I'm in control of my own life! I'm someone else entirely!" The feeling of pain shot back into Kupi's head. He felt helpless to do anything but stare back into Sapphire's now blodshot eyes.
A Hildebear crashed into the clearing at the far end of the gauntlet. Sapphire didn't seem to notice it.
"Who am I?!" he screamed into Kupi's face. A brief flash of sanity returned to the FOnewm's countenance, enough to allow him to release the smaller Force's shoulder and turn, before the madness gripped him and flung him into the abyss. Sapphire answered his own question as a purple haze surrounded him, concentrated on his Wand.
The puple haze formed into a ball as Sapphire hurled the Wand at the Hildebear. Kupi fell to his knees, unable to move from the splitting pain. The dark ball struck the Hildebear in the chest, spread, and engulfed it in a haze. It never had the chance to make a sound, but as the form-fitting darkness indicated, it could feel what was happening to it. As the cloud cleared, it revealed nothing but a skeleton that fell into a pile on the ground. With a minute "pff," they crumpled to dust.
Slowly but surely the pain receded from Kupi's body. With a last shake of his head to clear what remained of the sensation, he turned his frightened gaze upon Sapphire, who had sprawled prone on the floor, no energy left in his body. What had just happened told him to be wary, but friendship demanded that Kupi inspect his fallen friend. Carefully, he poked Sapphire in the shoulder and received the surest sign that Sapphire was both alive and at the very least better.
"It's called... Megid... the Curse of Death. It only occurs in people with high magic power and then only when you're thinking you're most terrible thoughts... mine is my identity... Kupi, I'm sorry you had to see that... I wasn't thinking straight... I shouldn't have let you come with me... it was stupid..."
"It's..." Kupi struggled for the word. "Okay" was not the one. After a long pause, Kupi finally came up with something. "I'm still alive, at least. We'll... we'll find some way to fix it, Sapphire! I know we will!"
Sapphire shook his head, getting the sides of his mass of blue hair dirty. "I can't control it, Kupi... it's a part of me... a monster... I try and try, but I can only delay it when it comes... someday it's going to hit at the wrong time... Kupi, you ought to get away from me..."
"You're my friend and I'm not giving up on you, Sapphire! If worse comes to worst, I'll duck! And that's final!"
Kneeling, Kupi worked a Telepipe onto Sapphire's wrist, hit the button, and sent him back to the Pioneer 2. Just before he activated his own, a stiff gust of wind dispersed the pile of bone-dust that was the Hildebear just prior. Missing the actual effect of the Megid blast had spared Kupi the reality of what it meant; seeing the dust scattered to the wind made it a bit more clear. Then, the fact that he'd just sent Sapphire to Pioneer 2 prone returned to his mind, and Kupi nearly forgot the incident as he hastily transported up.
Kupi did not dream that night. It's hard to dream when you don't sleep.
End of chapter 6. See you around, those of you who are reading! ...you're out there! Somewhere!
The next days passed uneventfully, largely due to Kupi's awareness of what not to speak about spilling over into not talking about much at all. A routine quickly formed: Sapphire worked, Kupi did chores, Soki went hunting. That was all that truly happened for nearly a week, at which point Kupi noticed a change in Sapphire's behavior. The FOnewm did no less work on the computer, but rather than simply goof off during the free time, Sapphire tinkered with several unusual mechanical devices with equally unusual tools. A corner of the room became a workshop in which all these separate pieces were piled once Sapphire had fussed at them to satisfaction. Kupi still hadn't the nerve to speak to Sapphire to ask Sapphire what he was doing, and Soki refused to comment when Kupi asked, saying only that it would be a surprise.
Then, one day, Sapphire told Kupi to take as long a walk as he could think of. Explore the other ships if he wanted to, though stay out of Vega, and here, have some Meseta if he wanted to eat out and go shopping for new equipment. So, baffled, Kupi strolled. And strolled. He strolled from Altair to Deneb to Antares and even to a ship called Alcyone where everyone spoke weird and Kupi couldn't understand a word they were saying. Most of it involved "C" and a number, but what that was supposed to mean and why it was so important eluded Kupi's mental grasp. After eating lunch, falling victim to a sales pitch for a sort of weapon called a 'Slicer', and after discovering a rather enjoyable form of soccer involving inflatable spheroid rubber mice, Kupi finally caught the infuriating combination of boredom and curiosity and returned home to find the door emitting a slow, steady, thunk.
Kupi stood outside the door, silent, for half a minute. It was long enough to ascertain that the thunks were far too methodic to be human in origin, though that translated to Kupi's thought processes as "wow, that's pretty consistent thunking." Listening further and wonder whether or not he should open the door, Kupi heard Sapphire's muffled voice on the other side, in the tone he usually took when talking to himself.
"Okay, so we've got motor control. You, sir, are giving me a headache, so it's time to turn you-OWF" The last part startled Kupi's restraint into hiding and freed him to open the door. As soon as it slid open, an Android lower half walked out the door, bumped Kupi into the hall's far wall, turned stiffly, and walked down the hall.
"Stop those legs!!" shouted Sapphire, hopping on one foot and clasping the other in the air.
"Surreal" was not quite the proper term for it, but it is the only one that occurs to this author's mind and therefore shall be put to use to describe the feeling that Kupi experienced. It completely shut down any rational sense in his mind that would think to ask, "What's going on?" The small Force simply went with and chased the legs, which had discovered the stairwell, made another pair of sharp ninty-degree turns, and crashed its way down seven flights of steps. By the time Kupi had gotton to the bottom, the Android bottom had a significant head start and Sapphire was heading out the main door. Kupi hurried to catch up for the expressed purpose of asking just how Sapphire got down so fast.
"Took the elevator. Keep moving, we can't afford to lose that thing!" the other Force explained, and continued at high speed, though he favored one leg.
"What happened?" Kupi asked.
"Stupid thing's got quite a kick. I never shouldn't have put the self-defense program in so soon... ah!" a thought struck Sapphire, and he pulled out his pocket communicator. The other line answered immediately. "Soki! Pipe up to Pioneer 2 and head for Altair 5! Head to block 6 from there and catch the legs if you see them! ... yes, something went wrong! ... no, it's not armed. Unless you count that it weighs a couple hundred pounds and has a mean right kick. Okay, I need to keep following it, so hurry back!" Sapphire clicked the communicator off and stuck it in a pant pocket. Shifting his look from the legs to Kupi, he explained what needed to be done. "Kupi, we need to catch up to it and hit the brown switch next to the yellow light on its top, understand? Just be careful, it--"
"Yeah, I know," interrupted Kupi. "It kicks."
The legs suddenly turned and headed for an open wide shop door. Kupi and Sapphire followed it, but realized that the shop's setup was not in their favor. There were two major clothing racks down the length of the shop, separating the area into three aisles. The legs had stopped next to the counter, "looking" at the entrance where the Forces now stood. The man behind the counter peered at the half-Android. "Looking for a good pair of pants... er... sir?" he asked.
Sapphire pondered the situation. "Okay, I got it, Kupi. I'll go around one side, and you be ready to get it at whichever aisle it choses, got it?" Kupi nodded. At that, Sapphire crept to his right, sneaking despite knowing that the Android was fully aware of what he was doing. He rounded the corner and was immediately fled from, as he'd predicted. The Android chose the far aisle, and Kupi picked it as well. Sapphire rounded the corner and dove for the switch, but the Android legs made a quick calculation and, with another smart ninty-degree turn, tripped Kupi and ran underneath the set of robes and dresses that were on display before darting out the door. Without so much as waiting for Kupi to get back up, Sapphire pursued it. Kupi stood, brushed himself off, and shrugged to the cashier before making his own exit.
By the time Kupi fully caught up with Sapphire, they'd traversed half of Altair 6. "Kupi!" Sapphire shouted to the smaller Force, fatigue beginning to slip into his voice. "Veer to the left a bit. I'm heading right. That ought to keep it from going anywhere but forward."
"But we can't even get close to it unless it turns somewhere!" Kupi protested.
"We can't, but Soki's still heading our way," Sapphire answered. "He ought to be able to catch the thing so we can turn it off."
People had begun to notice the way the crowd was keeping out of the way of a specific line and cleared out, either to get a better vantage point, or simply avoid getting bumped out of the way by the lower half of an Android travelling at a rather painful velocity to be struck at by something that heavy. This freed up Soki's path of travel and a rather large crowd drew a breath as the yellow Android lunged, the legs stopped, reared back, and kicked the attacker right in the crotch with a loud metallic crash like two SUVs colliding at full speed. Soki, seemingly unaffected, grabbed the offending leg and hurled the entire Android assembly nearly ten feet behind him, which stood and ran away as fast as possible as soon as it landed.
"Soki!" Sapphire shouted. "We're supposed to be catching it, not helping it escape!" As the HUcast fell into step with Sapphire as the FOnewm and FOmar passed him while still at a run, Sapphire thought of something else to ask. "Er... and, are you okay? You got hit pretty hard..." Soki was running normally, and muttered a half-annoyed, half-embarrassed response, "I am an Android. I have nothing to hurt there."
Several more shopping complexes passed before the futility of the situation began to take hold in the three pursuers' minds. Sapphire was the first to vocalize the feeling, saying, "This isn't working! We aren't going to catch it by overtaking it!"
This brought an idea to Soki. "Quick!" he yelled. "See if you can get to its side and force it to the left at the next intersection!"
"But that'll take us to the Ragol transport for this block!" noted Sapphire, reading a street sign in passing.
"That's the idea!" Soki called back.
Soki usually had better plans when they had to be created on the fly, so Sapphire unquestioningly obeyed the order. Sure enough, the legs were forced to the teleport room and, to the amusement of a man whose sole purpose in life was to press colored buttons on cue, sent to Ragol's Forest on Soki's orders, then followed by its pursuors. On the reverse side, a bespectacled man in the crowd was rather disappointed by the turn of events and said to himself, "Thus the brief flash of amusement that had brought distraction from what troubles our hero is brought to--" He was cut off by a nearby and completely unrelated bystander whapping him upside the head in an act of sheer spontineaity.
On Ragol's surface, the legs were making a run for it as the trio continued to pursue it. Soki asked Sapphire, "How's your aim with Zonde?"
Sapphire thought for a moment, not on his ability with the spell but rather why he'd have to implement it. It struck him about as hard as he'd been struck in the foot. "I can't do that! It might destroy everything we've already done with it!"
"Would you prefer to tire out and lose it all for sure?" Soki shot back.
One moment's deliberation later, Sapphire took as careful aim as one can manage at a run and brought an extremely restrained thunderbolt down on the exposed circuitry at the half-Android's top.
Bzap-zzzt eeeeoooooooooooooo... click. Thunk.
The legs, now immobile and floored, laid pitifully on the ground, frozen in mid-stride. Sapphire panted as he inspected the contents of various panels and flaps on the Android. "Good, it's okay. Just suffered a power surge and flipped the circuit breaker controlling the motor systems. Good thinking, Soki," was his analysis.
"I'm glad it's okay!" exclaimed Kupi. "Now, mind telling me what 'it' is?"
Sapphire nodded. "I'm building an Android. See, they just opened up the Mines to general hunter use, so I've had Soki go in there and salvage what parts he could from the robots in there. Those self-detonation systems they've got don't leave much, so it took a while and what was left usually took a lot of fixing up, but with some time and a few new parts, I managed to get everything ready. Today was supposed to be construction day, and it'd be ready when you got home, except you came home early..."
"Sorry about that..." apologized Kupi quickly.
"Hey, nothing got damaged beyond repair, and I'm partially to blame anyway," apologized Sapphire back. "Right now we ought to get this thing back home and rewired... I really want to get it done."
By the end of the day, the robot was completed at the apartment and bug-free. It was huge and brown, nearly as wide across the shoulders as it was tall. Its arms looked like miniature cranes the way they hung from the shoulders, tiny by comparison. Of all the body parts, the head was the least impressive, barely more than a globe with eye sockets sitting between the shoulders. A very low hum was the only sign that it was online.
"Wow," commented Kupi, noticing that the thing was more than twice his size.
Sapphire nodded enthusiastically. "This thing's going to make a great shield. It's specifically coded to get in the way of any incoming threats to you or I, so you'll have to adjust your aim a bit, but trust me, the extra protection will help."
"I thought we have Soki for that..." wondered Kupi aloud.
Sapphire produced a figurative sweatdrop. "Well... Soki can't be everywhere at once," he explained rather weakly. Since Soki was still in the room, this was coded talk for "Soki's usually off hunting by himself, so we need someone a bit more reliable."
There was a pause as everyone simultaneously failed to produce a conversation topic.
"So what's his name?" Kupi asked, finally.
There was another pause as Sapphire realized that, for all the plans and schematics he'd drawn up, none of them included a name. "Um... er... I dunno..." the FOnewm stammered.
"How about... Bob?" Kupi suggested.
Sapphire did not like the name. "Bob? BOB?! You can't just name an Android 'Bob!' That's, like, not even fitting!"
Kupi folded his arms across his chest. "Have you got a better name?"
Sapphire froze in mid-rant. "I... er... oh, fine. Android, register name: Bob. Register owners: Sapphire, Kupi, Soki."
"Acknowledged. Name is 'Bob.'" rumbled the newly-christened Android. "Will accept orders from Sapphire, Kupi, Soki."
Sapphire sighed, which turned into a yawn. "Dang, I didn't realize it was so late. Ah well, I guess the test run will have to wait until tomorrow. Sleep well, you two. Or... have a good shut down, or something." Sapphire was halfway to his bedroom before he turned on his heels and said to Bob, "Bob, run 'Goodnight.'"
Bob suddenly made an exaggerated yawning motion, emitted a throaty-sounding, "Good Night Sapphire, Kupi, Soki," and prompty walked to one of the rooms corners and froze in place. The running hum faded into silence, indicating that he had shut down. Kupi and Soki exchanged glances before heading to bed.
I know the ending's a little weak, but I honestly couldn't put this in with the Mines chapter... it'd just take too long. =/ So, Chapter 8 will address the Mines and be much better than this one. Stay tuned!
At long last, so sorry for the delay, Chapter 8 is completed! I hope those of you who have followed me this far enjoy it!
Kupi was fairly certain that it was a dream from the moment that he saw himself about ten feet below him. Not just himself, but three other people, one talking to him. Or, the him below him. It was extremely confusing, and in fine Kupi tradition, Kupi did nothing about it but attempt to listen to the conversation. This did not produce desirable results; Kupi could only catch hints of comprehensible syllables coming out of anyone's mouth.
Then, a scream split the mumbles and the void that Kupi was floating in was torn asunder. He lost sight of himself and the other three, whirled away as a splitting pain shot through his stomach. Suddenly, he landed. The darkness that he had only been able to see gave no clue as to what he'd landed on, but gravity had been established, so Kupi stood.
I HAVE FOUND YOU.
Wake Up, Kupi.
Kupi turned. This was a futile gesture, as all he could see was infinite black.
I HAVE PREVAILED OVER THOSE THAT WOULD SAVE YOU.
Wake Up, Kupi.
Kupi involuntarily took a step backward. He had to get away, flee, escape...
YOU CANNOT ESCAPE FROM ME NOW.
Wake Up, Kupi.
Kupi chose that moment to run. He couldn't tell if he was moving, or even what he was running from. He simply knew that he had to run, that he was powerless against the source of the voice. A bone-shattering force slammed against his back, bringing him crashing to the "floor."
YOU ARE POWERLESS, KUPI!
Wake Up, Kupi.
Kupi first felt an impact on his spine. He was already prone, but the force somehow drove him closer to the floor before he bounced upward from the sheer crushing magnitude of the blow. A hail of pain rained on him after that, the feelings of nausea, cuts, and blunt impacts occuring simultaneously and all over his body. Suddenly, they stopped. Kupi could sense the final blow rising...
Another sense rushed into Kupi's mind. His ability to stop what was happening. Kupi could feel the surprise of his tormentor, but had no time to focus on it. The next thought to strike his mind was simply:
Wake Up, Kupi.
"Wake Up, Kupi."
Kupi bolted upright on the sofa, gasping. Looking around, Kupi's vision turned shades of brown as he realized who had just addressed him. It was Bob.
"Wake Up, Kupi," the Android repeated.
The FOmar stared at his feet. For a moment, Kupi was conscious of his mind being tampered with. He knew that he'd had a dream, but what about? Fighting... something? Someone? ...wait, had he even had a dream? And with that, the entire experience was deleted from his memory, leaving Kupi feeling nothing but hunger for breakfast.
"Wake Up, Kupi," insisted Bob.
"Enough! Enough!" yelled Sapphire, coming out of his bedroom.
"Wake Up, Kupi," said Bob again.
"Bob! Quit it!"
"Wake Up, Kupi."
Sapphire slapped a palm to the side of his head. "Right, right. Bob, endprog WakeUpCall," the FOnewm muttered.
Bob ceased his droning, but, to Kupi's annoyance, failed to move out of the way. This forced him to crawl across the sofa to access the rest of the apartment. Sapphire noticed it, and commented, "You know, Kupi, I'll have to teach you what kind've commands you can give Bob. Like, 'Bob BackStep 1.'" At this, Bob took a single backward step, freeing an area for Kupi to get out, were he actually there any more. Instead, Kupi was in the kitchen making breakfast, only halfway paying attention. He moved quickly for someone with such short legs.
"Keep it light today, Kupi," Sapphire recommended. "Don't forget that we're taking Bob for a test run today."
"Isn't that, like, basic operations?" wondered Kupi aloud.
"Nah, that was yesterday's feet incident. We've already determined that he works, now we're going to go into combat conditions."
"So we're going hunting today?"
"Yep. Soki's going to lead us through the Mines," said Sapphire, clicking on the morning news broadcast on his computer terminal. "The most I've seen of them is the robot parts he brought back, y'know. I really want to see where those parts came from. So hurry up with that breakfast!" Sapphire commanded, though with a wink and a smile to assure Kupi that he was joking.
An hour later, two Androids, a human, and a Newman were en route to the teleporter to Ragol, looking at last like a full-fledged hunting squad. Kupi, thinking about his recent purchase of a Slicer, inquired about what kind of armament Bob was designed to use.
"Well, I got two weapons for him," began Sapphire. "First is a standard Shotgun... they're these really big crossbow-looking things that you can fold up for easy storage. The best thing about a Shotgun is the spread of fire; they can actually discharge five separate photon bullets at once, each individually targeted to whatever threat the gun's calibrated to pick up. Beyond that, I got him a Photon Launcher. That thing was expensive, but SO worth it. See, normal photons scatter when they hit a solid target. They'll burn through in a matter of seconds because there are so many that they hit with extreme force as a group, but they still bounce off on an individual basis. But a Photon Launcher is capable of firing out bursts of photons so densely packed that they can smash through one surface and still have enough photons left to hit another, though the impact is lessened. So basically, Bob will be able to blast stuff in groups from a distance, as well as take hits. I haven't gotton his mine-laying systems operational yet, but once I do he'll even be able to put down those floating mines we saw in the Caves."
Kupi was silent for a moment, before submitting his assessment. "...gosh."
Three teleports later (it would have been one, but the Teleport Guy hit the wrong button and sent the team to the Forest first), the four were standing in the entry room of the technological core, literally, of Ragol. Sapphire gazed around in awe, eyeing all the computer screen readouts and silvery metal covering every inch of the walls in the next room.
"We're right above where we teleported away from Ragol last time, in a sense," Soki commented. "The teleport station we're at is right next to the waterway that you find the De Rols in. Though it isn't the exact same station, there's dozens just like it all over the channel. We used one to get out after fighting our De Rol."
Soki became aware that he was only talking to Bob and Kupi. Sapphire was already in the next room, examining everything he could and entirely missing the four gangly humanoid robots marching steadily toward him. The sound of their feet clattering across the steel floor plating was lost in the whirr and chug of other the machines, and the crushing blow that the first one to reach Sapphire threw at him missed by a matter of a half-second as Soki yanked Sapphire out of the way by the arm and spun, simultaneously tossing Sapphire toward the door he'd come through and kicking the robot's head into the screen Sapphire had been looking into, deactivating both. After that, Soki made a run for the door as the robot he'd kicked began to spark around the joints and finally explode, sending bits and pieces of robot across the floor everywhere nearby except through the door that Soki had closed behind he and Sapphire.
"Are you trying to get yourself killed?!" Soki shouted at him, justifiably irate.
Sapphire's mouth twitched, attempting to form words but not finding the right ones until at it discovered a path of least resistance in, "No?"
"Good! We can write that one off as stupidity, then," snapped Soki before he caught himself, largely due to seeing Kupi's shocked face. "...look, the Mines are dangerous, exponentially moreso than the Caves. Here, you're either careful or dead, understand? Don't go exploring until the doors unlock. Now, let's take out the rest of those Gillchics. And don't stand near them once they start losing body parts," explained Soki, and headed back into the fray.
"Bob, runGuard Sapphire," ordered Sapphire. "Kupi, you stick behind everyone."
Kupi nodded, and drew his Slicer after some deliberation. Two things were going to get a test run today.
Soki had made a run for the far end of the room, and had the attention of all three of the robots as the first person to have entered the room. The HUcast was delaying his attack on purpose; Bob needed a turn before anyone else dealt with the enemies. Sapphire spouted off a string of commands involving what was to be identified as an enemy, no, that's Soki, don't shoot him, shoot the other things, go.
Bob brought the Photon Launcher over his shoulder, took aim, and sent a searing green photonic missle sailing for the Gillchic on the outside of their L-like formation. It effortlessly passed through, making a perfect cylindrical hole in the robot and triggering its self-destruct system. Immediately afterward, something green and frenetic flew over Sapphire's shoulder, just barely passing under his ear. It continued to slice through the right Gillchic's neck and nearly go through Soki's, though the Android ducked in time to get out of the way. Just as the floating blade passed above Soki's head, it shot downward and back toward the last remaining Gillchic, sliced off one of its arms, passed between Bob's legs, and finally made its way toward Kupi, who dove out of the way. At the very same instant, the fluttering light flew parellel to his dive and embedded itself in the wall.
"What was THAT?!" shouted Sapphire, voicing both he and Soki's thought processes. Kupi had a similar feeling, though not an exact duplicate. His was more along the line of, "Oops..."
Kupi bore a sheepish grin as he stood and held the Slicer out. Apologetically, he said, "That was me, sorry about that..."
Sapphire approached Kupi, more with disbelief than anger. "I hate to admit it, but I have no idea what that thing is, Kupi. I want what you know about it fully explained before one of us loses a valuable appendage!"
Kupi tried to remember exactly why it had seemed like such a neat thing at the time the rather eccentric weapon store guy had sold it to him. "I think it attacks at funky angles. Like, you throw the blade and then the way you move the handle pulls the blade thing in whichever direction you pull the handle, so you can slice stuff from a distance and hit a lot of stuff at once. But it... er... takes practice..."
Sapphire thought for a moment, before telling Kupi, "Hand me that weapon." After receiving it from Kupi, who had the look of reprimanded child at that point, Sapphire inspected the hilt of the boomerang-shaped item and located what he was looking for, a switch that he flipped and locked into place. The photon edge still glowed, but very faintly.
Kupi tilted his head. "What did you do?"
Sapphire leapt upon the chance to explain something. "Practice Mode. The lowest-level photonic weapons all have them, though you rarely see it used in the field. Basically, the weapon's only going to use extremely low-power photons, enough so that it won't damage anything it hits. However, it's also got a sensor for when the photons have hit something, and it'll make a noise when it detects that. So you can tell when you've hit something, without actually damaging it. Which I think you'll need to do for a while. Once we're sure you're not going to hit anyone you're not supposed to, we'll let you set it back into fighting mode, alright?"
Kupi nodded, thinking it a fair plan. He liked his Slicer; getting some practice with it first was better than not being able to use it.
The first room had been a fairly large rectangular prism, but the second one dwarfed it easily. In fact, the party of four couldn't even see the bottom without squinting. This they would have to do, since they were on a suspended upper floor that completely blew Sapphire's mind. Stepping onto the clear, shining panels stretching across the gap, the FOnewm was dumbstruck. Gleefully, he tapped a shoe on the glasslike structure, making a fzzt noise rather than the clink Kupi expected.
"Look at it!" exclaimed Sapphire, nearly squealing.
"I am..." ventured Kupi, slowly inching his own feet onto the expanse. It was hard to tell that there was anything there at all. "What's so special about it?"
"It's antigravity, Kupi! There's no solid matter underneath your feet right now!"
Kupi withdrew his foot in alarm.
"It's okay, Kupi. They can withstand practically impact. I mean, Bob could hop up and down on these floors and not fall through or something." Sapphire demonstrated what he was talking about, making Kupi cringe in the expectation of dramatic irony prevailing over technological acheivement.
Kupi sidled back onto the plane, thinking of something to ask about. "So... why do they use these? I mean, it looks neat and all, but... I don't know, it just doesn't seem necessary."
"I would guess it's because these are subterranean labs. I mean, if you were to suspend a steel floor across a gap like this, one good earthquake could send the whole thing plummeting to the bottom. Antigrav stuff has the security of emergency power and small projectors. But why would you want to make a hole this big in the first place?" The three sentient ones thought for a moment before Sapphire put another thought into the conversation. "Or what could? ...possibly that big explosion we saw when Pioneer 2 arrived?"
Soki shook his head. "But all of Pioneer 1 disappeared after the blast. These constructions must have been here before the explosion. I don't think WORKS could have put all this together in the amount of time they had the Mines sealed off."
"That and they're a military division," muttered Sapphire, rolling his eyes. "Considering that we shipped all of our good military off with Pioneer 1, I doubt that they'd be able to build something like this in any expanse of time."
Bob broke the string of meaningless dialogue by stating, "Enemies."
Everyone assumed battle positions and waited. After several seconds, Sapphire relaxed and said, "Huh. Looks like a false alarm. Must be a bug in his detec--"
A pair of hulking androids fell from the ceiling. They were similar in build to Bob, with large arms and broad shoulders dwarfing comparatively small legs and heads. Unlike Bob, they had a rather bright color scheme; one was royal blue and the other goldlike. For a moment the two stood still, then the blue took a flying leap at Sapphire, the nearest target, forearm extended. Sapphire realized the danger in this immediately; it wasn't that the robot weighed so much more than him, it was more that it had a photon blade running down the length of the arm it was putting forward! The FOnewm leaned as far as he could in an attempt to get out of the way, but better succeeded in keeping his head from being blasted off by Bob's Photon Launcher round which then crashed off of the blue robot's chest in an explosion of green light. The blue monstrosity was knocked back several feet, but otherwise went undamaged. Sapphire took the opportunity to get behind Bob.
Soki had already engaged the other robot, introducing his foot to its face before twirling into a second kick to its chest. Neither blow had much effect, but Soki didn't seem to care, since he continued raining attacks on the robot. At the very least, it couldn't counterattack between strikes. Bob reloaded his Photon Launcher just in time to deflect the blue robot's next attack by firing the gun into its head at point blank range. The android bounced off of its back and flipped onto its front as it slid. With much more distance between him and the foe, Sapphire darted out from behind Bob and dropped a Zonde bolt on it. Now across the room, Soki continued to drive the gold robot back with his attacks, to the very edge of the antigravity floor. Right at the hole separating the floor from the wall, Soki swiped a foot into the enemy robot's and pushed its chest as hard he could. The end result was a robot that learned the true meaning of gravity and plummeted.
The remaining robot was already getting up. "Kupi!" Sapphire yelled.
"Yeah?" Kupi answered, right next to him. He'd fled to the cover Bob provided the instant the robots had arrived.
"None of our attacks are working alone! I think if we all hit it at once, we might do some damage! Bob's on autopilot, so we'll have to time it to him. When I say 'go,' pitch a Foie at it!"
Kupi nearly objected, but Sapphire's "go!" came sooner than he had anticipated. Kupi leaned out from his position, nearly synchronized with Sapphire, and let loose a fireball that caused a searing pain having nothing to do with flames through his arm. However, the tactic worked. Bob's Photon Launcher shot and the two Foies connected at the same time, melting the robot's protective chest plating. Sapphire chanced another shot, which fused the android's circuits and triggered the self-destruct system seemingly installed into every robot in the Mines.
Sapphire looked to Soki, wide-eyed. "What the heck was that?!"
"A Sinow Beat and Sinow Gold. The whole Sinow design series is designed for suppression, but the ones here seem like nothing more than search-and-destroy units."
"Their sole function here is to attack anything and everything in sight that isn't on its side. I have no idea why they'd code a robot to do that, especially in a science lab... unless there was something here that needed a security system ready to kill everything it finds."
Kupi shuddered. "Are we sure we want to be here, then?" he asked. "This place sounds dangerous!"
Sapphire shook his head. "Kupi, everything on Ragol's dangerous. Honestly, I'd rather fight robots than the natives or mutants... robots don't bleed."
Soki nodded an affirmation. "Besides, you've got two extremely high-performance Androids on your side," the HUcast said, seeming to stress the word "extremely." "Don't worry yourself, Kupi."
As the other three continued on, Kupi lagged behind. There was something... something he couldn't place about the Mines. Something sinister. Despite the rigid metal forming their faces, the Sinows had seemed to project emotion, a soul. But that was nonsense, Kupi told himself, machines don't have souls.
"Hey! Kupi! Hurry up!" Sapphire yelled to him. Kupi realized that he still had half the expanse to cover, and his friends were standing next to the far door, diagonally across from where they'd entered. The platform narrowed into a bridge, with the gap on either side. Just as Kupi reached his friends, a terrible feeling struck him.
IT was back.
Kupi stumbled. Just as Sapphire reached out to catch him, the lights flickered and died as an earthquake struck with so warning whatsoever. Kupi's already weakened knees buckled under the stress. Sapphire and Soki fell to the ground, surprised, but Kupi's fall was much longer as he slipped over the edge...
Sapphire's cry of, "Kupi!" was the last thing he heard before he plummeted into the darkness.
Kupi awoke to find himself in an odd position. He was apparently suspended by a pole underneath his knees and another at his back, with a funny clamp near his armpit, as far as the perceptions of a just-woken mind that hadn't opened its eyes could see. When he tried to move, enough pain struck simultaneously to convince him that trying that again would be a bad idea. His actions did, however, attract the attention of someone speaking from above him.
"You awake?" The voice was calm and soothing. Kupi opened his eyes at last and realized that he wasn't suspended; he was being carried.
"Yeah..." Kupi answered, for the sake of providing a response rather than providing anything near an accurate analysis of his condition.
"Think you could stand?"
Kupi nearly tried to move again, but remembered what had happened the last time. Instead, he gave a concise, "No."
After a few more footsteps, the voice asked, "Can't you use Resta? You seem the type."
Kupi blinked. His eyelids were about the only muscles he could consciously move with causing pain to himself. "That makes sense..." the FOmar answered, and without further instruction focused his spiritual energies on the repair of his body.
As if sensing the move's conclusion, the man carrying Kupi asked him, "Think you can stand now?" Kupi nodded, and his porter set him down. Kupi took the opportunity to examine the man. He wasn't much taller than Kupi, and had a quite similar build; he was fair-skinned, had drooping orange hair, and large blue eyes. The man differed in dress, however, wearing a large suit of combat armor that entirely surrounded his torso and even rose behind his head. With appearances established, Kupi asked the next most pressing question on his mind.
"What's your name?"
That seemed to be a point of confusion for the RAmar. He rested his chin on his hand, putting utmost deliberation into his response. At last, he produced, "I am known by many names to many people. The one you may use to address me is... Korvan."
Kupi nodded, and repeated it. "Korvan. That's a neat name. I'm Kupi, pleased to meet you."
Korvan returned the nod. "Shall we be going?" he asked, motioning in the direction that he had previously been carrying Kupi. Kupi nodded, and followed.
Soon after the two had begun their trek together, Kupi noticed the low amount of visibility provided by some emergency lighting systems. Ever inquisitve, Kupi asked Korvan what had happened. Only after much thought did Korvan answer.
"An earthquake struck and knocked the power out. Apparently you fell from one of the upper levels, and you landed on me. Nearly took us both out. I had to use a... Moon Atomizer to revive you."
"Moon Atomizer?" probed Kupi.
"Fast-acting critical injury first-aid kits," answered Korvan with rather alarming speed for his standards.
"Aaaah, I see," responded Kupi, not truly doing so. However, it would explain how he'd suddenly found himself in the guy's arms, so there was no gap in the logic as far as Kupi was concerned.
The hallway that Kupi and Korvan finally terminated into a square room, the mechanical door of which locked behind the duo. For each corner of the room, a Gillchic teleported in.
"Can you fight, Kupi?" Korvan asked, entirely unperturbed by the occurance.
Kupi, backing into the door, answered, "Only a little..."
"Then fight them." The authority in Korvan's voice felt entirely undeniable to Kupi, as though he truly had no choice in the matter. The FOmar fumbled for the switch to disable the safety on his Slicer, and decided to put one of his recently-learned techniques into practice. As the robots closed in, Kupi focused his mind on physical power, causing his hands to glow red. The Gillchics were but a few paces away from Kupi when he took his first Slicer swing, sending the green blade through the one that had come from the corner to his right's neck. With a counterswing back to his left, Kupi brought the blade through the torso of the Gillchic coming from the far corner on the same side. At that point the other two had finished closing the gap between themselves and Kupi and swung an arm each at him. An instant before the fatal meeting could take place, Kupi dove for the floor and rolled to the side to avoid the Gillchic's stomping attacked that followed. Coming out of the roll, Kupi flicked his Slicer at the stomping Gillchic and angled the shot into the other one, disabling them both. With every Gillchic crippled, their self-destructors took effect and minor explosions separated each vital piece from the others, all out of range of Kupi.
Korvan held out a hand for Kupi to pull himself up with. "Very good," commented the RAmar. "You have more skill than you give yourself credit for."
Kupi's thanks were stalled by the observation he made as he got up. He hadn't seen Korvan move from point A to point B. Granted, Kupi was paying attention more attention to the robots that were about to crush his skull at the time, so... well, it was probably nothing to worry about. People moving indetectably was likely nothing new in the Hunter's Guild. In any case, the doors were unlocked again, so he and Korvan could continue on into the next expanse of hallway. The lower floors seemed to be mostly tunnel rather than rooms, and the rooms were rarely impressive.
In just such a room, yet another crowd of Gillchics were transported into the area, in neat little rows of four per side of the room. Feeling emboldened by his recent victory, Kupi dove into the action without a prompt from Korvan or considering using his strength boost. The first Gillchic fell quickly to the Slice through its neck, but Kupi's confidence evaporated as soon as the Gillchich from the opposing side belted him across the side of the head, knocking him to the floor and into the throng. Kupi had a terrible realization of the utter stupidity of his move as he saw the Gillchics' arms fall toward his face...
And then there was a sound like thunder accompanying what appeared to be a single flash of light. The robots were gone, a set of holes travelling into the ground and even into the ceiling above taking their places. Understandably confused, Kupi looked to Korvan, who was putting away a deceptively small handgun of unusual build. "That was foolhardy," the RAmar said simply, his face marred by a look of contempt that trancended mere emotion. The expression soon disappeared, replaced by the normal comforting countenance.
"What--" started Kupi, but he was interrupted halfway.
"It is called a Heaven's Punisher. Ask Sapphire about it, if you wish to know more," stated Korvan, once again weirding Kupi out.
"How do you know about Sapphire?!" demanded Kupi.
"I know more than you can imagine, Kupi," answered Korvan nonchalantly. That seemed to close the issue; Kupi's will to ask further questions was removed by the words.
Further passages and hallways passed in silent redundancy.
In the middle of one of the hallways, Korvan asked an unusual question. "What do you dream of, Kupi?"
As though a floodgate had been opened, images rushed into Kupi's mind, images sealed from his memory by outside forces beyond his comprehension. His voice tinged with fear, Kupi rattled off a string of single words. "Pain. Death. Demons. Defeat. Failure."
"I know where these dreams are coming from, Kupi," answered Korvan. "And you're not ready to face it yet. So... they're going to stop, for now. Does that suit you?"
Kupi nodded slowly. Korvan nodded in response, and the two continued in silence until Kupi came up with a question of his own.
"Korvan... who are you, really?"
"I think you know the answer to that, Kupi," answered Korvan. That seemed to be enough.
A set of five oval-shaped floating robots awaited the two in the next room. They kept their wide ends paralell to the ground, allowing them to make use of three clawlike extentions that nearly formed a point in front of the main body of the robot. All five rose to the ceiling before the frontmost three suddenly darted back to chest-level. Instead of risk another stupidity incident, Kupi stayed back and flicked his Slicer one of the robots, which moved out of way so fast it was hardly detectable. In fact, all three of the floating things had changed position, ending noticably closer to the FOmar. Kupi pulled the Slicer blade back toward the robot he'd tried to hit before, and it moved again. This time, however, one of the other robots had the misfortune of moving right into the blade's path and getting chopped in two. Kupi had a flash of inspiration, but wasn't able to put it into practice since the robot he'd been trying to destroy all along had just gotton directly in front of him. Strangely, though, it did not try to use its prongs to impale Kupi. At best, it produced a mild poke. Wait, that's it? thought Kupi to himself.
That's when the electricity hit.
Kupi stumbled backward, literally shocked, and fell to his back. The robot that had delivered the electricity was pointing at an angle, now, readying itself for another attack. It took a great deal of effort to do so, but Kupi rolled out of the way just before it stabbed him through the head. Kupi had to continue his roll to get out of the way of the next electrified jab that was taken at him by the next flying oval, and then realized that two red laser sights were trained on his chest. The two elevated robots were charging other attacks, and Kupi could see that he wasn't going to get out of the way of whatever it was they were going to do. Until once again there was a thunderclap and the robots vanished from existence in columns of white fire. After a few seconds, Kupi felt the weight that had suddenly been placed on his body lift, and stood.
"What was that?" said a familiar voice from the hallway that Kupi and Korvan would have travelled into next. It was barely audible, but the set of rapid footsteps following it confirmed that someone was coming. Kupi waited with interest to see who was there, and was pleasantly surprised to see Sapphire, Bob, and Soki on the other side as it opened.
"Hey guys!" exclaimed Kupi, at a loss for other words.
"Kupi! There you are!" returned Sapphire, rushing ahead to meet the other Force. "What happened? Are you okay? I'm glad you're alive!"
"Glad to be alive, personally," answered Kupi with a grin. "There's someone I'd like to introduce you to. This is Korv-- eh?" Kupi had turned to look at Korvan, but the RAmar wasn't there. Taking the next step of logic, Kupi rushed to the last door they'd come through and peered into the extensive hallway. It was way too long for any human to run through in the amount of time the two had spent exchanging greetings...
Sapphire quirked an eyebrow. "What?"
"I was travelling with someone, and he's vanished!" explained Kupi.
"That's odd... what was he like?" asked Sapphire, his tone grave.
"Well, he was kinda quiet, seemed to know a lot about me, and apparently he kept me alive after I'd fallen from that top floor."
Sapphire was silent for a moment, before saying, "Kupi, do you realize how far you fell?"
Kupi shook his head.
Sapphire nodded. "I'll just say this: if you had fallen the full distance and landed... there wouldn't be enough of you left to give first aid to."
Kupi's eyes widened.
"So this guy... what was his name again?"
"Korvan either found you at a higher floor and brought you down here, or... he was expecting you to fall. Don't ask me how he would... I don't know of anyone who could trigger an earthquake like that."
Kupi nodded, just now realizing how odd a situation he'd truly been in. The best response that the FOmar could think of was, "Well, his weapon did that..." as he pointed to the four holes in the floor where the floating robots had been.
Sapphire flinched as he realized that he'd be standing right next to one of the holes. "Woah..."
Sapphire's silence triggered a prompt from Kupi. "Um... Korvan called it a 'Heaven's Punisher...'"
The prompt triggered more silence. Even Soki seemed throroughly shocked. "Say again?" asked Sapphire.
"Heaven's Punisher," repeated Kupi dutifully.
"Yo-- you're kidding!" exclaimed Sapphire. "Those things are legendary! Myth! I mean, the idea that a gun like that could exist is preposterous!" The FOnewm looked at the ground, and then to the ceiling. "And yet, there's the proof. That's going in my notebook." Sapphire pulled out the ever-present palm-mounted notepad and typed for quite a while as the rest waited for him to conclude.
Sapphire finally placed the notepad back in his pants pocket. Brushing his hands together more for the show of it than anything, Sapphire said, "Well, that's that. Next order of business: getting out of here. There, we've got a problem. We actually stocked Telepipes today, but I was the one carrying them. And thanks to that earthquake, my Item Pack got broken. So, once again, we're stuck here unless we can find a teleporter with emergency power."
Kupi had a flash of inspiration. "Well, how about we go back to the one near the entrance we came from, where we fought the De Rol?"
Soki shook his head. "Not with the way this place is designed. These Mines were built to head down. Normally you can go in either direction, but with the power out all the elevators are frozen."
Kupi had another epiphany. "Then how did you guys get down here?"
Sapphire rubbed the back of his head. "You know, I'm a video game designer. I work with computers a lot. And I know a bit about hardware... so I tried to hotwire one of the elevators. Well, I managed to unlock the brakes, and that was it. ...it's a good thing they installed some antigrav buffers at the bottom of those shafts and kept them on emergency power, or you'd probably still be with Korvan. ...I think we're on the bottom floor, though, so we won't have to try that again. ...in any case, let's get a move on. This place is giving me the creeps."
The group seemed to have drained their conversation batteries for the time being, and the next several hallways passed uneventfully. Finally, a doorway revealed a long, rectangular room that stretched away almost interminably. All down the sides were cylindrical canisters, mostly metal but with glass windows facing the center of the room. Computers lined any edge of the room not taken up by a container or doorway. Sapphire had just begun to inspect the area when Bob's standardized alert of, "Enemies," brought their attention to the middle of the room, a quarter of the way through. Sure enough, five robots had materialized; three Gillchics forming a front row, with two of the floating robots behind them.
"Take out the Canadines, Bob!" shouted Sapphire to the hulking Android. Soki was already throwing himself at the Gillchic farthest to the right, raking it with an uppercut to the chest, Silence Claw blazing. The center Gillchic, incapable of remorse for its comrade's death, took a swing at the HUcast. Expecting the blow, Soki caught the incoming robotic arm and twisted backwards, flipping the unwitting robot to its back. With a gesture practically matching the robot's own, Soki stomped through its head with his heel. Just as Soki turned his gaze to the final Gillchic, he saw a green Slicer blade pass through its pelvic region, which then angled upward to slice through the Candine. That left only the rightmost Canadine... which had had enough time to charge its attack. Soki found the subsequent experience rather shocking, and fell to the floor with sparks still lingering around his body. The Canadine attempted to establish a lock on someone else, but found itself without a body to do so as a Photon Launcher round ripped through it.
With no enemies in sight, Kupi assumed that it was safe to tend to Soki, who was producing various grinding sounds rather than the normal happy whir that a fully functional Android produced. "What happened?" asked Kupi, kneeling.
"Don't worry too much, Kupi, he's just been shorted out. He'll recover soo-- don't touch him!"
Sapphire's warning came too late, as Kupi had already experimentally placed a fingertip on Soki's back. Kupi, too, experienced the shocking situation that Soki had found himself in, and fell to his back, stuck in the position he'd been in as he had touched his paralyzed pal.
Sapphire read the question forming in Kupi's mind and answered it in advance. "Our Androids have a system in which, once a circuit breaker's tripped, they store any more excess electrical energy they receive in outer circuits until it can be properly dissipated. The Frames we wear work on the same principle; it may be something you wear, but it's got some motion circuitry in it. And that can be shorted out too, given a big enough jolt. Don't worry, it'll fix itself in a bit."
"Enemies," alerted Bob.
"Great, more of them..." muttered Sapphire.
A ring of eight Canadines appeared halfway across the room, giving Sapphire and Bob some breathing room. At their center was a red-colored Canadine that Sapphire didn't notice. He was more concerned with hurling a ball of pure cold at the nearest Canadine. The Canadine's antigravity systems were thrown for a moment and as a result it fell closer to the floor. Bob's Launcher blast missed its mark since the target had been moved, and instead it blew up the red Canadine in the middle and it really hit the fan then. All eight Canadines began to emit sirenesque wailing noises and chose targets to point at, two per fighter. Apparently knowing what would happen next, Sapphire charged directly into the middle of the ring, glowing blue with ice energy. With incredible speed, the Canadines redirected their attention and threw themselves at Sapphire. The instant before they collectively impaled the FOnewm, they were frozen solid in a single ring of ice that then fell to the floor. Sapphire took a moment to breathe in, then stepped out of the tiny circle and said, "Bob, destroy target, point blank!" Bob clunked over to the immobile robots and disabled them with up-close Launcher shots one by one. In the meantime, Soki and Kupi regained the ability to stand.
"That was unpleasant," grumbled Kupi. He was about to elaborate, but Bob interjected, "Enemies."
"Great, more of them..." muttered Sapphire.
Three-quarters of the way to the next door, a group of four robots appeared. They were built almost exactly like Gillchics, but colored brown instead of steel grey. Kupi wasted no time hurling a Slicer blade at the formation of four, tracing the oblong through each robot's neck in turn. Sapphire turned to Kupi and blinked. "Good shot."
Soki shook his head, saying, "Look again."
They did. Small yellow beams had formed between the fallen head and estranged body of each robot, which rapidly diminished as the head was pulled back to the torso it belonged to. The four robots stood again, and started to march toward their targets once again. Kupi sent another Slicer blade toward them, which struck at the same time as Sapphire's chain lightning bolt. This time, the robots completely fell to pieces. And again they reformed themselves out of the limbs they'd been reduced to.
"Okay, now what?" yelled Sapphire to Soki.
Soki's answer was not given to Sapphire, but rather to Bob. "Bob, acquire target, behind."
Bob turned and aimed his Photon Launcher at the giant floating orb that had appeared, unnoticed, behind the party. One shot was all it took to bring total destruction to the control unit, at which point the brown Gillchics decided it was time to give up and blew up as well.
Tons of questions hung on Kupi's mind by this point, and he was determined to make use of the free moment. "What were those?"
"They're called Dubchics," Soki explained, "And--"
Bob cut Soki off. "Enemy."
"Great, more of-- eh? Just 'enemy?'" wondered Sapphire.
"Oh, crap!" yelled Soki.
The reason for Soki's outburst soon became apparent: a tanklike machine nearly three times bigger than a Sinow Beat had been transported into the far end of the room. Its entire hull was a monochrome green, from the plating on the lower movement unit to the armored top to the missle launchers hanging on its sides.
"Hit it with all the fireballs you can!" shouted Soki to Sapphire, who obliged while as long as the thing stood still. As soon as it moved, Sapphire ran for the nearest capsule and took cover. Kupi did the same on the opposite end of the room. In turn, Soki was forced to dodge the missles by running a wide circle around the behemoth, relying on the angle of the missles to crash them into the floor rather than his back. The capsules appeared pretty sturdy, and absorbed the explosions directed at those hiding under them without so much as a dent. In time, Soki ducked under the capsule nearest Sapphire's and coached him on the appropriate battle strategy in between the periodic blasts.
"The Foie isn't breaking anything, Soki! What am I supposed to be doing?" asked Sapphire.
"You're supposed to be heating it up, not damaging it! Those are heat-seeking missles! If you can get it to a targeting level of temperature, it'll blow itself up and save us the trouble."
"I see. That'd also explain why it's not trying to hit Bob. I put so many heat-sinks in that Android he could probably swim in lava and not heat up..." said Sapphire, unable to resist the chance to explain something despite the situation. After the next missle hit, Sapphire opened fire, literally, on the offending robot and then ducked back for the next round. Two dozen fireballs later, Sapphire growled, "It's still not working!" to Soki.
"I'll get Kupi to try it as well," answered Soki.
"But Kupi--" attempted Sapphire, though he ceased as soon as he realized that Soki was already making a beeline for a capsule close to Kupi, minimissles dogging his step.
It took only a few seconds to get the plan across to Kupi, and then Soki returned to Sapphire's side. "Alright. He's waiting for you to start."
Sapphire sighed, shrugged, and readied his next fire blast. Sure enough, a fireball sent from Kupi's location accompanied it, and struck at roughly the same spot. Sapphire upped his pace, launching several fireballs at once every time he ducked out. And then, suddenly, every missle in one of the salvos aimed squarely at the spot the two Forces had been heating. With a crash and a bang, the metal monstrosity lost its armor plating. Unfortunately, it wasn't done quite yet since the structures holding it up were still fully operational, just undefended. Thus, with no other direction in mind, Sapphire continued to throw fireballs at the exposed area and Kupi's Foies soon resumed as well. Once again the tank's seeming infinite missles aimed at their source, blasting apart extremely vital circuits and reducing it to rubble. After a few moments, Soki called the all clear and the party regrouped.
"I think that's the last of them," commented Sapphire. "So let's get going. Interesting as all this technology is... I don't want to run into any more of those missle-thingies than we have to."
"Garanz," corrected Soki.
Nods followed all around, and the party continued on their way through the next door. It led directly into a tiny room, just big enough for a large, square teleporter.
"Is this the teleport station?" asked Sapphire.
Soki shook his head. "No, this is a site-to-site transporter. C'mon, it's the only the option."
Sapphire shrugged with his hands concessively, and Kupi just followed along, clutching the arm he'd been using the Foie with. Bob, under Sapphire's command, stepped into place as well, and the party vanished.
The three sentient hunters observed the new surroundings. "Surroundings" was a rather appropriate word for it, as the room formed a restrictive hemisphere around them. Covering the walls were six sets of screens, a large one on top and three smaller ones beneath each of those. In front of each of those screens was a small circular hatch embedded in the floor. Sapphire observed the area.
"Well, where do we go from here? I can't see anywhere to go," he commented.
"Er... what's that?" asked Kupi, pointing to the way one of the screen sets had lit up red and the biggest screen was displaying a humanoid face.
"Enemy," rumbled Bob, rather appropriately.
Sapphire blinked. "Well, shoot at it, then!" Bob did. Unfortunately, the Launcher attack hit nothing but an empty screen, which seemed to be shielded against it. Kupi flicked a Slicer bolt at the face the next time it appeared, but it darted back to the previous screen just in time to get missed. Sapphire then pitched a fireball at it, which also missed.
"Not to sound redundant, but what is that thing?" repeated Kupi.
"I don't know!" shouted Sapphire back. "Some kind of crazy program, as near as I can tell!"
Then, suddenly, the face ceased moving and stared at the four people who were technically fighting it. Three attacks simultaneously launched at the digital menace, and they would have struck were it not for the face disappearing entirely in a crackle of static before the screen returned to its native blue.
"Where'd it go?" wondered Kupi aloud, becoming a source of far too many questions for Sapphire's tastes.
"I don't know!" responded the fellow Force, an answer he preferred not to give as often as he could manage.
They received their answer quickly enough. The six hatches opened up and produced six red-plated cylindrical totems with intakes in the back and lights on the front. Five of them were blue, and one was red. A brief sizzle was all the warning the four combatants got before a bolt of electricity ran from the red totem into the ceiling and suddenly crisscrossed through them. All at once, they collapsed, stunned. Even as the majority of them tried to stand, another attack coursed through their bodies. One of the screens again took a crimson hue and the animated face reappeared. Sated with the result of its actions, the program retracted the cylinders. With the exact same simultanaety as they had been knocked over, the party returned to its feet, short-circuits fixed by time and good auto-repair. The face in the monitors continued to stare at them.
"Okay, I think I understand," said Sapphire. "It's trying to react according to what we do. If we don't attack it, it won't attack us."
"Or it doesn't think we're a threat and all it needs to do is keep us here," countered Soki. "It can take us down on a whim," growled the HUcast, "and apparently it has plans. I don't like that." Acting with as much haste as could be applied without disrupting quality of conduct, Soki examined the ceiling from which the attack had come and found something that seemed important. It was a tubelike energy matrix framed with red metal keeping it from falling. With the powers of discernment that come from being computer-driven, Soki deduced the purpose of the structure and formulated a plan. "Bob, target up 90 left 30!"
"What?" questioned Sapphire, before ducking out of the blast radius as the glowing cylinder shattered and spattered bluish liquid across the room. In response, the face again disappeared and the totems rose. Sapphire caught sight of the red-lit totem just before the electricity flowed again. But this time, rather than a focused bolt, the electricity scattered all across the room according to wherever the fluid had been dispersed, which was mostly everywhere. Miraculously, none of it had gotton on the group. This allowed them to see what had happened to the room, namely that every mechanical thing in it had been shorted out, even the totems. Soki took the initiative and took a swing at one of the electricity generators with a Yamato blade, slicing it in half. Vulnerability proven, the rest bombarded the columns with their respective attacks. As the last pieces of shock-hazard clattered to the floor, the computer-face returned once more, but only for a brief instant. With the full speed of the massive mainframe it controlled, the virus decided to self-destruct, blowing out circuits and shattering the monitor glass all around.
When the detonations ceased, Sapphire looked for his teammates. As it turned out, he was the only one left standing. Soki had been thrown across the room by a console exploding directly behind him and knocked unconscious (as the term applied) with his face up against the wall, Kupi's leg had been lacerated by a glass shard, and... Bob had gotton a large piece of shrapnel directly through his vital control circuits in his head. Though saddened by the damage, Sapphire remembered that Bob was the only team member who could be repaired from fatal wounds. Still, he'd have to write a note so he could remember to return to this area with some potent antivirus software. The FOnewm moved to tend to Kupi, the most direly wounded of his comrades, but a mechanical whirr stopped him. Using his pointed ears to locate the source of the sound, Sapphire looked up and was startled to discover that the ceiling was opening up, especially in the center. The lights had been taken out, so Sapphire couldn't see into the void above. It turned out that he didn't need to, as what was there lowered into the circle. It was armored in red, as its preceding totems, but on a huge scale. It was nearly twice as big as a Garanz. On each of the four sides rested a huge combat unit of one fashion or another. The one Sapphire noticed the most was the one that seemed almost like a face, and pointing at him. It swivelled away quickly, replaced by something that looked like a control console. Unsure of what else to do, Sapphire extended his hand and sent a lightning bolt at it, which dispersed unimpressively off the side. Seemingly in response, the console lit up and Sapphire quickly realized that a red laser-sight was pointing underneath his feet. That was never a good sign so far as Sapphire was concerned, so he ran in the only direction possible: around. The laser-sight never left the same point until one second before a giant pillar crashed out of darkness above and made a circular impression on the ground right where Sapphire had been. That by itself was motivation enough for the FOnewm to keep moving, but the two more pounds that followed were overkill. Right as the third pillar strike finished, Sapphire nearly collided with Kupi, who was standing but not making any visible effort to relocate himself.
"I healed my leg," said Kupi in preemptive explanation.
"Great! Use it!" yelled Sapphire, pointing to what he had assumed to be the console. Instead, he found himself pointing to a squarish unit that, as Sapphire highlighted it, flipped up its upper half to reveal a pair of tubes leading inward. Sapphire had no idea what purpose the tubes served, but logic dictated that it would be highly unpleasant and probably fatal. The original message still applied, so Sapphire bolted in the opposite direction he'd be coming from and Kupi ran opposite that. At their heels were minimissles just like those fired by the green tank. The assault lasted halfway around the arena, at which point the two Forces collided with each other. Sapphire's reflexes were better, and he managed to stay on his feet and turn in the other direction to get away from the attack he saw coming. Kupi's luck went so far as to let him see the face of the mechanoid charging another attack directed at him. The diminutive FOmar was about to return to his feet when an unassuming green orb struck him in the face. Kupi couldn't see what had happened, but he knew he couldn't move. It felt like he'd been encased in something...
Sapphire had a much clearer view of the situation. The green ball wasn't the attack, the battery of lasers that had popped out of the machine's front were the hazard. And they were charging quickly. Sapphire's view of reality went into the slow motion produced by the knowledge that whatever you do, you're going to fail. Soki was out of the running, Bob was terminal, he himself didn't have the time to do anything to save Kupi, and Kupi had nowhere to go.
Then, the air between Kupi and the machine warped around itself, exactly as it had at other times. Once again, the masked and hooded Force with the blackened Cane appeared in the middle of it and rose her weapon. The machine made a recalculation with lightning speed and targeted all eight searing beams at her at once. The FOnewearl was knocked back, but both she and Kupi had lived. Kupi's condition had actually improved, since the overgrown computer had loosed its bindings on him after the completion of its routine. The machine opened up its final hatch, an energy absorption unit, and began recharging for another round. The masked one raised her off hand and began to glow purple. Once again, Kupi groaned in pain from her mere aura, and writhed on the floor where he lay. The dark Force, unconcerned, focused the blackness into a sphere in her hand and loosed it into the machine. One tiny snap was the entire reaction to the attack. It seemed enough of a snap, however, to force the enemy into withdrawl up above. The FOnewearl watched it ascend, her bespined facial covering betraying no emotion to the observers. The ceiling closed itself above the five fighters and then...
The ground shook with the force that one could logically expect to be exerted by a 3-ton war machine detonating from the inside, knocking everyone to a flatter stance than they'd already had. Sapphire leapt to his feet immediately and pointed an accusatory finger. "Who are--" Sapphire was questioning the air, and he realized it only after beginning his sentence. That Force was something else he'd have to put down in his notes. Sighing, Sapphire said, "Hoo boy... what a day. C'mon Kupi, we have work to do."
(Almost) Any and all reactions welcome to be posted, as usual. ^_^
Eep, all the way to page 4. I need to get these chapters written faster! ...and, in a twist of fate, this fanfic may not be canon for Kupi's history soon anyway, but hey, can't leave a project unfinished. Have to think of the fans, y'know? I know you're out there somewhere...
As Korvan had said, Kupi slept dreamlessly the night of their duel with the war machine. However, much like the dreams themselves, that incident had vanished from Kupi's mind...
"So, Sapphire," said Kupi upon waking up. "What have you found out about whatever we did yesterday?"
Sapphire, at his computer, blinked. Had he really done it that many times? Further, did he really care so long as he got to drone on about what he'd learned? The answer to the second question, at least, was 'no.' "Ah... well, let's start at the beginning, then. Apparently they were doing two things in the Mines; digging and research. They were obviously looking for something down there, and at the same time needed a way to conceal and contain what they found and did. Hence a subterranean research lab that expanded as they went. To do the digging, they built some basic robots called Gillchics. I read a report a fellow hunter wrote on them... they're basically slap-together jobs that can dig either manually or with wrist-mounted lasers. Don't ask me why they're attacking people nowadays... the important part is that they are, and they fall apart rather easily. There's also another form of Gillchics called Dubchics. They were created because of the earthquakes that kept hitting the area. Gillchics kept falling apart in the earthquakes, so they made an outer control system for self-repair units. It can reconnect pretty much any joint that breaks apart, but if they lose that control unit, they can't get back together and self-destruct. Which is weird, because there's no reason that every robot in the mines should be wired to blow if the situation gets critical. I'm just glad Soki told me about that system, so I could disarm them in Bob when I made him..."
"How is Bob doing, anyway?" asked Kupi.
"Bob, status report," sighed Sapphire.
The Android, sitting in the corner with the metal shard still in his head, replied, "Gzzzzrrrnnggthbbt."
"He's not dead," interpreted Sapphire. "We already had Sinow Beats explained to us by Soki, so I don't think we need to talk about those again. The oval things with the prongs are called Canadines. I think they're supposed to be mobile fueling units for the other Androids, but, again, they've been wired to attack humans. They don't even try to act like batteries... they just hit you with all the voltage they can muster. The red one Bob accidentally pegged is called a Canane. They're guide units for the rest of them, as in, they told them which robots needed a juice-up. Kinda like a Dubchic, if you take out the main part, they explode, except that Canadines try to get next to you before they go boom, which is kinda nasty. Finally, there's the Garanz, that big green tank thing. Don't ask me what purpose they were supposed to serve before that place went haywire. For whatever reason, the scientists down there needed a set of roving, heat-seeking missle launchers."
Kupi nodded. "And the weird head/face/machine thing we fought last?"
Sapphire inhaled. "Apparently all of the mechanical functions of the Mines were driven by a single mainframe, called Vol Opt. Great system, Vol Opt. As long as Vol Opt was functional (and it was the best-kept mainframe I know of), the science guys down there didn't have to worry about anything malfunctioning. Of course, Vol Opt isn't exactly working as it's supposed to right now. It's got the whole 'kill kill kill' thing going as well, which may be why everything else is trying to kill people too. But I don't think we fixed it or killed it or whatever when we fought it... all we really took out was monitors and a mech, and since I haven't seen any news of the Mines shutting down, it's safe to say that Vol Opt is still operational."
Kupi nodded and started to get off of the sofa, but Sapphire motioned for him to stay seated.
"I have one more thing to talk to you about," explained Sapphire. "This Korvan guy. I looked up the word 'Korvan' on the 'net. Guess what I found? 'Cor-u-an' was the name of an ancient Coralian diety. So let's recap what we know about Korvan. He knows a lot about you. He knows about who you live with. He doesn't like to be seen around people besides you. And he's named himself after a god. Kupi, listen to me very carefully."
Kupi leaned forward.
"If you see Korvan again, do not go to him, do not talk to him, don't even make eye contact if you can avoid it. I think he might be stalking you."
"Stalking?" inquired Kupi.
"...he's following you, Kupi, and we can't be sure of his intents. Which reminds me... count your Guild Cards."
Kupi obediently took them out and counted them. He hadn't given any out to his memory, and they were all there, which he reported to Sapphire.
"Good," said the Fonewm with a nod. "At least he can't trace you on Ragol. And you ought not get separated from us when you're here on Pioneer 2, so he can't make a move either way. I'm glad we got the chance to talk about this. Go ahead and get dressed, we've got a busy day ahead of us..."
As Kupi rose, he thought about what Sapphire had just told him. It made sense in one way, but didn't in another. Perhaps it was the difference between logic and intuition, but Kupi wasn't that articulate. All he knew what that he felt that Sapphire was wrong, yet he couldn't deny that his friend was right. Life was confusing like that...
Life went on as usual, for quite some time. Sapphire worked on whatever the latest game was (which Kupi sometimes playtested), Soki would go on his hunting trips, and Kupi kept everything running smoothly around the house. There were, of course, things that happened out of the ordinary, but they were always at the low end of the spectrum. Until one day, when Soki came home with a handful of application forms, already filled out.
"Listen up!" commanded the electrical one upon entering the apartment.
The order caught Sapphire by surprise, and one of his vaguely pointed ears twitched in response. "What's up?" he asked with the tone of one who doesn't know if what's coming is good or bad.
"We're going on a little trip tomorrow," began the HUcast.
"Another big group hunt?" interjected Kupi.
"Nope. I've signed us up for beta-testing of a new VR engine that will be used to train and test potential hunters. Pioneer 2 needs as many people as it can get investigating Ragol, and this VR field will help them get some combat experience without them dying on their first expedition. There's been a rash of that lately."
Sapphire nodded. "And we're going to beta-test it, you said? In other words, we'll be in a nearly final version of the system?"
Soki nodded, bringing a massive grin across Sapphire's face. "Oh man, this is gonna be so cool!" Besides that, the FOnewm had no more words to express his feelings on the issue. Soki simply made for his usual post, and Kupi returned to the creation of dinner, wondering what a veeyar was.
The next day, Soki led his comrades (sans Bob, who was disallowed by the rules, according to Soki) to the laboratory where they would be doing their work. Along the way, Sapphire commented on the surroundings. "This area is so strange. It looks nothing like Altair, or Deneb, or... well, any of the ships we're usually on."
Soki nodded. "We're on the final ship of the central convoy, where they keep the researchers and scientists and people of that sort. This is actually an area outside of the Council's jurisdiction... hence, the restrictions are more lax and the area has its own style. Still, mind your words. The world of politics has many faces... the one you see is only a fraction of story... a dark story."
With the brief political interlude out of the way, the group travelled in silence until they arrived at a complex full of computer stations whose interfaces were composed of not just a single monitor and keyboard, but several screens and control panels that practically encircled their operators. Soki led the way to their operator for the day, a plump but cute elfish girl who apparently had little else to do but wait until whomever she was running the VR field for arrived. As the trio approached, she sat up and jabbed a few keys on the console.
"Soki, Sapphire, and Kupi?" she asked, just a tiny bit too perkily for Sapphire's tastes.
"Yes, that's us," confirmed Soki, beating Sapphire to it by a hair.
"I'm here!" called another male voice. All four people turned to look at who had said it. Rapidly approaching was a brown combat-suited man about Sapphire's age. He was a bit taller than the FOnewm and lacked the pointed ears, plus his hair was brown and brought back into a short ponytail. His left arm seemed thicker than his right, though that was because of the combat standard for human Hunters was a heavily defended left side, and padding was part of the defense.
"I'm not late, am I?" the new entrant asked.
The operator shook her head. "Right on time, Jason."
The HUmar nodded. "Alright. I'll head to the field. Just tell me when you're ready." With that, he walked to one of the four doors behind the operation center and entered.
Kupi and Sapphire blinked simultaneously, but before they could ask each other if what had happened had really occured, the operator had started giving them instructions. "All right, the rest of you listen up. The first thing you'll need to do is get into one of these VR stations, one to a room. Don't worry if it feels a bit claustrophobic at first, it'll change soon."
"Claustrophobic?" probed Sapphire. The question should have been Kupi's, but he didn't know what the word meant, so he couldn't inquire as to its usage, as his friend had.
"It's a really small room," explained the girl.
"Ah, so we'll be using goggles and motion sensors, then?" theorized Sapphire.
"No," said the operator, annoyance trickling into her tone at not being able to go uninterrupted. "The VR will be projected into the room with you."
"How are we supposed to move around, then?" inquired Sapphire.
"It's low friction!" burst the elf. "May I please finish?"
Sapphire held up his arms. "Okay, okay, fine."
"You're going to be fighting your way through a set course designed to test your skills in various situations, most of them combat-related. You will be scored according to a number of factors, most of them unimportant to know about right now... the thing you need to remember is speed. This is a race, and getting to the end of the course before the other guys is the most important thing. And because it's a race, you'll be able to see a 'ghost' of your competitors on the map, just so you know where they are."
"Are we going to be alone, then?" asked Kupi warily.
The girl nodded. "Yes, each of you will have to make your way through the course alone. ...and, I think we're ready. Just two cautions... first off, you're up against the highest-ranked scorer of anyone yet, so don't expect to win." At that Soki snorted. "And don't be surprised if you get hurt in there. This system's got a really neat force generation system than can perfectly mimic any type of damage infliction method imaginable... so be careful. If things look too bad for you, the system will cut off and you'll be taken to our very own medical center for rapid treatment, okay? That's everything, so get your weapons ready and we'll begin!"
Sapphire peered around the rest of the room even as his legs took him to one of the VR rooms. The operating job seemed to attract bubbly elfish girls...
The room that Sapphire, as well as Kupi, Soki, and Jason individually, entered was pitch black. Sapphire could only see the ends of the walls as long as the door behind him was open. As soon as it closed, there was nothing but darkness on all sides. The operator's voice suddenly emanated from the walls. "Okay, if you would please make sure you're standing in the center of the room, we'll be activating the low friction flooring in just a moment..." Sapphire shifted to what he believed to be the middle. There was a low hum, followed by the operator's voice again. "Okay, try moving around." Sapphire took a step in what he presumed was forward. Venturing a little farther, he found that he hadn't run into the wall yet. In a moment of daring, he tried to ram into the wall and found that he wasn't getting anywhere. "No, Sapphire, you can't move in there. At least, not fast enough to get out until we get the friction back to you. All preparations are ready... go!"
Suddenly, the four contestants were standing next to each other in a yellow-bricked room. It was small and cubic, just large enough for the four of them. However, space wouldn't really be an issue, since each of them saw the others only in translucent shades of color. Or, rather, Soki, Sapphire and Kupi saw each other in those shades. They saw Jason more as a blur, one moving across a bridge leading over a body of water surrounding the area they were in. According to their relative reflex levels, the three caught on and ran for the bridge as well.
Kupi was the last to cross into the first combat room. It was rectangular, also built of bricks, with eight pillars, four to a side, some distance from the walls. Two Poison Lillies had planted themselves at the back end of the room. Kupi watched, rather awestruck, as the other three made various gestures at the plants without actually damaging them. That was when it occured to Kupi that he ought to be fighting them as well. Drawing his Slicer, the FOmar flicked it at the first Lily's stem and angled the shot back toward the other, slicing it through the side of the head. The others were acting weird. Soki and Jason were running toward the middle of the room, while Sapphire was doing the exact opposite; he was running behind a pillar. The answer became clear as the Poison Lily corpses (or facimiles therein) finished melting away: a Hildebear crashed into the middle of the room.
Sapphire's Hildebear was a little more direct than he'd have liked. Rather than being confounded by the FOnewm's sudden absense from vision as the game designer had hoped, it instead managed to deduce that the quickest route to its target was through the pillar. As the monster's fist crashed into the stone pillar, the monument gave way and collapsed. Sapphire narrowly avoided being crushed by rolling to the side and, in the same motion, blasting super-frigid air at the monkey assailing him, freezing it in its tracks. Taking the opportunity to strike with impunity, the elf formed a spike of Barta ice between his hands and telekinetically thrust it at the Hildebear's stomach, removing a cylindrical piece of its body as the pointed edge passed through. Applying a similar tactic to Kupi's, Mr. Williams looked to the faster fighters for guidance as to the next monster he'd be up against. Rather than seeing where Soki and Jason were heading, however, he saw Kupi's ghost about to crash into him. Kupi's own attempts to stop the collision failed, and the two passed right through each other, much to both their surprises.
Kupi made the optimum use of his realization and continued to flee from the Hildebear behind him. It was quite able to play follow-the-leader with him, and dogged the boy's heels every step of the way. At last Kupi wheeled and took it by surprise with a Slice to its midsection. The Hildebear was wounded but still alive, so Kupi threw a second blade upward and into its face just as the mammoth mammal reached smashing distance. As the creature melted into the ground, Kupi saw Sapphire running for the back-center of the arena and thus followed him. What he missed was Sapphire's sudden retreat, since Sapphire's angle gave him a much better starting position from which to deal with the next monster.
It was much like a Hildebear in some respects; it had the same overdeveloped torso, massive arms that spanned from shoulder to floor, and tiny legs and head. And Kupi was standing directly in front of it. The titan spread its arms wide and brought them crashing onto the spot where Kupi was. The FOmar's world turned into a void of darkness, and a cheery voice said, "Kupi has been eliminated! Friction will return to your chamber in just a moment, Kupi, and you'll be allowed out."
Verily, it was only a moment before light streamed into Kupi's cubicle due to the back door being open. Dutifully, the FOmar backed his way out of the chamber and looked to the operator. "What now?" he asked.
"If you want, you can watch how your friends are doing on these screens if you want." She moved out of the way to give Kupi a better view.
Sapphire was still dealing with the giant thing (called a Belra) that had taken Kupi out. He'd given up on ice, since every variant on that kind of attack he knew had produced no effect. Presently Sapphire opened fire, literally. Five Foie fireballs struck the Dark Belra, one to each arm, two in the torso, and one on the head. The Belra continued its slow and sure forward progression toward the FOnewm. Desperately Sapphire grasped for a spell and settled upon Rafoie. Bringing his arms together, Sapphire focused all the fire energy he had in him on the Belra and snapped his arms open, causing a firey blast surrounding the creature. It was barely scorched. Switching elements again, Sapphire raised a pointed index finger above his head and brought it down to point at the encroaching monster. The lightning bolt that dropped from the sky finally produced a reaction., sprawling the Belra's arms from the shock. It righted itself, however, and raised one of its arms to point it at Sapphire. Knowing that couldn't be good, the FOnewm, standing to take damage, ran to the side and was thus missed by the arm as it crashed into the wall behind where he had just been. Not wanting to see what it would do next, Sapphire dropped a concluding Zonde bolt on the Belra and melted it into purple mist. Excusably, he stopped to catch his breath before proceeding.
Kupi's attention switched to Soki. Soki and Jason were neck-and-neck. Soki didn't even seem to be paying attention to Jason, whereas Jason couldn't keep his eyes off of the ghost of the Android next to him for more than a few seconds at a time to make sure that he didn't crash into a wall. Though it was difficult to tell for certain from Kupi's vantage point of the screens, it almost seemed like Jason was worried. The two ran into a dead end. Jason, being the one who knew what to do, provided Soki with an example, whether or not Soki wanted it in the first place. After all, since the path was one-way in any case, the only option would have to be through the wall. As Jason employed the sword he'd been using the entire time, Soki drew his Yamato blades and went to work at cutting through the stone barrier, which proved more effective than Jason's smash-through strategy.
Sapphire had fought his way through the next room and was at the third one, which was devoid of enemies. All it contained was a locked door and a bed of grass inside the cube formed by the stone walls and ceiling. The only interruption to the grass was a beige circle in the center of the room, with a small cylindrical button in the middle, upon which was a glowing red light. There was an electrical light on the next door, shining the same hue of scarlet. Sapphire cautiously placed a foot in the circle. Nothing happened. The FOnewm edged further in, also producing no negative effect. Finally, he stood completely in the circle, just a fraction of an inch from the foot switch. The room remained eerily calm, and Sapphire would swear the room got even more hushed as he reached his right clog over the button and slowly lowered it...
"Sapphire has been eliminated!" called the operator's voice. "Your friction will be returned shortly."
Sapphire stepped out of the chamber with a look of confusion on his face. To Kupi, it almost seemed like the way one taken by surprise might step into their first moments of the afterlife. After all, he'd seen what had happened far more clearly than Sapphire had. As soon as the clog had depressed the button, a giant pillar had made sure that the button would stay depressed permanently. Sapphire had, unfortunately, gotton in the way.
"What happened?" uttered the baffled FOnewm.
"You got smooshed!" exclaimed Kupi. After a what had happened was explained to him, Sapphire took a place beside Kupi to watch the competition come to its end.
Soki and Jason were still right at each other's heels, Jason providing the idea of what to do, Soki always pulling it off better than the HUmar. And that was simply in the puzzling rooms; when it was time to fight, Soki dominated the field and was out the door long before his competitor had finished beating the snot out of whatever creature he was up against. At last they reached the final stretch, another long bridge over water. At the very end, through the last portal, was the giant word, "GOAL."
"Surprise time!" squealed the operator, rubbing her hands together. Just as Soki crossed the halfway mark of the bridge, Jason behind but gaining fast, the elf girl tapped a few buttons and suddenly brought into existence an extremely odd-looking Poison Lily at the end of the bridge. It had the same frame, but its petals were shaded with bright colors in odd patterns rather than being a normal white. In addition, its beak was more pointed and filled with jagged teeth. Even its stem was yellowed and withered, but with neither age nor disease. The cause ran much deeper than that.
Jason rushed the rotting plant, attempting to cut it out of the way and reach the goal in the same fell swoop. Soki's strategy was more cautious; despite Jason's zeal, something kept Soki away from the beast. His suspicions were confirmed when the Lily, or at least his version of it, reared back upon its stem, purple juice dripping from its mouth. The bridge was just wide enough to hold one human-sized person-- no room to dodge at all, unless... Soki leapt for the railing, just barely steadying himself in a handstand as his legs leaned over the bottomless water. What passed right where he used to be wasn't solid matter... it was a Megid spell. And there were two of them that collided in the middle of bridge in a cloud of purple gas.
"Jason has been eliminated!"
Soki barely heard it. He knew there were two of the monsters; that was enough. In a single smooth motion, he removed one hand from its stance, drew his long-barreled Varista, and fired at the giant plant on the other side of the bridge. Another Megid blast passed over his former perch as he fell, rolled on the bridge, and fired for the first Lily's stem, severing it. Before anything else could attack him, the HUcast ran for the goal.
Soki emerged from the VR chamber to see two broadly grinning Forces, an irate HUmar, and one positively astounded simulation operator.
"What were those?!" demanded Jason.
"Ob Lillies," noted the operator. "I don't know if I'm supposed to tell you, but they've been found in areas with high levels of D Cell contamination. I figured that the two of you were doing so well, I'd have to load something new in to see which one of you was really the best. And, apparently, that would be Soki."
Jason grumbled, which seemed a lot louder than maturity would allow until everyone realized that the computer was printing out something.
"Ah, the scores," explained the operator. "And the winner is...!" she trailed off intentionally, building dramatic tension. However, she failed to provide the name of the winner within any stretch of time that common sense would allow one to use for that purpose. The only hint she gave was a subtle drooping of her ears and, in time, an uplifted eyebrow. "That can't be right."
"What can't be?" asked Sapphire.
"Um... it looks like Kupi won."
"Me?! How?!" cried the victor.
"Working on it, working on it..." mumbled the elf girl at the computer, frantically analyzing the schematics. "Aha! The scoring system is set to heavily favor aptitude over completion. And that's based on combat experience."
Sapphire blinked. "How do they tell how experienced you are?"
"Well, it's probably an oversimplification, but the Hunter's Guild came up with a bio-sensor system that keeps track of what kinds of monsters you've fought, how many of each, stuff like that. It's boiled down to a point system, and apparently... someone of Kupi's relative skill in dispatching the three monsters he did compared to his current experience level is an incredible feat." There was a brief pause as she realized that both Soki and Jason were giving her the evil eye. "Though, what's aptitude when you're dead?" She came to another realization; Jason was technically dead as well. "And... hey... er.... well, Ithinkthissessionisoverseeyounexttimeokaybyebyenow comeagainsoon!" It was a prime opportunity for her to pack up and run away, except that she was rooted to the spot by her job, and it was the other people who had to leave. Which, in the case of Soki, Sapphire, and Kupi, they did.
They had just departed from the VR complex when they heard Jason hail them. "Hey hey! You guys!"
The three turned as one to face the approaching HUmar. Sapphire was the one to send the return greeting. "Yes?"
"Okay, first, congratulations. You're the first guys to beat me. Second, and this is going to sound weird, do you think I could stay a night or two with you guys? Guild jobs can only really cover food, not get you a good place to stay consistently. Unless, of course, you do what I have to and get beat up enough to stay at the hospital, and that grates on a guy's mind after a while."
Sapphire gave the HUmar a look. By all indications he was telling the truth, but then again he could be a great actor looking to take revenge for a loss. To counter that, Sapphire had both Soki and Bob. Where was the harm in putting a guy up for the night?
"Well, I suppose one night wouldn't be too bad, but we don't have much room, or a place for you to sleep, really."
"That's okay! I have a sleeping bag, so I can always stay on the floor. And I'll pay you for any food I eat while I'm there. Heck, if the hunting jobs go well I can pay rent if you need me to. Better yet, I can always help you with whatever hunting jobs you guys go on."
The man's enthusiasm took Sapphire by surprise. "I suppose that's alright..." was all he could muster.
"Great!" exclaimed Jason with relief. "Stay right here, and I'll get my stuff." With that, he ran back into the VR complex.
Sapphire, Kupi, and Soki exchanged glances. Yet another roomate...
Ready and willing to take comments!
And now, Chapter 10, the final decision of Soki's fate! Will he have his revenge, or will he instead be doomed to knowing he's second-best for eternity? Find out!
"I'm ready," Soki announced.
Sapphire blinked at his computer, and swivelled his chair to look at his friend. After a quick double-take at the way his HUcast friend had returned to his original costume of bright orange, yellow, and blue with a humanoid head, he reverted to his original mental question and asked, "Ready for what?"
"My revenge!" answered the Android, his tone connoting that Sapphire ought to have known that.
The FOnewm apparently picked up on this tone and returned to his computer. After reading from a file he had called up, Sapphire ventured, "Um... owner traded you in for a newer model, and you want to prove your superiority?"
"Correct," stated Soki. "And for that, I'll need rest. Good night." With abruptness equal to that which he'd entered, Soki marched to his usual corner, leaned against the wall, and shut down.
Kupi and Sapphire traded befuddled expressions. Kupi's had slightly more confusion behind it, and partially because of a different issue altogether. Coming out from the kitchen, the FOmar peered at what Sapphire had on his computer. "Notes? You take notes on us, too?" inquired Kupi.
"It's the only way I can keep up with stuff, Kupi," muttered the elf. "My memory doesn't go terribly far."
Kupi thought for a moment. "So what have you written about me?"
Kupi's fellow Force rolled his eyes. "Personality, preferences, statistics, that sort of thing."
A moment of capriciousness hit Kupi. "Let me see," he ordered, grinning.
"No way!" Sapphire answered.
Kupi reached around Sapphire and jabbed at the keyboard. Sapphire tried to stop him, but his reflexes were just a bit too slow and instead he managed to press even more random keys, bringing up a window that had previously been behind the notes.
Kupi was taken by surprise.
Sapphire closed the window, grumbling.
Kupi blinked a few more times before words came to mind. "What... WAS that?"
The FOnewm shook his head. "Nothing important."
"Sapphire, that's weird!"
"It's normal for a guy like me, okay? I understand it a lot better than you!"
"Looked to me like you've been staring at a bunch of random symbols all day," said Kupi, taking at least one reader by surprise and potentially making a few others burst into laughter.
"It's coding, alright?" elaborated Sapphire. "Games take a lot of code to make!"
"Whatever," said Kupi, shrugging and walking off.
"At any rate," restarted Sapphire, "if Soki says he needs his rest, then we ought to be well-rested for tomorrow as well. I have no idea what role in this Soki wants us to play." Kupi nodded his agreement, and returned to cooking dinner.
By the time Kupi had awoken, Soki was already standing at the door, facing inward. Sapphire was presumably still asleep, Jason was definitely still asleep since that giant lump in the sleeping bag on the floor couldn't be anything else, and Bob, repaired by this point, was in his own corner, in standby mode. As Kupi swivelled to a sitting position, Soki said, "We leave at 8:00," practically devoid of emotion.
The FOmar looked at the clock on Sapphire's eternally active computer. That gave him a mere half-hour to prepare, so a heated breakfast was out of the question. With as much haste as he could muster, Kupi woke Sapphire and Jason up and explained the time constraint. The three were fed and clothed with 5 minutes to spare, and met Soki at the door, where he had remained the entire time.
"Ready?" inquired the HUcast.
"Absolutely. Bob, follow," Sapphire ordered Bob. Soki permitted the FOnewm to do so, apparently thinking the inclusion of another Android to be unimportant. A moment's pause prompted Sapphire to sell Soki, "You're in the lead, Soki. I've no idea where you want to go." As it turned out, the HUcast had simply been waiting for Bob to cross the room. As soon as the large one was part of the party, they set off. It was a long walk spanning several ship's worth of civilian quarters, ending at last at a monumental apartment building that reeked of money.
Sapphire whistled in appreciation. "Quite a complex. So, eh... what floor does he live on?" inquired the Force, fishing for something relevant.
"All of them," growled Soki. "This entire building is his."
Sapphire whistled again, this time throwing in a few more notes. "You're sure you're ready to take on this guy's bodyguard?"
Soki's reply was quick in coming and quickly said. "Perfectly." Whether that was "perfectly ready" or "perfectly sure" was left to the listener's imagination. There was no time to ponder the issue, either; the HUcast was already heading for the front door with silent determination. Those behind him had no real choice but to follow.
Inside, the female receptionist looked slightly worried by the appearances of those who had just come to stand in front of her. "May I help you?" she probed.
"I want to see Wolfgang," answered Soki bluntly.
"Do you have an appointment?" the receptionist returned.
"No. Tell him that Sandstorm wishes to see him."
"I'm afraid that Wolfgang is busy at the moment, and I can't--"
Soki cut her off, shouting to do so. "Tell him that Sandstorm is here to see him, woman! He'll make time for it!" From behind the orange Android, Sapphire gave the receptionist a sheepish look.
She backed down, mostly due to not being paid enough to deal with irate metal men. After pressing a button on the desk, she spoke into a handheld communicator. "Mr. Cerda? ......Mr Cerda? I'm sorry to interrupt, but there's a Mr. Sandstorm--"
Soki cut her off again. "It's just 'Sandstorm!'"
"--sorry, Mr. Cerda, it's just 'Sandstorm'... he's here to see you." There was a long silence before the receptionist finally spoke again, but still to the communicator. "He hasn't said, sir. He just wants to see you." There was another pause before she turned to Soki again. "Reason for visiting, sir? You'll be let in without an appointment, but, to paraphrase, you need a really good reason for doing so."
Soki gave her a single word in response. "Sandstone."
The receptionist blinked. This was so far beyond what she was used to handling that she decided to forget every question she had and just say the darn word. "'Sandstone,' sir. That's why." There was another long pause, but the voice on the other end was silent itself, rather than raving at the verge of audibility as it had before. Finally, the receptionist was able to deliver the reply. "You can go up. Mr. Cerda is on the the top floor. You can get there--"
"I know the way," said Soki, devoid of inflection yet still implying his mood through his third interruption of the exchange. As he led his partners to an elevator, Sapphire, Jason, and Kupi shrugged to the receptionist in tandem.
The elevator ride was long and boring. It may simply have been a result of the atmosphere, but the ride seemed unnaturally prolonged. When the doors opened at last, they revealed the largest apartment that Sapphire had ever seen. It was, in essence, the whole floor. Every luxury one could desire was to be found somewhere in the vast expanse of the living quarters. Sapphire almost whistled for the third time in this chapter, but was cut off by noticing, right in front of the group, a man in full business attire, arms folded across his chest, glowering fiercely at Soki. By his side was a female Android, Soki's mirror image but for certain alterations in the molding style. In color, build, and nearly even face, she was his twin. It was the man, assumably Mr. Wolfgang Cerda, who spoke.
"What business do you have with Sandstone, Sandstorm?"
"I am here to show you what a poor business decision you made when you sold me, Wolfgang," snapped Soki.
Wolfgang snorted. "Your processors, motors, and even your AI were obsolete. That's the way technology works. I'd be surprised that your forgot that, but you never did seem to grasp the important details. This conversation is over, Sandstorm. Go back where you came from." With that, Mr. Cerda turned his back and started off, followed by Sandstone.
"You're not getting away that easily!" called Soki. "I came here to deal with Sandstone, not have you spout some crap about statistics at me. And I intend to deal with her on the battlefield. I challenge you to a duel, Sandstone!"
The female Android turned. "I refuse your challenge," she answered in a silky voice. "I refuse to fight with an enemy against whom my victory is assured."
Soki stiffened. If his current design had teeth, he would have been gritting them. It was hard to tell by his body language, but he seemed to be contemplating a plan B that he'd prefer not to have to use. Wolfgang broke his seething by asking, "Are you five leaving or not? I can always have you escorted out by security... unconscious."
"Fine then. I'll go," snarled Soki. "I don't need to fight you now, Sandstone. Your cowardice proves everything. You say your victory is assured, but I know you think like me. Until you've actually fought me, you can't be certain. You're just hiding behind our master's confidence... you're scared I'll defeat you, and you'll wind up in my position. If that's the case, then I've already won." Soki turned on his heels and started for the door. Kupi noticed that Sapphire was hammering away at his notepad.
"Halt," came the reply from Sandstone. She was now fully facing Soki, rage showing in her stance. It even showed in her eyes; they'd turned blood red. However, intense as her wrath was, it was all focused onto the point in space that Soki was occupying. The silk was gone from her voice, a bed of nails in its place. Then, for a moment, her gaze flashed to Sapphire, then Kupi, then Bob, then Jason, and finally back to Soki. Quick as lightning, she held up her palm, all five fingers extended. "Five witnesses."
Soki looked over his shoulder. "What?"
"Five witnesses," Sandstone repeated. "You want a duel? Then we shall duel, by classical Coral style. And that calls for five witnesses, to confirm that the fight was fairly fought."
Sapphire counted those present. "No problem. We've got five people here who can watch. Me, Kupi, Jason, Mr. Cerda, and Bob."
"Rustbucket doesn't count," snapped Sandstone. "I can tell he's built to take orders, not like Sandstorm or I. Unless you can magically produce a fifth person, we can't have a duel."
Kupi came up with an idea. "How about the lady from downstairs?"
Jason shook his head, and explained the situation to Kupi at a whisper. "Wolfy boy pays her to do her job. He could probably pay her to say that Soki cheated."
Soki continued to glare at Sandstone. She'd probably made that five-witnesses thing up just to get out of the fight, and she was not going to get away with that! "Sapphire, call up anyone you know... use your Guild Cards if you have to!"
Sapphire pulled out his handheld communicator and dialed in a number. Everyone's eyes were fixed on him as his expression shifted from desperate to hopeless. "This is not a good time for you to be out, Nowan!" the elf finally shouted at the phone, and hung up. Sapphire pulled his Guild Card case and shuffled through it. "I don't think I've actually gotton anyone's Guild Card, actually... except..."
"...Janise," said Soki, finishing the sentence. "Do it."
"Aw, man," protested Sapphire, but since his friend's honor was at stake, he pulled out another communicator, this time a BEE text messenger, and started typing out a letter.
Leaning over to Kupi, Jason asked, "Janise?"
The short one offered the best explanation he could. "She's a girl we met once on a hunting mission. Sapphire says she's scared of us because of something someone did to her. I'm kinda fuzzy on the details."
The BEE communicator made a cheery series of blips, causing Sapphire to write out another message. Another set of blips, another message, another set of blips, another message, another set of blips, and finally Sapphire announced, "She's coming, but we may have to wait awhile."
"I can wait," muttered Soki unemotionally.
"And I will not back down," retorted Sandstone, half to Wolfgang, since he looked as though he might say something to the effect of not wanting to have his time unneccesarily wasted. The penthouse was nearly silent as the interminable wait for the fifth witness ran its course. Wolfgang tapped a loafer-shod foot irritably against the tiled floor. Sapphire shook his head at Kupi when the FOmar began to hum a simple tune. Jason eyed the surroundings with interest more in the opulence than in the actual items that created the feeling. And in the middle of them all were Sandstorm and Sandstone, their eyes never leaving one another, not even straying from the other's gaze. In some ways, the duel had already begun. Suddenly, a voice pierced the calm.
"Mr. Cerda? There's a 'Janise' looking to--"
"Send her up!" shouted Wolfgang, apparently to the ceiling.
The silence that followed was more brevitous than the previous one, but hung thicker with increased expectation. At last, the redhead Ranger emerged from the elevator, terror, though mostly concealed, still visible in her eyes. "I'm here," she said, unnecessarily.
"Great! Wonderful! Can we get this overwith already?" snapped Wolfgang, and made for the elevator. Once there, he beckoned the rest irritably. "Come on! You don't think they're going to fight here, do you?" Looking like concussed deer in mack truck headlights, the rest of the humans joined them in the elevator, and then Soki, who was far acting far more professional about the whole ordeal.
The elevator took the group down four floors before they were let off. Once again, anyone who hadn't already seen what was before them was thoroughly impressed. Within Mr. Wolfgang Cerda's massive residential building was a multiple-floored battle arena composed of four quadrants, each simulating different environments ranging from a forest to a technological paradise.
Jason pulled a Keanu on the group's behalf. "Woah."
"It's my own personal training ground," explained Wolfgang, lacking the zeal of description that Sapphire typically included in his monologues. "It has holograph projectors to create targets, but it'll suffice for a dueling grounds for these two. All simulators will remain off for the fight, in case you're wondering. I'd hate for anyone to think my business sense requires handicaps to win."
Soki nodded. "Where shall we begin?"
Sandstone said, "I prefer the beach," without even looking at him.
Soki nodded again. "As do I."
Sandstone climbed down the ladder to the beach section, which was right in front of the group, followed at the exact same pace by Soki. As soon as they reached the sand, their trajectories split. Both, obviously, knew the spot where they'd need to be. When all was said and done, the two Androids stood ten feet apart from each other, arms at their sides.
"Um... would you happen to have any clue as to how they're going to 'duel?'" inquired Sapphire to Wolfgang.
"I have no bloody clue."
"Ah. Well, that's going to make things interesting, isn't it?"
"Quite." Wolfgang's expression revealed that he was obviously not telling the truth.
It happened in an instant. The formality had disappeared from Soki and Sandstone's manners; in its place was the warrior's code: win at any cost! Soki threw the first punch from the right, which Sandstone effortlessly leaned out of the way of. Her knee popped up into Soki's stomach, freeing his momentum to be redirected over her shoulder and into the sand. A HUcast-shaped dust cloud went up as Soki landed behind the HUcaseal. Sandstone wasted no time in stamping her foot onto Soki's head.
Or, where it used to be. Soki had rolled out of the way and onto his feet, no worse for the wear. The two Androids locked in combat stances again, simply staring at each other, watching the other for any sign of weakness. The next round was initiated by Sandstone as she lunged for Soki, leg extended in a flying kick aimed for his shoulder. Too Easily Dodged flashed through Soki's mind even as he twisted out of the way. Sure enough, he'd been tricked. The metal foot wasn't the danger; instead, it was her arm that wrenched Soki's neck down toward the ground even as Sandstone's own move brought her falling into the beach. As soon as they were on the ground, heads nearly resting beside the other's, they both took action. Sandstone fused her rise with a spinning kick aimed at her opponent's head, while Soki made a more defensive move in anticipation of the aggression and somersaulted to his feet.
That left the HUcast's back exposed, and his ruthless rival made sure to use that to her full advantage. She crossed half the distance between them with one stride and turned the second into a high kick with her left leg aimed again at Soki's head. The latter held up an arm and blocked the hit with clang. The impact staggered the forearm he'd used, but the HUcast turned the damage around, using the way his arm had been forced inward into a circular grab. He'd snared Sandstone's arm, and the words of an old Android friend of his came to mind: "You can't just grab someone for it's own sake. You have to do something after that!" Thus Soki brought his own right arm into play and spun the foot he had outward even as he twisted his own left arm inward, sending Sandstone into a 180 spin into the sand bed. Now neither was facing the other.
Both turned to face the other from their relative positions. Sandstone stood with a growl, and Soki allowed it. "Had enough?" sneered Soki.
Sandstone didn't respond, at least, not verbally. Instead, he slapped her right wrist with the opposite hand, creating a pair of red photonic claws. Soki, in turn, extended his own blue Silence Claw.
"Hang on!" shouted Sapphire to the other spectators. "That's live ammo! They could kill each other!"
"One of them will kill the other. That is the point of a duel," stated Wolfgang. "I hope you didn't pay much for Sandstorm"
Sapphire was beginning to feel a bit of Soki's animosity for Sandstone and Wolfgang himself.
This time, they both charged each other simultaneously, and with the exact same hand upraised in preparation to strike. In time with one another, they both brought their attacking arms forward while moving their bodies out of the way, backward. The claws clashed with one another in a blaze of purple light. At last the two did something different from the other. Sandstone brought her claw up and over her head, whereas Soki prepared to strike low. However, neither blow took place. The two Androids simply circled one another, each poised to strike, neither making their move. Eventually they began to tread their own footsteps in the sand. Sandstone tired of the dance at last, and brought a sideways slash at Soki's side. This the attack's recipient deflected with the photon barrier on his arm, though not so as to throw her arm back. Rather, the HUcast wanted her claw right where it was. He aimed a rapid stab at the hand the Nei's Claw was projecting from, crippling the weapon.
Sandstone was ready for the ploy. With her left hand, she had grabbed a red photon blade from behind her back. No time to lose, she thrust it through Soki's own Claw hand and even through the arm with the shield. Soki was already moving his arms down and out of the way when the blow fell, which only prevented the sword's followup tear from removing vital parts of his arm rather than saving the Silence Claw or shield. Meanwhile, Sandstone had drawn the second of her two blades, identical to Soki's Yamato, but red. In turn, Soki drew his blue Yamato blades.
The four swords crashed together in a symphony of blows. Every thrust was parried by its recipient and paid back with another failed attempt on its sender's life. The fight raged back and forth in waves, one combatant driving the other back, then the other exploding into a furious whirl of blades. It was incredible how both Hunters had become blurs of red and blue rolling with each other's strikes and returning them with equal ferocity. And yet... there was something wrong with the fight. Over time, as attack after attack was deflected, it seemed that Soki was taking more steps back than Sandstone was. He was being driven into the model sea, unable to match the intensity of his rival's attack.
Until finally he faltered. One bad parry was all it took. Soki used both arms to thrust one of Sandstone's attacks back to whence it came, leaving her other arm free to hit him at its pleasure. Sandstone chose the stomach, sliding the burning laser blade through Soki's abdomen. The HUcast's death cry echoed throughout the chamber; some vital part of his machinery had been vaporized.
There was a tiny sound, unnoticed by all but Soki...
Sandstone deactivated her off hand's Asuka and returned it to her back. Then, she turned off the Asuka that Soki had been impaled upon, held him by the shoulder, and returned the sword to her back. Finally, she placed her boot upon his stomach and pushed. With agonizing viscosity, the lifeless hulk fell into the "ocean."
"Inferior model," muttered Sandstone.
"Soki..." cried Kupi, leaning into Sapphire's side.
Sapphire said nothing. Soki wasn't beyond repair, but that what reason would he find for existing now?
"I'm through here. The girl robot won," groused Janise, who had otherwise been silent.
"Hmph. I told you... I made the right decision," growled Wolfgang. "And right now I see no reason for you to be here. Get off of my property."
A muted white light suddenly shone from the pool of water. Suddenly, Soki burst forth from it, water splashing randomly back into the pool and onto the sand. Lurching like a zombie, the wounded fighter stamped his way onto dry land. "It's... not... over!" shouted the HUcast.
Sandstone glared at Soki, and warily drew her Asuka blades once more. How in the world was he still functioning?
That question soon became unimportant, due to Soki's next action. A blast of invisible energy burst forth from the steel fighter's frame, knocking the unaware observers above to their feet and digging a pair of trenches with Sandstone's feet as she was knocked back. Sapphire's crowd sprang to their feet just in time to see a giant circular design made of strands of energy shining at Soki's feet. Then the exact reverse happened; everything, even the sand on the beach, was drawn in toward Soki slightly. It was all the semi-prepared spectators could do to avoid being sucked onto the battlefield themselves. However, the seal was now gone, its energy absorbed into Soki. That wasn't the end of it, however. Soki thrust his twin Yamato blades into the air, releasing all of the pent-up power straight into the air.
The entire room was filled with an odd vision. The walls, the floor, anything with a surface, even the people, were all painted with rainbow colors, swirling around each other in a storm of light. This only painted the background, however. At center stage was another seal, a direct copy of the one before, titanically enlarged. Upon it stood two bizarre creatures with simple humanoid bodies that were about as large as their oversized heads. Two fins jutted from the sides of both of their heads, forming points behind them. Their only difference was coloration; one was blue and the other red. For a moment the twins stood unmoving upon opposite sides of the seal, until finally they began to circle its perimeter, gazes locked inexorably upon one another. When they had both walked the entire edge, they dove into one another, exploding into a shower of white light.
The world's spectrum returned to normal abruptly, to everyone's surpise but Soki's. He was crackling with red and blue lightning. Wasting no time, the HUcast dove toward Sandstone, who put up a pitiful defense. Soki easily knocked her right-hand Asuka out of the way with his left Yamato, followed by striking her second Asuka with his other hand so hard that it was knocked out of her hand. In the same motion, Soki brought his right Yamato back in and through the HUcaseal's neck.
Slowly, her head leaned back and fell into the sand with a pff. The rest of her body remained standing for a moment, and then crumpled. Within moments the energy within Soki dissipated. Apparently relieved, Soki snapped off his swords and returned the hilts to the holsters on his back. With every deliberation possible, the HUcast walked to the ladder and climbed up. Wolfgang was the first to speak to him.
Soki glared at his former owner. "Have someone with an ounce of skill in Android mechanics look at her. You'll find that I didn't do any irrepirable damage to her. I wouldn't want to be there when she wakes up, though."
Wolfgang sputtered briefly. "I'll-- I'll sue you for property damage!"
"And I have witnesses who will attest to the fact that all parties agreed to the battle before it occurred, correct?"
Janise suddenly jumped in with, "The girl robot lost," her voice practically cracking. Without warning, she ran from the room. Sapphire, looking torn, followed her.
Wolfgang ignored the incident entirely, his attention focused far more upon letting Soki know through his body language that he was going to acheive some level of victory today. "Alright. Fine. What I want to know is this. How did you get the money to afford a Mag?"
"Hunting can be rather profitable if you know how to go about it," shot back Soki. "Maybe if you spent more time with the monsters on Ragol than the ones up here in business suits, you'd know that!"
Wolfgang snarled. His eyes flashed to Jason, and a new plan formed in his mind. "You!" he shouted, pointing to the HUmar. "You're his current owner, correct?"
Jason held up his arms as if to surrender. "I just room with 'em. Kupi knows more about him than I do."
At that point, Jason was all but nonexistant so far as Wolfgang was concerned. "Alright then, Kupi. You're being guarded by Soki, correct? How much did you buy him for?"
Kupi racked his brain for the amount. It was so long ago... "Um... about 25,000 Meseta, I think?"
"I'll pay you 250,000 for him."
Kupi blinked. Good grief, that was a lot. That was a fortune. And nowhere near what Soki was worth, given the circumstances. "No thanks," said Kupi, trying to move as quickly as possible through the situation before Wolfgang made any more suggestions.
The four remaining members of Sapphire's party were nearly to the elevator before Wolfgang desperately called, "500,000!"
Kupi turned and shook his head. "You could pay me every Meseta you have and not get more than his foot." The elevator doors closed, leaving the quartet with a glimpse of the beginning of Wolfgang's stomping tantrum.
The four had just stepped out of the elevator when they were stopped by another argument entirely, this time between Sapphire and Janise. The receptionist was absent from the room.
"You need medical attention, woman!" Sapphire was shouting.
"I'm fine!" the RAmarl roared back.
"Not the way you've been acting, you aren't!"
"Then what's wrong with me?"
"You know what I think's wrong with you!"
For a brief moment Janise was speechless. "...I don't like you assuming things you can't prove."
"You haven't denied it yet."
At that point they noticed the new arrivals. Sapphire greeted them with a quick wave before he turned back to the empty space that was standing in front of him. The door to the outside suddenly slammed shut, and Sapphire realized that he'd been given the slip. He growled.
"That girl... curse her! C'mon guys, let's go home." With that, the FOnewm was headed for the door, grumbling.
The rest exchanged glances, but soon followed their leader. As they passed through the portal to the outside, Kupi looked up into Soki's face. "By the way, Soki..."
"That was cool."
Comments always appreciated!
07-26-2003, 09:30 AM
looks good, started reading but now I have to go for breakfast but I'll be reading it when I come back, then I'll probly edit this post and say something that is not mindless babble that I feel I'm doing right now....
Chapter 11! We're getting near the end!
The day after Soki's revenge, Kupi's heard a voice in his dreams...
ENJOY THIS VICTORY.
IT WILL BE YOUR LAST.
Kupi awoke, aware that something terrible had just returned. It slipped his mind as to what, though. Yet unlike before, he was well aware that there had been a dream, and a storm was forming on the horizon... with this on his mind, Kupi pulled his covers around him again, and fell asleep once more.
The next two weeks passed uneventfully, by day and night.
I'M COMING FOR YOU, KUPI.
YOU'RE ALL THAT STANDS IN MY WAY!
PREPARE TO DIE...
What Kupi felt was not fear. It felt as though he were feeling someone else's emotions, and this person, whoever it was, was desperate to stop this voice from killing him. Kupi was aware of a mental, a spiritual struggle, two consciousnesses fighting for control. No, not control... dominance. Both wanted to be above the other, one defending its position, its opponent attempting to drag it down and take its place. The definitive moment, the climax of this duel, was on the verge of occuring as Kupi was suddenly thrust into consciousness.
The room was lit up and everyone was at their typical morning station. Kupi sat up, wearing a look of utter bewilderment. This must have created some noticable sound, as the FOmar came under the scrutiny of three sentient gazes immediately.
"Good morning, Kupi," said Sapphire.
Kupi continued to stare straight ahead, breathing heavily in the confused state of one freshly awoken from a bad dream, to whom reality is not yet clearly focused. "I-- must've been a nightmare..." he finally groaned.
Jason nodded his affirmation. "A real soul-twister, by the looks on your face."
Kupi gave Jason a look, before the morning routine's call hit and prompted him to get to work on breakfast. That morning he cooked pancakes and bacon, to Jason's delight but not Sapphire's. "Sorry, Kupi, but I've eaten pancakes for my entire adult life. It's all I know how to cook," explained the FOnewm at his computer. He still ate them, just with hesitation. As he was eating, Sapphire took the opportunity to strike up a conversation. "I'm sure you guys are wondering just what that giant twin move that Soki did yesterday was..."
Jason nodded enthusiastically and even leaned forward partially to display his interest. "I am, at least. But, er, shouldn't Soki tell us about it? I mean, he'd be the one to know."
The HUcast in question shook his head. "I'm certain that Sapphire can give you a much more detailed description than I."
Slightly slighted, Sapphire sought to spell out the situation, but only after realizing that what he was about to do was far too alliterative to proceed with without first noting it to the reader. "Well, first things first: Soki's somehow managed to get ahold of a MAG. They're a recent scientific invention, something like a cross between a living creature and a machine. I mean, it's purely mechanical, but it simulates a living creature in nearly every way. They even have to eat."
"Kind've like a pet?" interjected Kupi.
"Right, like a pet. Except this is a pet that provides a service to you as a hunter; as they're fed, they're capable of boosting your abilities depending upon what they're fed. I won't go into the specifics, but they could double or even triple your abilities if raised properly. And here's the weird thing: even for being machines, they can cast techniques, or something equivalent. They can even generate periods of total photonic repulsion."
"What?" said Jason, the term just a wee bit too technical for his mental capabilities.
"Invulnerability!" answered Sapphire with an emphatic gesture that nearly tipped his milk glass over. "Depending upon the MAG, they can generate enough photonic energy to repel absolutely anything. You could take a direct hit by a Garanz's missle... heck, two or three of them, and not get hurt in the slightest."
"I see. So if Soki's gotton a MAG, why could Sandstone hurt him?"
Soki entered the conversation. "It's only a few seconds at a time, if at all."
"Right," concurred Sapphire, nodding grimly. "Though hey, speaking of things that only last a few seconds, that's the other point I wanted to cover. See, MAGs are 'linked,' so to speak, with their owners. When their owner is hurt, it hurts the MAG. MAGs have a very low tolerance for pain, so they (through a process I don't understand, the explanation was fifty pages long) convert the pain into photon energy and store it in their bodies. They can't do that forever, though; if you put too much photon energy in a single place, it's going to get out somehow. And MAGs have a mechanism for doing that, called a Photon Blast. All that energy gets let out in one giant attack. The one we saw was 'Mylla and Youlla,' which boosts the MAG owner's strength and defensive capability remarkably for a short time. ...speaking of giant things, from what I've read, MAGs are relatively large; enough so that we'd have seen it. Um... where is it, Soki?"
"I got it embedded in my body," answered Soki, patting his chest. "At least when it assumed the form it's in now. I didn't want them to know I had a MAG, otherwise Sandstone would never have fought me."
Sapphire nodded with grim understanding. "Well, in any case I'm glad--"
An alarm buzzed three times at Sapphire's computer, drawing everyone's attention.
"What's up?" asked Jason, who was less proficient with computers than Sapphire.
"News alert, third class," said Sapphire. "Big news, but we aren't going to crash into Ragol or something. Let's see what it is..." The FOnewm pushed a button on the computer and brought up the article, which he read quickly and paraphrased. "The entire WORKS division assigned to preliminary investigations has disappeared! A report by a surivor (who, strangely, wasn't a member of WORKS) says that there were extremely unusual photon energy readings at the site of the disappearance. It appears as though an investigation's going to be launched into what he was doing in the area... it was restricted to WORKS research, and barred to hunters. He even took a researcher named Dr. Montague and his custom Android, Elenor, with him. Very strange indeed... this is just like Pioneer 1, in miniature. I wonder if anyone else noti--"
The BEE messenger beeped at the table, cutting Sapphire off again. Sapphire read what was there, and again gave everyone the short version. "General dispatch from the Hunter's Guild. They're warning all hunters to stay away from the Ruins, where WORKS disappeared, until further investigations are completed. They can't officially enforce it, though, so people could still go..."
"Ruins?" asked Kupi.
Sapphire nodded. "It's a bit of a misnomer, though. They've found signs that it's actually a spaceship. Still, the writing is archaic enough and the whole thing's so run-down that it might as well be called a relic of the past. That, and it's filled with a lot of dark, demonic creatures. They only react to extremely strong photon intensity, too, so it's really hard to kill them with conventional weapons. Oddly enough, though, they seem to react to more mundane weapons like katanas and even solid metal sticks. The only binding trait between those weapons is that they're usually made out of Laconium... which is said to have some kind of holy power in it. Er... something wrong, Kupi?"
The FOmar had stood, with a look of determination on his face. Sapphire's words had triggered something within him, an awareness long locked away. All this talk of ancient demons and holy power... "I have to go there."
Sapphire blinked. "Go where?"
"To the Ruins."
Soki shook his head. "It was a mistake even to take you into the Mines, Kupi. Going into the Ruins would be suicide!"
"I don't care what you say, I'm going!" shouted Kupi, and made for the door. Soki moved to block his progress, but Kupi ducked to the side and under the HUcast's arm. Sapphire and Jason were on their feet by the time Kupi had hit the open button on the door. The automated door was halfway open when Soki tried to grab Kupi by the shoulder. Without even noticing, Kupi ducked through the door and was out in the hall. Sapphire and Jason, followed by Bob, dashed by Soki and out the door. The HUcast simply stood there, looking at his hand. It was no different than before, and yet something stupefied him about it for a moment, before he realized that the chase was still on, and rushed out the door as well.
Sapphire and Jason took the elevator, while Soki rushed down the stairs. Kupi himself was taking the stairway down, only slightly ahead of the rest due to the element of surprise. His pursuors were just coming down to the first floor as he was out the door and into the morning "rush hour," as it were, of pedestrian traffic.
"He's gonna try to lose us in the crowd!" shouted Sapphire.
Jason wasn't paying attention at all, distracted by his handheld communicator. "Janise! How fast do you think you can get to the Altair teleport station at our block? We need you to stop Kupi from using it! ...yes, Kupi! The kid's gone psycho, says he wants to get into the Ruins. Wait until we get there in any case, alright? We have to focus on the chase now, get back to you later! Love ya as always!"
"Why why why do I always wind up chasing down people in these shoes?!" growled Sapphire, just before he heard Jason's words. "And since when are you on 'Love ya as always' terms with Janise?!" the FOnewm shot.
"It's not like I'm sitting around in your room all day, y'know," was the only explanation that Jason gave before putting more effort into not bumping into people than before. That was necessary just to keep up; Kupi's tiny, near-Halfling stature gave him an edge in ducking between fellow pedestrians. Despite their best efforts, Kupi's friends couldn't keep up, and eventually lost track of him despite their best efforts. Nevertheless, they continued at full speed to the teleport station, where they found Janise laying on her back, momentarily stunned. She jumped back to her feet as the others approached.
"Geez... all I did was try to grab him and I got flung back," she said while rubbing her back. "If he lives through this, I'm going to slap him for that."
Sapphire, meanwhile, had discussed the possibility of getting a traced teleport to the same section of the Ruins that Kupi had gone to with the teleport operator, as well as why the heck he'd actually send someone who'd just flung someone else across the room down there without checking their registration first.
"Hey," defended the transporter, "When you've seen registered hunters incorporate numerals into conversational speech, anything's possible."
Despite the many facets of the man's statement, a friend had just flung himself in the most dangerous known place to be in the vicinity, and that took precedence. All five remaining members of the party made all appropriate haste to transport pad and took the quickest path to Ragol.
The very first thing that Sapphire would've taken down as a note would be the mustiness of the Ruins. Given the name of the area, that trait wouldn't be too difficult to assume, but the choking feeling of age defied any expectation that Sapphire had had. The teleport station was placed in an extremely close-packed room tiled in dark grey whose only exit was to an even more claustrophobic hallway that had room for no more than two people side-by-side, bar Bob, who had to squeeze through alone. The room on the other side was the first's total opposite for size. In its center stood Kupi, holding his Rod and facing away from his pursuors. This was because of the creature bearing down on him.
It was eerily similar to a Booma or Shark in stature, but lacked anything that could be construed as a face. It simply had a black, gnarled torso from which legs with hooflike feet and sky blue scythe-arms sprouted. Its belly, if the term applies, was also light blue, but in stripes rather than solid color, with black filling the gaps. Despite its lack of eyes, it seemed to know exactly where Kupi was, as evidenced by its berserk charge at him.
Sapphire and Soki left the hallway first, and managed a step each before Kupi raised the Rod above his head and began to glow white. The aura condensed onto the top of the weapon, and then fragmented into a myriad of bolts that flew into the Dimenian, turning it into a foul pincusion. Then, it exploded. The force of this was so great that the age-old dust that had settled over the centuries for which the Ruins had lay forgotton suddenly found itself on the wall rather than the floor, and the monster's volume was increased exponentially, though its mass remained the same.
Soki lowered his arms, which he'd crossed in front of his face in defense. "Grants?" he wondered aloud.
Sapphire acted upon his own amazement differently. "Kupi! I want you to explain to me what you think you're doing and how in the wORLD?!" At that moment the FOnewm breifly experienced the sensation of flight as Kupi used an invisible force to throw him back to the entrance of the room. Soki caught him and returned him to his feet in one smooth motion.
The FOmar, still silent, ran to the next door. As if anticipating him, it opened early and shut quickly. When the other five arrived, they found that it had locked itself. Soki had the presense of mind to check behind them for monsters, but the room was clear, and the door had been open...
"It's gotta be a bug in the system!" shouted Sapphire, distrought. "Of all the luck!" In grief, he struck the door with a fist, creating a hollow ringing sound from the archaic metal. Blinking twice, realization dawned. "Bob, blast that thing!"
Jason, Janise, and Soki quickly ducked out of the way as the towering RAcast grabbed his Photon Launcher from his back, charged it, and took aim at the door. The first blast punched a human-sized hole in the portal, through which Soki clambered first and continued the pursuit. Everyone else followed in turn.
"Now that's what I call unlocking a door," remarked Sapphire happily.
The next room, as the first, was exceptionally large. By the time his friends had reached the entrance, Kupi was at the next exit, but unfortunately pinned in a corner. An endless flood of Dimenians appeared in the center of the room, some with red or yellow coloring instead of the standard blue. One trait bound them all together: they wanted Kupi dead.
Soki was the first to arrive and assess the situation. Kupi was using his mysteriously-gained new spell admirably, but the demons advanced ever closer to him as time wore on. The addition of his comrades would tip the scales in their favor, however, and the FOmar could easily be saved. As though on cue, this plan was thwarted by the appearance of three more monsters, all facing the new arrivals. The closest was a Belra. The others were new; a ghostlike humanoid devoid of legs, wearing a crystalline, phantasmal cape and flanked by two eight-sided prysms. The last was also humanoid, with black armor all over. It lacked a definite face; it simply had a spherical head with two horns projecting out the back. Its left arm was a shield, the right a sword.
Soki charged for the Belra, Yamato blades ready. Rather than swinging them into the beast immediately, however, the HUcast held them up at his sides, a defensive move that perfectly counteracted the beast's two-armed crush by removing the front half of both arms, which spun away behind him. His foe thus disarmed, Soki brought his blades forward and through the creature, cutting it clear through in two horizontal lines. The Dark Belra took the punishment without the least concern for its own health.
Sapphire leapt over the severed Belra arm on the left and let a fireball loose at the Chaos Sorceror. Its righthand Bee crystal had raised above its head and turned red, and the Sorceror itself had produced a short hilt that produced a staff of shining white energy. The staff was pointed at Soki, and in Sapphire's experience, whenever a black-colored floating thing pointed something at you, you either killed it or got out of the way. Soki was in no position to do either, and thus the task was his to undertake. In midair the FOnewm created a fireball in his hand, releasing it upon landing at the risen gem. Fire was, fortunately, exactly what it needed, and the Bee shattered just before the Sorceror completed its spell. Undaunted, the phantom lifted its other gem into the air, glowing yellow. A Launcher blast from Bob blew that one to pieces as well. That left the Chaos Sorceror with no ammunition, and Sapphire made sure the point was thoroughly rubbed in by sticking his tongue out at it. In return, the monster rapped him over the head with its staff, which stung mildly. Retaliation instinct demanded that Sapphire get his hand as close as possible to the Sorceror and open Foie. Just as its Bees, it shattered irreperably, and left some lingering purple gas to boot. Sapphire ducked around it and charged the Dimenians that were still flowing into the room.
On the other side of the Belra, two swords clashed as Jason swung a glasslike claymore at the Delsaber's midsection. The corrupted swordman blocked the strike with a diagonal, down and outward slash. The HUmar and the monster were perfect matches for strength, and neither wished to back down. This stalemate might have continued forever, were it not for the hooked claws on the Delsaber's shield. It attempted to jab these into Jason's undefended hip, but was thwarted by a Rifle shot from Janise. No damage was truly done, but the sheer force of the blow drove the shield into its owner's stomach, also releasing the pressure it was putting on Jason's blade. Wasting no time, the HUmar drew it back once more and rent the Delsaber in two. Jason and Janise followed Sapphire and Bob to the battleground.
Kupi's situation was getting critical. Every Dimenian met its end at his endless stream of Grants, but they all made some miniscule advance upon him. It was inevitable that they would eventually get to him, and this settled into the FOmar's mind over time. The worry on his face was plain to see as the demons edged ever closer to him, until at last one rose an arm to strike. Kupi's expression, previously working its way to terror, transformed into wrath. Once again he motioned to cast Grants, but this time it came out differently. It didn't focus. It simply spread out in a wall of white light, dashing every monster it touched to pieces. The wave travelled throughout the room, annhiliating the Belra yet mysteriously passing over the non-monsters, affecting none of them but Sapphire, who groaned with pain and fell to his knees.
The door behind Kupi opened, and he ran through it. Soki helped Sapphire to his feet, questioning, "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I... I think..." growled Sapphire, mustering all the energy he had to stand and resume the chase after Kupi. "This is so weird..."
The door, which didn't put up as much resistance as the first one, lead to a long, narrow hallway covered in pulsatic red moss. This was of momentary interest to Sapphire; he commented, "I've read about this stuff... it only appears really deep in the Ruins. For it to be this dense wherever it shows up... we've got to be nearing the heart of this place!"
Ahead, Kupi passed through the hallway's far door and into yet another square room. This was hardly a room at all, being more an expanded intersection of two halls, each running perpendicular to the other. As the door had shut because of the gap between Kupi and his friends, they missed seeing an average-sized FOnewearl, wearing honeybee yellow and black clothes and a tamoshanter, nearly collide with Kupi as she ran through the cross hallway like one possessed. They didn't take note of each other at all.
Neither did their respective pursuors, who were unfortunate enough to crash into each other, but not with enough force to knock the other over. Sapphire looked at the tall HUmar with surprise.
"You're not Kupi!" he said, spur-of-the-moment.
"You're not Mari Mari!" shouted the HUmar in return.
Both parties had more important people to deal with, and thus they continued on what they suspected to be where the person they wanted had gone.
Another short hallway brought the five chasers to a second four-way division, but this produced a conundrum: they no longer had Kupi as a reference point for where to go! Thinking quickly, Jason formulated the obvious plan. "Sapphire, take Bob and head left. Janise and I will take the right path. Soki, you take the front way. He can't be very far down any path! Let's go!" With that, he and the RAmarl were gone through their door and Soki was unable to come up with a defensible objection. Thus, Sapphire commanded Bob to follow him through the leftmost door and protect him whenever possible.
Soki's path lead him to yet another cubic room, slightly more volumous than the one he'd just left. The door in front of him locked, and a look behind him confirmed that the one he'd come through was inoperable as well. As a machine, Soki lacked a true intuition, but there was still something amiss about the situation. The HUcast's processors drew a conclusion with a moment's work, and compelled him to stride into the middle of the room. As he had suspected, there was a brief distortion in the air in the corners of the room. It introduced a quartet of Delsabers, ready for action, zeroed in upon him. Two in opposite corners of the room leapt into the air, swords raised. The other two lunged forward, preparing to slash at him. All four attacks were going to land at the same time.
Soki waited until the very last second to move. Just as the Delsaber approaching on the ground that was coming from the side of the forward door swung, Soki dove under it and rolled. Contrary to his plan, the Delsabers didn't damage each other. They all acted with the same mind. Impossibly, the two from the air stopped in midjump and landed without hitting the others, and the Delsaber whose swing Soki hadn't ducked stepped back to allow them to land. These three weren't on the top of the HUcast's list of priorities, however. The one that he'd darted under was turning to strike another blow. His shield wasn't going to work, so Soki resorted to his faithful Yamato. The Delsaber's blade clashed against the right-handed blade, somehow resisting the photon energy's cutting power. The other grounded Delsaber took to the air, coming over the one that Soki was locked against. Soki raised his left Yamato to defend against the attack, which apparently took it by surprise. The flying Delsaber fell into its partner, knocking them both to the floor.
By this time the other two Delsabers had run around the fallen pair and attacked. One came at him with its shield's barbs, the other with its sword. Soki made a risky move and thrust his left Yamato at the corresponding Delsaber, taking his entire body along with it, evading the sword and impaling the Delsaber, which disappeared in a blast of purple smoke. Unfortunately, he'd overextended his reach and was forced to roll to his back to keep aware of what was going on. That still gave him time to release his Yamato as he fell and draw his Varista with lightning speed. It even took the standing Delsaber by surprise as the bullet that the HUcast fired passed through its head.
That left two Delsabers, who had risen to their feet and were nigh-instantly on the offensive. Once again the ranks, as much as two remaining members of a side can be considered a "rank," were divided into leaping and grounded assaults. Soki rolled out of the grounder's stab only to roll back into the blade when he had to change direction to get out of the way of leaping thrust of the other Delsaber. Soki found himself in a tight spot, but just as the Delsabers had the same mind for strategy, so they had the same mind for stupidity. Both had driven their sword-arms into the ground too far to easily retrieve. Without needing to shift his body or pinned head at all, the HUcast slashed both creatures in the stomach with his Silence Claw, reducing their existence to purple gas as they did a wonderful impression of dieing. Soki wasted no time in getting up, getting his Yamatos, and getting out of there through the now-unlocked door.
Jason's crystalline sword, meanwhile, was crashing its way through Dimenians on every side. Its weight gave it enough force to smash through nearly anything, and its girth provided a swing that could engulf multiple foes at once. Seemingly in accordance with this, the flood of monsters was interminable. They all had their beginning on the side of the room that Jason and Janise wanted to get to, and ended somewhere in between. The tide of this war was similar to Kupi's before, but this time victory was going to the humans, however slowly.
The two reached the center of the giant square room. At the sides two large, floating octopi materialized. Four of their arms were triangular and point, while four longer ones ended in three prongs including a central one and two hooked ones that bent toward the former. Along these trispiked edges ran a red stripe of color with further discoloration of green. They were already moving when they came into existence.
Janise noticed one of them immediately, and trained her Rifle on its tiny midsection. Jason's distraction of the Dimenians was absolute; nothing prevented her shot from striking dead on and slaying the beast with no difficulty whatsoever. It fell to the floor in a slump and vanished into a purple haze. This victory was short-lived, however, as Janise's attention had been entirely consumed in firing upon the first Bulclaw, and Jason's melee was the focus of his own attention. The Bulclaw they'd missed suddenly opened up momentarily and clamped down on Jason, pinning his arms to his side.
The "aaaargh!" was what turned Janise around. The first thing that she noticed was the Dimenians diverting their course... no longer were they aiming for Jason, but instead for her. And then she saw Jason's feet poking out from under the Bulclaw's grip. Under much more extenuating circumstances than before, it was no wonder why Janise's Rifle blast was less than perfect this time around. It did dislodge the flying squid from her partner, who proceeded to apply his sword skills in slashing apart the Dimenians that had broken through his one-man line in the absense of his previously incessant crushes. Janise's gun followed the Bulclaw's path as it reeled backward from the force of the hit it had taken. One bullet passed it by on the left, then another on the other side, and finally one struck dead-on and sent the monster reeling into the wall, where it disintegrated.
Immediately the flow of Dimenians ceased. Jason's sword mopped up the last of them, and the room fell silent as the last of the purple fumes settled into a splotch on the floor. Jason looked to the door... still locked. Perplexed, he turned to Janise. "Well, I don't see any more-- hey?!" This he said because Janise was pointing her Rifle at his head. Reflex trumped surprise in this instance, and as the bullet passed straight through the area where the HUmar's eyes had been, it struck instead the head of a Delsaber... which had just appeared, ready to strike, behind Jason.
The HUmar stared, dumbstruck, and the corpse that had just fallen behind him before it combusted like all the others. Finally, the words came to mind. "You... you could have warned me!"
"I knew you'd move," answered Janise. "C'mon, we have a psycho to go save." With that, she was rushing for the door.
Sapphire and Bob ventured into a room just like the other two. It was, in fact, parellel to the other ones as well. The FOnewm inched carefully into the room, his RAcast dutifully taking a step whenever he needed to to keep up. There was something dangerous about the room; Sapphire could sense it. He just couldn't pick out exactly where it was. Something was waiting for them to make the wrong move, and yet to proceed they had to fall for this trap. Sapphire continued edging his way into the room, and finally hit the center.
It came out of the wall. It had what looked like a horse's body, but tarred blue-black. It had what might be considered a human torso and head, if those were given the demonic taint that covered everything in the Ruins. Also, like a Delsaber, its arms were made to act as its equipment. The left arm formed a semicircular shield at its end, whereas the entirity of the right arm was a massive pair of prongs. Sapphire didn't have the time to note all these features, however; the Chaos Bringer's charge was too sudden for him to get a good look. Before the FOnewm could react, it had crashed into Bob, crossed the rest of the distance of the room, and slammed into the far wall.
That was when Sapphire's combat instinct kicked in. The beast was between him and Bob, so a Foie blast was out of the question. The Force decided to use the concentrated aim of Zonde as his opening move, which caught the monster's attention with annoyance rather than pain. The Chaos Bringer backed away, revealing the depth to which it had driven Sapphire's mechanical creation into the wall. It slowly turned to face Sapphire, who wasn't going to risk another attack. Deliberately, the horseman scraped a forehoof against the floor, then charged. Sapphire ducked out of the way, turned, and threw a Foie at his assailant. The fireball caught it's target in the rump, causing it to flinch. A Photon Launcher round followed soon after, which shattered off of the thing's back. Unconcerned, Sapphire pitched another Foie at the Chaos Bringer. This time the thing didn't even budge.
Sapphire took a cautious backstep upon noticing that the small blue stripes running down the Chaos Bringer's back and legs had shifted from blue to blood red. It reared onto its back legs briefly, then fell back forward with a crash. Another Photon Launcher round caught it in the head, which it ignored as it turned around. The Bringer glared at Sapphire with its tiny red eyes and pointed its two-pronged arm at the hapless FOnewm. A click accomanied the prongs shifting away from their center just as a faint whine exentuated the mass of shining orange energy forming inside the forked arm. The sound changed into a crackle as the blast was about to discharge... and then Bob sent another Photon Launcher round at the monster. It landed right in the beast's midsection, enough to change its aim slightly to the left.
The orange ray missed Sapphire. Unfortunately, it did not miss Bob. In fact, it was a perfect hit, passing straight through the Android's upper body. With a sickening whirrrrrr--*, the robot fell to the floor. Sapphire combusted., or so it seemed for the all the fire energy he was putting out. Every ounce of it he focused in on the Chaos Bringer, until the firey aura was gone from his body. Looking as confused as any of the monsters in the Ruins was ever capable of being, the horseman took one step toward Sapphire and immediately scattered all over the room in a fireball nearly twenty feet wide. The tongues of fire slowly cleared, leaving nothing, not even purple dust, behind. The attack hadn't damaged its originator at all; he was just outside of its range.
Rage vented, Sapphire assumed a more businesslike demeanor and made as much haste as the aforesaid attitude would allow in Bob's direction. Upon reaching him, the FOnewm drew a cylidrical device no more than an inch in diameter from his Item Pack and put it on Bob's shoulder. Sapphire depressed the top of the little thing and instantly the RAcast disappeared. With that out of the way, the FOnewm aimed for the now-open doorway leading to Kupi. Damaged robots could be repaired at later times; dead humans couldn't.
Kupi had reached a dead end. The room had no decorations, no monsters, nothing. It was just another box.
"Demon! Show yourself!" the FOmar shouted to the walls.
A cloud of purple gas sprung from the floor, causing Kupi to gasp. This turned out to be the wrong thing to do in that situation and he immediately fell to the floor, unconscious.
Sapphire, Soki, Jason, and Janise converged upon the next room, which was a mere intersection just like the room at which they'd split up. They'd all known where they had come from, so the next path was clear. It led them down a hallway with just enough room for them to stand shoulder-to-shoulder. The quartet was just about to reach the end and pass through the next automated door when the air in front of them contorted around itself and a masked FOnewearl emerged from with the disturbance.
"Halt." Her voice was cold and stiff, little more than a harsh, ashen whisper. It still carried the full emphasis of any other voice, though.
"You again!" answered Sapphire, stopping. "What do you want?" The question came from Sapphire's experience with what she was capable of. This was not someone he wanted ticked off at him.
"You must not disturb what is happening."
"I don't understand! What's happening?"
"Your friend is about to fight for the continued existence of this universe," the FOnewearl explained simply.
The four maskless ones blinked in unison. Jason was the one who finally came up with something to say. "Well, if that's the case, we've got to help him!"
"You may. But if you truly wish to, you must do as I tell you to and only as I tell you to. Now listen..."
Short Chapter 12 is here! Just two more chapters to go!
Kupi found himself walking down a crystalline tunnel. The exact reason he was doing this slipped his mind, and yet on he plodded. The tunnel was almost perfectly semicylindrical, but had more than enough room for Kupi to get through. It was made of jewels of all colors, but there were no visible fault lines where they met; the entire passage was smooth, at least on the inside. The FOmar cast his gaze behind his shoulder. The thing seemed to stretch on endlessly behind him, just as it did before him. The walk was futile; he wasn't getting anywhere.
And yet, with a few more steps, Kupi found himself at the end of it.
The tunnel had simply stopped. There was no more, only blackness ahead. Kupi stared into it, trying to find what it was that he felt in his mind out there. The effort revealed what it was, or rather what they were... a pair of swords. They were simple single-handed weapons, both suspended in front of him and within easy reach. Both blades were the same length, but that was where their similarities ended.
The left sword was made of black metal that glistened even without a light source. The blade was serrated on both sides, and the points of this pattern dripped with an oozing purple fluid. At places, tiny patches of pulsing red moss were visible. The hilt was twisted into ornate patterns, but there was still a grip to be held onto; the sword was made to be held.
Its foe on the right was, instead, entirely boring. It was thinner and a bit brighter, and the blade was straight the entire way down until it formed the pointed tip. The hilt was little more than a circular apparatus to keep the hand shielded from the business end, and the handle had absolutely nothing special to make holding the thing any easier.
Kupi's eyes swept back and forth from one sword to the other as the FOmar pondered the dilemma. There was no turning back, he felt. He'd come here for a reason: to make this choice. He had to pick one sword or the other; "both" and "neither" weren't options. Kupi had never been one for decision-making, and even now was hard pressed to come up with any reason to choose either. As his gaze turned to the black blade once more, he felt like he could hear what it would say if given a voice...
You are powerless, Kupi. You know it. You hate to rely on your friends. You hate it when they're hurt for your sake. You hate the way you can never repay them for what they do for you. You hate being weak. But I can give you power. Take me, wield me, Kupi. I'll give you all the power you want, for absolutely nothing. I only want to help you, Kupi.
Kupi looked back to the rival sword. Though he didn't say it aloud, he thought, "Well?" as if to prompt it for its own advertisement. What could it offer him?
I am pure.
That was it all it said. At last the true nature of his decision was made clear to Kupi: which did he desire, eager power or humble purity?
Power or purity?
Power or purity?
Power or purity?
The thought echoed in his mind, the single-word decision takes ages to sort itself out. Kupi felt like he'd been waiting for an eternity to get some sort of inspiration when, at last, something presented itself as evidence that one sword was superior to the other. The red stuff on that "power" one was nasty. No way Kupi was gonna risk getting that on his hands! With one swift, fluid motion, Kupi grabbed the sword on his right.
A conflicted soul chose the Light.
As if furious at being rejected, the black sword spun twice, pointed its blade into the void, flew off, and disappeared. A motion at the corner of his eye caught Kupi's attention. He had to turn around fully to see what was going on... the multicolored tunnel was rushing away backward like a bullet train, and within an instant it was gone. Kupi was alone in the void.
Kupi turned back "ahead," for what the term was worth. He could hear footsteps. Six feet, three pairs, three people. A dreamer's certainty told him what was making those footsteps... he could hear the clang of steel on stone... metal boots. Wood upon dirt... sandals. And the slap of bare feet upon smooth wood. The three figures carried weapons with them, which Kupi became aware of next. A scythe, born upon its owner's back like a yoke. An ancient gun. The dark sword that Kupi had rejected was returning to exact its revenge. At last, the rest of the trio came into view. One was clad, head to toe, in metal armor. Another was in military clothes. The last, the one in the lead, had a robe with a pattern of a red dragon woven into it.
"Kupi..." said Kupe. "Welcome to your soul."
Kupi was momentarily stunned, mostly because that line seemed so dramatic that would have to signal the close of a chapter. However, it was far too early for that sort of thing and after a while Kupi realized that he really ought to stay in character.
Kupe's eyes narrowed. "We are currently inside your soul. You are laying, apparently unconscious, upon the floor of what you call the Ruins. Dreaming, if you will. But you're not going to wake up from this dream, Kupi. Not until this is resolved. ...I have much to tell you and little time with which to tell it to you. Try to keep up with me, Kupi."
Kupi blinked. "Um... okay. One question, though: how're you--"
"I'll get to that! Shut up and listen!"
"You remember the old stories from back home, correct? You've had far too little time to forget them, and you always did enjoy hearing them all the time. Give me the short version of the ancient battle."
"Umm... you mean between the Great Light and Profound Darkness?"
"Yes," said Kupe, wincing noticably at the words, "Great Light."
"Well, the purest representation of good and evil eventually came to fight one another. The Great Light defeated the Profound Darkness, but rather that destroy the Darkness, the Light sealed it away in the void. That is why evil never prevails; its power was eternally removed from this universe."
Kupe's lips curled in a silent snarl, and the other two brothers reached for their weapons. Kupe held his hand out to them, and they desisted. Begrudgingly, practically having to force the words out of his mouth, Kupe said, "That is... correct. Many of stories kept by your-- our people are true. But there are stories that are just as true kept by my-- other people. And their message is what I must give to you."
"The Darkness was sealed away, yes. But the seal weakens every thousand years, enough for a creature of the void, a Falz, to escape. ...or so the ones that will fight the Darkness will be told. In truth, they are only the crux of a larger war. There are many, many rifts between our universe and the void. One for each planet with sentient life on it. Estragoth, Guakari, Dai-Stal, Earth... out gateways are endless! On each of those planets, the Battle of Light and Darkness either has been or will be re-enacted. Each time the fate of your universe balances on a knife's edge." Kupe held his sword out dramatically and ran his finger down the end of it, drawing his own blood and not seeming to notice. "And do you know what stops us from destroying everything you hold dear?" Kupe's voice held a trap.
Prompt taken, Kupi asked, "What?"
"YOU!!" Kupe roared, brandishing the twisted sword and getting his face barely two inches away from Kupi. His eyes had turned blood red. They emanated hatred, chilling Kupi to the bone. As suddenly as he'd approached, Kupe backed away, clutching his head and groaning, "Too soon, too soon, too soon! Rrraaah!" With that growl, he was back to normal. "Continuing! Life is a neutral thing; it cares not for good or evil. Life simply desires existence. But there are some souls that desire a polarity. Sometimes a person or group of people ally themselves with the Darkness, or... the Light. The end is near, then, because then the Darkness will fight the Light again. And thus far, the Light has always defeated... us."
"What do you mean by 'us,' Kupe? I don't understand..." asked Kupi.
"Don't interupt!!" Kupe shouted at him, panic creeping into his voice. Suddenly, his demeanor shifted, noticable in his voice as he said, "Your people were the Light for Coral. Very weak, very easy to kill, easy to kill indeed. Might have died with the planet, too, and that would have made my job very easy indeed. You see, if the Light were ever to be destroyed on any planet, then the whole of the original Battle would be nullified and the Darkness would be free! I was stupid, very stupid, and thought it would be better to kill you all myself. That was a mistake, and the Light found me but I got away by hiding IN YOU!"
Kupi leapt back. Kupu and Kupae had once again reached for their weapons, and Kupe wasn't trying to stop them this time. It was then that Kupi remembered the sword in his hand. He waved it at his brothers unprofessionally. The motion wouldn't have startled a roach, but the three siblings recoiled in horror at being reminded of it. The change was most notable in Kupe, who seemed to be in control of himself once again. His voice was dry as he resumed speaking.
"I don't... I don't... I don't know how it happened, but the Falz of Coral took us along with it when it embedded itself in your soul. Perhaps it's because of what we represent... the three corruptable parts of man, the body, mind, and spirit. I don't know. But Paretae was as mistaken as Falz. It was not her fight; it never was. You're the last of our race, Kupi, and thus it is your duty to-- destroy Falz! Destroy us!"
"You?" squeaked Kupi. "Why?"
"Every Falz adapts to its environment, takes on new forms! They evolve based on the stimuli they're given, and we're it! We are the Falz of Coral!!"
For the briefest second, Kupi saw IT.
"No!" the FOmar shouted. "I... I'll find some way to save you, bring you back!"
"You can't bring us back, Kupi! All that remains of us is our consciousness, and I can't fight it much longer. Kupi, listen to me. This is what you have to do. Take that sword, the Destroyer, and kill us. Do it now while we can't fight you! For everyone you love, Kupi, DO IT!!"
Kupe grabbed Kupi by the shoulders and thrust his face at his brother's. Again Kupi saw IT, felt the hatred it felt for him, for everything. He could see its intent in its eyes, its terrible razorblade teeth that would slash through the spirit of good will. Yet somehow, for the pure evil that IT was, Kupi still fell away from Kupe's gaze and wrested himself from the latter's grasp.
"I can't do it, Kupe! I can't kill you! You're my brother!"
Kupu pitifully grabbed as his hair, convulsed, and toppled over backward.
"You... have... to..." groaned Kupe, suddenly doubling over in pain and cluthing his sides.
Kupae's eyes slowly closed. His knees buckled and the warrior fell to his face.
"I'm not your brother!" Kupe screamed in a desperate, hopeless attempt to rouse Kupi to action. "I-- no... I--"
I AM FALZ.
Kupe's appendages snapped outward and he fell to the floor, lifeless.
Kupi, heartbroken and confused, began to cry. His tears were wasted and short-lived.
His brothers' bodies burst open , every tendon, blood vessel and bone splitting open and releasing the beast that dwelled within them. Kupu's was thin and tall, limbs and torso barely more than sticks. Its feet and hands were grotesquely disproportionate to their carrier. The fingers and toes were as their arms and legs, being long and thin and containing innumerable joints. Its head was shaped a like a brain; it was gnarled and pulsated rythmically. A single eye protroded from the cranial structure. It was a Demon of the Mind. Kupae had transformed into a pile of muscles, the exact opposite of the Demon of the Mind. Its head was no more than it took to have a pair of eyes. Its black and red right arm had two huge bulges for arm segments and more of a hammer than a fist. The left arm was one long blade that eternally dripped with blood. It was a Demon of the Body. Kupe's ghost emerged the most dramatically. It opened with a loud swoop of its ice blue bat wings. The horns on the back of its head shot backward like lightning bolts just as its eyes raged with thunder. Its body trailed off into a wisp at the bottom, but it did not need legs to stay upright; it simply floated. In its hand rested the evil blade, aflame with dark power. It was a Demon of the Spirit. All of them dwarfed Kupi for size.
The Battle of Light and Darkness had begun anew.
Please keep reading if you've gotton into this... don't want to lose you on the home stretch!
This is it! The final battle! Who will triumph in the renewed battle of Light and Darkness?!
The Demon of the Spirit floated backward. Already under far more strain than it was equipped to handle, Kupi's mind refused to acknowledge that the thing was moving away from him and tried desperately to figure that out. Unfortunately, the resources spent on getting that figured out would have been much better spent on keeping track of the Mind and Body Demons, which were approaching. Kupi did technically realize that they were coming, but he did so the instant before the Demon of the Mind had wrapped a hand around him. The next instant he was flying in the opposite direction for a moment before he came to a very abrupt stop. It took Kupi a moment to realize that he'd be flung into the Demon of the Body's waiting fist. The FOmar's body fell to the invisible floor with a crash.
The Body Demon capitalized on the Force's vulnerability and brought its enormous foot crashing down on Kupi. Kupi felt like his body had exploded, but somehow he had lived through being crushed. He hadn't the time to think of how he was staying together-- all he knew was that he was in pain! And then, suddenly, it stopped. The Demon of the Body retreated. Kupi had a split second to wonder what was going on before he felt his ankle being squeezed, followed by the renewed sensation of flight. The squeezing sensation returned as he halted in midair. When his bearings reset, Kupi found himself eyes-to-eye with the Demon of the Mind.
Distorted images dominated Kupi's thoughts. Memories long gone took on twisted and horrible shapes and attacked the FOmar's sanity. Friends became enemies and enemies became worse. Kupi could feel a sharp ache growing in the very center of his head. Strange thoughts started to swarm in Kupi's mind, fighting for the center stage. What is life? What is "reality?" Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Worthless! You're worthless! Existence is defined by your perceptions. Random! Everything happens by chance. Chance you happened by chance existence is worthless no meaning no meaning. Why not just end it all? Die. Die, Kupi. Die, you worthless nothing!
A flick of the Mind Demon's wrist, and Kupi was airborne again. He felt a short, sharp pain pass through his abdomen.
CAN YOU FEEL MY POWER?
Kupi landed on his chest. "What...?" he groaned, before he looked down at his stomach. There was no wound, but somehow he had an epiphany of pain. He'd been sliced in half. The full suffering struck him all at once and brought out a scream unlike any that Kupi would have thought possible.
JUST A TASTE.
The Demon of the Body leapt on top of Kupi. Kupi could feel every bone in his body shatter as it fell. Still alive, still real, still surviving... the Demon stepped off of Kupi's back and stomped on him again. And again. And again. Each time was more excruciating than the last. Each time Kupi thought it couldn't get any worse. Finally, one sickening snap sent a red flash before Kupi's eyes, and he felt... nothing. No pain. No feeling at all. He couldn't move his arms, legs, toes, or even his eyes. Everything in his body was broken.
The Demon of the Mind picked up Kupi's limp body and dangled it in front of its eyeball. What vision he had left allowed Kupi to see the very center of the pupil, a menacing black hole. He heard its voice less than he felt it.
Kupi could not bring himself to deny it. It was true; he was nothing. He had failed, and no amount of willpower would change that. He hadn't the energy to resist the idea any more. Finished, the Demon of the Mind dropped Kupi's limp body to the floor.
The Demon of the Spirit approached the tiny, lifeless form and eyed it with contempt. Slowly, it rolled the black sword that glowed with hellfire over in its hand until the weapon was upside-down in the monster's grip. With painstaking toil, the Demon held the tip above Kupi and then raised the blade above its head.
DEATH TO THE LIGHT.
Another voice. A different voice. An encouraging voice, comforting and restoring. As soon as it spoke, the Demons wailed, covered their faces, and fled. Kupi stood and wondered what had happened. He looked at his robes by chance, and discovered that they had turned completely white, with runes woven into the fabric in shining silk. Another surprise awaited Kupi as he cast his gaze toward his hand. The holy sword was still there. Somehow, through all of the damage he'd sustained, Kupi had held onto the sword. That was not the chief source of his amazement, however. The sword, as he, had been transformed. It was no longer a simple and unwieldly cutting implement; it was a grand two-handed paladin's sword. The blade was engraved with a rune that Kupi knew by intuition to represent the Light banishing the Darkness. Finally, Kupi looked toward the Demons, and felt as though a veil had been lifted from his eyes. They were not his brothers; they were twisted facimiles of traits his brothers had once possessed. Nothing more. Kupi narrowed his gaze at them.
The three Demons charged, having recovered from their original shock and unable to resist their chance at destroying the Light. The Demon of the Body lead the other two into the fight. It swung its giant scythe-arm at the tiny Force. Kupi held the sword out in defense. The scythe was rent in two by its own force and the searing counteractive force of the Light in Kupi's sword. The Body Demon, devoid of a mouth, could only mime a scream of agony. Kupi disregarded the motion and made an impossibly large leap toward the devil that ended with a slash through its opposite shoulder. The severed arm fell to the floor and burnt away in a rapid flash of light. The holy warrior continued his assault with a slash across the Body Demon's midsection that tore it in two and destroyed its separate parts in a column of light.
The Mind and Spirit Demons recoiled at the sight of their bretheren's death. The Demon of the Mind continued to advance after a moment and grabbed for the sword in an attempt to disarm Kupi. It succeeded in grabbing the blade, but lost the fingertips with which it did so. Kupi answered the move with another sky-high leap that gave him enough time to reorient the holy sword downward. As he fell, he drove it into the Demon of the Mind's eyeball all the way to the hilt. The monster's brains pulsated desperately, spraying purple juice everywhere but Kupi's clothing just before its head exploded into a white fireball and burnt away.
The Demon of the Spirit made a mad rush at Kupi, swinging the dark sword and flapping its wings wildly. Kupi blocked three strikes before retaliating with a blow of his own that the Spirit Demon also blocked... but its sword shattered under the force. Wasting no time, Kupi thrust his blade into the Demon's heart. It wailed greivously, shaking back and forth, trying to dislodge the purifying agent within it. It could not do so in time to save itself from a bright and shining doom.
Kupi panted as the Demon of the Spirit's last remnants dispursed. Several seconds passed as the FOmar attempted to catch his breath. ...then something felt wrong. Kupi's head darted back and forth, looking for what it was that he sensed.
MORTAL IN EVERY SENSE OF THE WORD.
I CANNOT BE DESTROYED BY SO WEAK A POWER!
The Demon of the Body reformed from the darkness.
I HAVE GROWN TOO MIGHTY TO BE DESTROYED BY YOU, KUPI!
The Demon of the Mind reassembled itself.
I AM INVINCIBLE!
The Demon of the Spirit reappeared out of the ether.
I AM FALZ!
The three Demons stepped towards each other, not caring about Kupi or his sword. They collided. Their three forms merged into one grotesque mass that fought to assume a form momentarily and, at last, did. It had the Spirit's wings and tail, the Body's scythe and muscles, and the Mind's elongated digits and pulsating brain, but the eyes were uniquely its own. They glowed with red hatred and the lust for death. It roared its name again:
I AM THE DARKNESS! I AM FALZ!
"You are bound by the authority of the Light that hath bound thy master the Darkness!" shouted a voice behind Kupi. The Falz of Coral was surrounded with an aura of white light that caused it to simultaneously scream in pain and lock in place.
Kupi looked at the source of the voice. It was Paretae, pointing the staff that she always had when she had ruled Auris at Dark Falz. It was little more than a shaft with a carving of a winged creature on the end, but its might was immense. As soon as she noticed Kupi looking at her, she said, "Hold on, Kupi. Your friends will be here to help you soon."
"Join hands," said the FOnewearl.
Unwilling to disobey her, Sapphire, Soki, Jason, and Janise created a circle around Kupi's fallen body with the masked girl for the sake of their friend.
"Focus upon your soul. See yourself with Kupi's soul. Be one with him."
"I don't have a soul; I'm an android," objected Soki.
"You don't have a spirit, but you have a soul," shot back their leader. "Don't concern yourself with the details, just do it! Now, you might feel as though you are falling. Don't panic..."
Kupi's gasps took on an air of panic. The aura that Paretae was creating was growing slimmer and slimmer as the Falz of Coral attempted to break free. She couldn't possibly hold it down for long, and Kupi didn't have the strength to destroy the Falz.
And suddenly, there was the masked FOnewearl, between him and Falz. She did not have a weapon, nor did she look to Kupi. "Demon that my people worshipped!" she shouted. "You took my son! Now pay for your sins through annhiliation!" With that, she threw a black ball at its face that struck and dispersed. With that, she was gone.
Janise then appeared, also between him and the Falz, holding a purple and white rifle. She turned to him. "I haven't known you long, Kupi, but I know how you feel," she said. "Don't give up!" With that, she turned back to the Falz and took aim. Three flaps opened up on the rifle and a growing whine of energy building up was emitted before it fired five arrows, each surrounded with white light. As every one struck the Falz, the aura built anew. Janise vanished.
In her place appeared Jason, holding a giant, long sword. He, too, turned to Kupi with something to say. "Don't give up, alright? You can beat anything, no matter how big, if you believe in yourself!" Taking the sword from his shoulder, the HUmar rushed at the struggling Falz and took three sweeping cuts at it, each strengthening its binds tenfold.
Soki replaced Jason. His hands were strapped with a pair of trios of long metal claws. As was the pattern, he addressed Kupi first. "Everyone is strong in some way. You are strong in spirit, Kupi. Use that to your advantage!" The HUcast charged for the Falz of Coral and leapt at its midsection. He brought the twin claws through its torso in a scissor-slash and vanished as it writhed.
With a book under his arm, Sapphire stepped forth. "Kupi," he said with a grin, "You can do it." Sapphire faced the Falz and opened the book. Multicolored sparkles burst from its pages as they fell into place. Looking at the writings, Sapphire read a short passage from it: "As written by Lutz, it shall be known that in the realm of mortal magic, there exists a trio of forces that may, combined, halt and seal the devil Falz, and those forces be MUTT DITTS POUMN!" Upon the speaking of those three words, the area around the Falz of Coral erupted in a pyroclasm of fire, ice, and lightning that swirled around it and inward until it was covering the monster and exploded.
"Kupi! Now!" shouted Paretae.
Kupi nodded his assent and felt a greater force joining him as he spoke.
"Demon! This is my command!"
"THIS IS MY DECREE!"
THIS IS MY JUDGMENT!
BEGONE FROM EXISTENCE, AND TAINT MY CREATION WITH YOUR PRESENCE NO LONGER!
Kupi raised the holy sword above his head... and struck.
Comments always appreciated!
This is it, the last chapter of Light and Dark. Thanks for reading this far, if you have!
As he tried to sit up, a soft but firm touch held him back. "It's okay... relax. You've been out for a while, but you're in the hospital now." The voice was a perfect match for the hand that went with it. Since Kupi obviously wouldn't be allowed to shift position enough to see the voice's source, he contented himself with the little he could see by looking downward. The woman speaking to him was wearing pink, but that was all Kupi could make out.
"Paretae?" he guessed.
There was a moment's pause as the hospital worker worked out what exactly Kupi was trying to say. "...no, my name is Mary," she answered at last. "You need to rest now, Kupi. Please try to sleep."
Even for having just woken up, Kupi was happy to oblige his attendant. To heck with all the questions he wanted to ask for now, he'd just have to ask them when he woke up.
Upon waking, Kupi was extremely grateful that he hadn't had any dreams.
"You may sit up if you wish," said Mary. Kupi did so. "How do you feel?" Mary continued.
Still groggy, Kupi mumbled, "Tired. But not hurt."
Mary nodded. "Well enough to talk to your friends? They're here to see you."
The question was like caffeine to Kupi, and Kupi had a very low tolerance for caffeine. "Yes, please!"
Mary left for a moment, then returned with the entire cast of Kupi's friends. After that, she dismissed herself politely to check up on another patient.
"So, how ya feeling, kid?" said Jason, taking the lead.
"Fine, I think..." answered Kupi, showing his weariness in his voice.
Sapphire exclaimed, "That was quite a thing to come out of 'fine!' We've already exchanged stories, and I think we've only seen the smaller picture... what happened, Kupi?"
The FOmar rolled his eyes. "I couldn't possibly begin to tell you. I'd have to write it down or something, but later... I don't think I could do it now!"
Sapphire held up a hand and shook his head. "I wouldn't dream of asking you to do it now. However, I think writing it down eventually would be good. I've been thinking of turning our adventures into a game, and whatever happened would probably make an awesome action sequence, or maybe even an end boss battle... if you'd be willing to let us do that, of course."
"Sure," Kupi assented. He didn't have the will to oppose the notion in any case.
An awkward silence fell over the room until a growling, whisperlike voice pierced it. "May I have a private word with Kupi?"
Everyone looked around the room, trying to find the source of the voice. Without warning, the air next to Kupi's bed contorted around the form of the masked FOnewearl, who immediately looked to his friends. "Ahem. May I speak to Kupi alone or not?!" she demanded.
"Um... Kupi?" said Sapphire, deflecting the recipient of the question.
"I guess," answered the good-natured Force.
After the five others had filed out, the dark Force turned to Kupi. "I owe you an explanation," she began. "My name is Maga Fay. I am a Shade."
"Yes, Kupi, the War of Shades did happen, and they lived very near Auris. Life in their city was terrible. Always worshipping the demon Falz and making sacrifices of blood and torment... I hated it. I wanted my son to have a better life, so I left him outside of Auris just after he was born. I knew you Light-dwellers would find him and take him in... it was impossible for you to do otherwise. Not matter how much his tainted heart would be scorned there, it would be better than being accepted where he was born."
Kupi eyed Maga Fay warily. "I don't remember meeting anyone like that in Auris..."
"He was your brother Kupe, idiot!" the FOnewearl shouted before she could stop herself.
The weight of that fact hit Kupi instantly. "I... killed--"
"Don't feel guilty. You did what you had to as an agent of the Light. Truth be told, I aided his death by saving you all those times that you would have died otherwise. It was my only option... if the Falz of Coral were to be loosed, I would perish with all the rest. I was the only Shade with any sense... they honestly believed that Coral's death would bring them bliss. Bliss, from a god of death. Idiots, the lot of them." There was a pause as Maga Fay ran out of words. "I have said all that I need to. Goodbye, Kupi." Before the FOmar could react, she had turned and vanished into the air once again. There was an air of finality in her departure.
Outside of the room, Kupi could hear Mary's voice saying, "I'm sorry, but visiting hours are over. You'll have to visit tomorrow..." Kupi laid his head back on his bed's pillow. Not long after, he was asleep.
All the lights were out when Kupi awoke again. He could hear footsteps coming down the hallway. They were extremely loud against the linoleum of the floor, so loud that Kupi could've sworn there should have been more people awoken by them. The steps stopped at the door to his room. Kupi heard the door open. The steps resumed, this time in the direction of his bed. There was a momentary pause in the action that allowed a faint trace of worry to pass through the little Force's mind just before the lamp next to his bed snapped on, revealing...
"Korvan!" exclaimed Kupi. An old memory struck. "Sapphire says I'm not supposed to be around you! ...how did you get in here?"
"One at a time, please," answered Korvan with a smirk. "First of all, I've only come to tell you that I'm proud of you. You've done very well for having to face that trial mostly on your own. Second, while Sapphire has the best intentions in mind and is honestly trying to protect you, he has no idea what he's warning you away from. And third, I have my methods."
Kupi sat still for a moment, trying to process all three bits of information simultaneously. When he'd finally gotton his mind around them successfully, he worked on putting together an answer, which came out as a timid, "...thanks?"
Korvan gave Kupi a soft pat on the forehead. "You're welcome," answered. "You've been one of the more pleasant Protectors to work with. And now I really must be going..."
"Wait! One more question!" Kupi pleaded. "Who are you, really?"
Korvan rolled his eyes. "I told you already, Kupi. You know who I am."
Kupi ventured the first guess. "Then you mean that you're the--"
Korvan cut him off. "Yes, though this body isn't my own. Truth be told, I... 'borrowed' it for the duration. You needed someone to help you after the Falz of Ragol attempted to kill you, and this one was the nearest convenient mortal body to use. I really must get him back to where he needs to be, but it's been so long since I've walked about as a mortal... 2,571 years ago precisely. Strange incident, that one..."
"I've no time to explain, Kupi. Perhaps in Elysion," remarked Korvan, adding a sly smile to indicating that he was intentionally giving Kupi something to wonder about. With that, he reached for the lamp and turned it out, returning the room to blackness. A split-second later, a white flash illuminated the room for a mere hint of a second, and then Korvan was gone. Kupi returned to his pillow once more and thought to himself:
What a day!
It's been fun! Be sure to vote on my next fanfic here! (http://www.pso-world.com/viewtopic.php?topic=67085&forum=12&2)
<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: Kupi on 2003-10-04 18:19 ]</font>
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