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PrologueEditBob loved his job. He stood there every day in his plain red shirt and blue pants, greeting hundreds of minifigures everyday and directing them where they needed to go. Things were so peaceful on board the Venture Explorer that sometimes he forgot there was a war going on. A war that required thousands of soldiers, and every minifigure he met was just that.
He had many friends on board, mostly just the pilots and instructors, since the Nexus Force recruits only had a short stay before leaving to serve in the army. Bob couldn't imagine himself doing anything else besides being a guide on this grand ship.
But then there was that day. The day that changed Bob's life forever. It changed him, and it changed the way he looked at the universe forever.
He would never be just plain Bob anymore, with his plain clothes and pasted-on smile, just like everyone else. No. He was different.
He would become a hero.
"Bob! Bob!" A minifigure in a blue Sentinel outfit yelled, trying to get through the massive throng of minifigures. He had a jetpack on his back and two pistols tucked in his belt on either side of his waist. He slowed down as he got to the end of the crowd and skidded to a halt in front of a minifigure in a plain red shirt and blue pants.
"Epsilon! What is it?" The plain minifigure asked.
"The Maelstrom. They're coming. The copilot, early this morning, just as our computer network shut down, spotted a Maelstrom warship. The Assembly workers are trying to fix the glitch before any of our enemies realizes our firewall is down. If we get hacked now, all of our battle tactics will..." Epsilon Starcracker's voice trailed off, and his eyes were glued to something behind Bob.
"Epsilon? What's--" Bob was interrupted by a deafening noise. The distinctive sound of glass shattering. He quickly turned around to see that another ship had broken the large windows on the left side of the Venture Explorer. A massive ship, just smaller than the Explorer itself. The cockpit had penetrated the windows and was now docked on the floor of the Venture Explorer.
Minifigures screamed and ran from the site as the cockpit door opened and out came the Maelstrom.
Chapter 1.1Edit"Bob! Let's go!" Epsilon Starcracker yelled over the screams of the minifigures and the maniacal laughs of the Maelstrom. Bob just stared in disbelief for a few seconds as Epsilon slipped on his gloves and grabbed his pistols, throwing himself over the railing as opposed to taking the stairs.
Bob suddenly realized that this wasn't a dream.
He grabbed a fallen Space Marauder helmet and rocket launcher and bolted down the stairs three at a time."All Nexus Force recruits into the escape rockets now!" A voice boomed through a loud-speaker on the ceiling and immediately there was a frantic rush to the back of the rockets, which were inconveniently next to the Maelstrom warship. Venture Explorer designers obviously had not taken into account that the flame a rocket engine produces would start a tremendous fire in the Explorer, and that is exactly what happened. The floor around the rockets burst into flames as soon as the first rocket was blasted out of the Venture Explorer, and it only got worse as more and more rockets were launched.
Many brave minifigures, including Bob and Epsilon Starcracker, stayed and battled the Maelstrom. Epsilon was busy blasting an Elite Spiderling and Bob was still getting used to the rocket launcher, getting launched a few feet backwards every time he fired. It was effective, but they were outnumbered.
It seemed that all hope was lost.
"Yah!" Epsilon blasted the Elite Spiderling one last time and kicked it through the only unbroken part of the window. Bob suddenly realized his rocket launcher was out of ammo, and tossed it into the Maelstrom crowd with frustration. As he turned around, looking for another weapon, he came face-to-face with an Admiral, who had just sunk his grappling hook into the floor with a loud 'clank'.
Bob closed his eyes and a blast from the Admiral's cannon sent him flying into the wall next to the now blazing fire. To his advantage, a minifigure that had fled the Venture Explorer must have dropped his sword, for there was one lying right next to Bob. He grabbed it and ran into the crowd of Maelstrom, taking down Stromlings with all his might as he went.
Most of the Venture Explorer faculty had fled the ship, realizing that the battle was hopeless. Only Bob, Epsilon, and several others remained on the ship.
Epsilon was now working on defeating the Hammerlings, and said to Bob over the tremendous sound of blaster fire and battle cries, "Bob, you need to leave the Venture Explorer. Leave this to the others and me. We can handle them."
Bob looked shocked. "What? I'm not leaving you here, Epsilon. We're stronger as a team." He said pleadingly.
"Bob, no! The rockets lead to Avant Gardens. You'll be safe there. Maelstrom has only invaded the outermost planets of Gnarled Forest and Forbidden Valley. You need to leave; now!" Epsilon said forcefully.
"But--" Bob tried to resist.
"Go! Now!" Epsilon yelled.
Bob had no choice. With a heavy heart, he smashed one more Stromling and got into a rocket. He looked back one last time at the Explorer, Epsilon now the only one battling. How could he do it? One against thousands of enemies? Impossible.
Epsilon abandoned fighting for a few seconds and ran over to Bob. "When you get to Avant Gardens, locate Beck Strongheart. He is a good friend of mine, and he will be able to help you. You must-"
The cockpit window slipped shut and Epsilon's voice was cut off. He was simultaneously struck from behind by an Elite Spiderling and he turned around, pistols drawn and continued the battle.
Bob was distraught. He would never see his friend Epsilon again, and he was being launched to an unfamiliar land to find a complete stranger that was a friend of his greatest ally. He closed his eyes for a few seconds, hoping that it would all just go away and he would wake up in his cabin in the Venture Explorer. He opened one eye with hope.
He was still in the same rocket, cruising toward a huge green pasture.
Bob looked back at the Venture Explorer. It was just a small dot in the distance now, and Bob couldn't help but feel that he had lost his friend, and that the Maelstrom were overtaking the Explorer. All their battle strategies, recruit records, and Nexus Tower construction blueprints were all available to the Maelstrom. It was the end of the Nexus Force. The Maelstrom had already won.
He tried to push these terrible thoughts out of his mind and think that Epsilon had won the battle. All the Maelstrom that had invaded the Venture Explorer were vanquished, and Epsilon was single-handedly fixing the computers and reinstalling the network's firewall.
If that was the case, then even if a single Stromling had hacked into the computer network and got all the information, they couldn't have sent it back to the rest of the Maelstrom in that short of time. Epsilon was a strong fighter, the strongest the Venture Explorer had ever seen. There was still hope.
A tiny speck of hope in a sea of despair, loss, and misery.
Bob awoke from a deep sleep in the rocket. Obviously it was not a dream.
He looked out the window, and saw vast valleys and pastures of green grass and an incredible view of the mountains in the horizon. Maybe Beck was right. Maybe coming to Avant Gardens was a good idea. After all, Epsilon could fend for himself... he hoped.
The rocket suddenly turned horizontal and Bob was dumped onto a landing pad. The rocket flew away, and Bob suddenly wondered if this was the end. If he would be in Avant Gardens for the rest of his days. He hoped not, and that someday he could return to his real home.The Venture Explorer.
Nevertheless, he was excited to explorer and immediately set out to find Beck Strongheart.
"Help... help!" was all Bob heard at first. He looked around, and found a minifigure, swirling with purple gas, hunched over, grabbing his arm. He raced over to him, and found out that his name was Wisp Lee. Somehow the Maelstrom had infected Wisp.
"Wait... my friend Epsilon Starcracker told me that Avant Gardens was free of Maelstrom..." Bob said, confused.
"It used to be, kid. Ugh... but... they're coming. They've found their way to Avant Gardens, and soon... they'll find us..." Wisp Lee said slowly.
Bob was dismayed. He could see a thick cloud of purple coming down a steep mountain in the horizon.
There wasn't much time.
Bob wasn't sure what to do first, but one thing was for sure; the Maelstrom was approaching at a rapid pace.
"Wisp, do you know where I can find Beck Strongheart?" Bob asked.
"Right inside the Sentinel Camp over there," Wisp replied, motioning toward a large bus suspended by two wires in the distance. "Go past the Research Facility. It's right ahead."
Bob wasted no time. He set off toward the large bus, trying to avoid the leaks of Maelstrom goo coming from the cages in the Paradox Research Facility. Spiderlings leaped at him, only to collide with the bars in front of them.Bob looked up. Maelstrom clouds were starting to overpower the sky above him. He increased his pace and soon reached the entrance to the Sentinel Camp.
A wobbly bus hung above the entrance and all other entrances were gated off. Scouts with rifles and swords behind their backs were stationed at every gate, and there was one polishing his sword in the middle of the camp. He wasn't sure who was Beck, so he started with the scouts.
"Excuse me, sir?" Bob asked politely to a scout next to the bus.
The scout stood there, motionless, and did not even blink. Bob got the same response from the other scouts. If any of these people were Beck Strongheart, he was in trouble.
He walked over to the minifigure polishing his sword, turning back for a few seconds and realizing the Maelstrom had reached the bottom of the mountain and were charging through the fields, leaving thick purple clouds behind them.
"Excuse me, but are you Commander Beck Strongheart?" Bob asked.
"Indeed I am. What can I help you with?"
Bob breathed a sign of relief.
"My friend Epsilon Starcracker told me to find you. A Maelstrom warship invaded the Venture Explorer and we had to evacuate. Epsilon stayed behind to fend them off, but now the Maelstrom has invaded Avant Gardens too!" Bob explained quickly.
"Yes, Epsilon was a good friend of mine until he got promoted to scout and was sent to the Venture Explorer to teach fighting techniques. But I'm afraid there's not much time. The Maelstrom is coming rapidly. Lower the gate!" Beck yelled to scouts on top of the bus and they instantly started pulling levers.
The bus started to lower, but it wasn't fast enough. Maelstrom flooded into the Sentinel Camp and instantly minifigures drew their swords and raced toward the purple cloud.
"Open fire!" Commander Beck Strongheart yelled to the scouts over the sound of feet stomping.
The Sentinel scouts drew their rifles and started firing at the Maelstrom. The sky was a deep purple color, and suddenly a red face started to appear. It was an evil face, and it appeared to be laughing.
"You fools!" The face boomed. Everyone in the Sentinel Camp could feel his or her energy draining by just looking at the creature in the sky. No one was sure what it was, but they were becoming weaker by the second.
"You are outnumbered. You grow weaker by the second. You cannot win this battle!" The face in the sky boomed.
Many scouts fell, growing so weak they didn't even have the strength to stand. Epsilon Starcracker was able to stand, but knew he was too weak to fight the entire clump of Maelstrom.
Strangely, Bob was not weakened in the slightest. He wasn't quite sure why the scouts were falling and why Epsilon hadn't attacked the mob charging toward them, but he didn't have time to figure out why.
Suddenly, something was shoved into Bob's hand. Epsilon had handed Bob four small stamps of an eye surrounded by a red spiral, a skull in a green star, an orange three-dimensional triangle, and a blue hawk.
"You'll know what to do with these when the time comes." Epsilon said to Bob, then drew his sword and swung it at the purple crowd that had now reached him.
Bob turned and ran toward a large rock tunnel at the end of the camp. Part of the Maelstrom crowd followed him, and Bob increased his pace.
Soon he had reached the end of the tunnel and saw a huge mountain in front of him, part of which had been carved into the shape of two minifigures battling. He didn't have time to admire the scenery. He ran, but suddenly stopped short in front of a large crevice. He looked back.
The Maelstrom was only seconds away. There was no time to lose. Bob looked down and saw a few large pieces of metal. He picked one up and hurled it at the crevice.
It landed on the edge and made a bridge across. By now, the Maelstrom had caught up to Bob. He could see a thick purple cloud engulfing the tunnel.
He turned to the makeshift bridge and ran across as fast as he could.
The Maelstrom was hot on his trail. Bob ran and ran until he had reached the monument-like structure. There was a starting line pasted on the bottom of the cliff and an engineer standing next, leaning on a giant wrench.
"Welcome to the Avant... oh my bricks!" The engineer yelled when he saw the mob following Bob up the monument. He grabbed his wrench and ran up a flight of dark stone stairs into an area that was now infested with thick Maelstrom gas.
"Oh my bricks? What a strange name for a monument." Bob thought to himself as he jumped over a laser.
Soon he reached a man-made section of the monument, a deck high above the ground. Bob jumped up a few high stairs and was shocked to find that he was facing a wall. All that was there was a pile of bricks.
He looked back; the Maelstrom was now on the deck and racing toward Bob. He picked up the bricks, an idea forming in his head, and he quickly built a trampoline.
He made it just in time, and the Maelstrom crowd came up just a few seconds afterward. There were a few more bricks above, and he grabbed them. Bob hurled the bricks at a Stromling, knocking it out.
Bob grinned and raced toward the end of the monument.
Bob was racing toward the final pile of bricks to get to the end of the monument, which ended with a ramp toward another green pasture. He had no time to lose. He raced toward the pile of bricks until something huge and purple dropped in front of him.
It was a robot. A Maelstrom-infected robot.
Missile launchers were mounted on its arms, and the robot raised one of them. It fired a missile at Bob, who parried the attack by ducking and kicking the launcher.
The robot was blocking the bricks to get to the ramp, and the Maelstrom was closing in on Bob. Sparks flied from the robot's launcher, but it was not damaged in any way. Bob was not powerful enough to take on this robot.
He had to move. Fast.
He jumped toward the minifigure statue's arm, closing his eyes and preparing to meet whatever fate he was plunging to.
Bob landed smoothly on top of the minifigure's arm. It had worked.
The Maelstrom reached the robot, and it pointed toward Bob on the shoulder of the minifigure statue. They jumped at him as he was making his way to the other shoulder, inching past the minifigure neck.
The head was too steep to climb up. He had no choice. He ran to the edge of the shoulder, the Maelstrom now making their way toward him, and jumped onto the other minifigure's staff.
It was narrow, but just doable. He ran down the oddly shaped weapon and jumped onto the minifigure's hand, the Maelstrom now on the staff. The hand was level with the minifigure head, and Bob jumped onto the hat. He clambered to the top of the steep hat and jumped onto the other minifigure's head.
From here, the ramp was straight down. The Maelstrom was confused and spun around quickly, still on the hand.
Aha! They'd found how Bob got over there. They did the same, just as Bob made the daring jump to the ramp below.
He braced himself for a second time in just a few minutes.
Bob hit the ramp with a 'thud'. He landed on his back, and was too exhausted to sit up for a few seconds. He saw a scout in white-and-blue armor next to him, and an ominous cloud of purple above him.
Had he hit his head on the ground... or was the cloud falling toward him? Bob suddenly regained all his memory. That was no cloud; it was a Maelstrom mob falling toward him!
He rolled out of the way just in time, and the first Stromling landed right where Bob was lying. The scout in the blue-and-white armor pointed his spear at the Stromling and said to Bob, "Save yourself, kid! The launch area is at the bottom of the ramp. I'll hold off the Maelstrom!"
Bob followed the official's orders and bolted toward the bottom of the ramp. One minifigure couldn't hold off the entire crowd, and about half of it pursued Bob.
When he got to the end of the ramp, he saw another green meadow with stairs leading up to a small shopping area on the left. On the right was a launching area, with two rocket-launching platforms. Next to the platforms was a girl with orange hair in a Daredevil outfit, and as soon as she saw the Maelstrom, she drew her flare guns and fired at the mob.
Bob was on his way to one of the launching stations when he realized his rocket was dismantled at the Avant Gardens landing pad. He turned around and headed toward the shopping area.
Bob sprinted up the stairs to the shopping area, which was a few feet off the ground on a metal deck with several medians containing a tree and a few flowers. There was a vendor at the end of the deck in the middle, with clothing racks on either side. Neatly arranged picnic tables took up the rest of the deck, with minifigures seated at each.
All the minifigures had stared at Bob as he bolted down the ramp like he was being chased by the Maelstrom, and they soon found out that the Maelstrom actually was chasing him. Some of them drew their swords and ran toward the crowd, and the rest of them screamed and ran.
The lady in the vendor seemed perfectly content, and Bob made his way toward her.
"Would you like to buy any of these newly designed outfits? Only two-hundred plastic each!" A salesperson asked Bob and shoved the clothing rack toward him.
"No, thank you!" Bob said as politely as he could and finally got to the vendor. "I need a rocket. Fast." Bob asked, panting in between words.
The lady in the vendor crouched down and fiddled with some bricks under the counter. Bob looked back.
The Maelstrom was only a few seconds away.
"Here we are!" The lady said, standing back up with three large rocket pieces. Bob reached into his pocket and hurriedly took out some money, then put it on the counter, grabbing the rocket pieces and running toward the launch area.
Part of the Maelstrom crowd was now coming up the steps to the vendor, and Bob went right past them down the stairs. The Maelstrom turned around and pursued Bob once again.
While running toward the launching stations, he quickly snapped together the rocket pieces and awkwardly carried the now fully completed rocket. The Maelstrom seized this opportunity and increased their pace. There wasn't a minute to lose.
Bob grasped the rocket and hurled it toward one of the stations. It made contact and prepared to launch. Bob jumped toward the rocket and just grasped the rocket engine as it blasted away from Avant Gardens.
Bob slowly crawled toward the cockpit. He knew he only had a few seconds, as soon the rocket would escape Avant Garden's atmosphere and there would be no oxygen to breathe.
He tapped on the cockpit window and it opened. He jumped inside and the window closed again.
Bob looked back at Avant Gardens. What used to be a peaceful pasture was now a dark battlefield, and now the Maelstrom mob that had been following Bob was fighting the girl with the flare guns.
Something seemed vaguely familiar about her. He thought he had seen her somewhere. She must have been on the Venture Explorer, as that was where Bob had been for years.
He strained his eyes to see if he could pick out the Venture Explorer from all those stars. He couldn't. There wasn't anything big enough to be the Explorer. He tried to think positively. Maybe it was just behind Avant Gardens and Bob couldn't see it.
He could only hope.
Soon, Bob had landed. It seemed like a forest when he first got there, dumped out of the rocket when the cockpit opened and it turned vertically. There were a few skunks hiding in the trees nearby, and he instantly set off down a path.
When he got to the end, he realized this was no forest. It was a city. And what a magnificent city this was!Huge skyscrapers surrounded Bob, and there were four paths with an intricate arch over each all around a circular path. The entire plaza was a circle, and in the center was a small area of grass. The road Bob was on was the outer circle, and there were a few stairs down to the next. After the two short flights of stairs was the ground, which was surrounded by medians containing trees and flowers. There were vendors in the medians, which could be reached by a few more stairs up to the medians, with a path to the vendor. Each one had a symbol above it, and Bob instantly recognized them as the symbols on the stamps Epsilon had given him.
Minifigures were all around him, and he walked up to one next to the second set of stairs. The minifigure was in the same armor as the scout on the ramp Bob had met in Avant Gardens.
"Excuse me, sir, but where am I?" Bob asked.
"This is Nimbus Station, the innermost planet of the universe! I am Nexus Jay, commissioner of the Nexus Force!" Jay explained.
Bob had heard about Nexus Jay from the Nexus Force recruits. They all said someone by the name of Nexus Jay had appointed them to the Venture Explorer.
"My name is Bob," Bob said to Nexus Jay. "By the way... do you know what I can do with these?" he asked the commissioner.
"Yes, those are stamps to join a Nexus Force faction. I collect the stamps and the giver chooses a faction they would like to join. You are not obligated to join a faction, but I encourage you to. We could always use extra recruits." Jay said.
Bob was shocked. Epsilon had given him the stamps so he could join a faction and be a soldier? He wasn't sure what to do.
"I'll think about it." Bob said to Nexus Jay.
Jay shrugged and handed Bob back the stamps. He walked away and headed down the stairs to the plaza.
"Parrots! Parrots for sale! Only two-thousand plastic!" A minifigure in a Space Marauder outfit in the circle of grass in the center of the plaza was calling. Others instantly ran toward him, reaching into their pockets and pulling out everything they had. Soon, everyone in Nimbus Plaza had a parrot on his or her shoulder.
Things seemed very peaceful here. Obviously the Maelstrom hadn't yet reached Nimbus Station. This place reminded Bob of the Venture Explorer... before it became infected.
This made him think about Epsilon Starcracker, and whether he was okay or not. Bob wondered if Epsilon had specifically sent him to Commander Beck to be given the stamps, so he actually could join a faction.
But why him? How would one minifigure make a difference? Still, something inside him seemed to be telling him 'do it.'
He turned around and proudly walked over to Nexus Jay. He handed him the stamps and said, "Count me in."
"I'm glad you decided to join a faction!" Nexus Jay said, stuffing the stamps in his pocket and shaking Bob's hand so hard he thought it might come off. "Now, take a look in all the vendors and choose carefully which faction you'd like to join. Ask the vendor salespeople about the factions, because once you've chosen, you're officially part of that faction." Jay continued.
Bob nodded and headed down the stairs to inspect the vendors. He was glad he had chosen to join a faction. He couldn't do nothing and wait for the storm, or 'strom', I should say, to blow over.
He knew about each faction since he had worked on the Venture Explorer, but the details were a little foggy to him.
The first vendor he went to was the Paradox vendor. A Space Marauder stood inside it.
"Excuse me, I'm looking to join a faction. Can you tell me a little about Paradox?" Bob asked the girl in the vendor.
"Certainly! In Paradox, we focus on finding the Maelstrom's weaknesses and relaying that information to the Nexus Force. We advise you to study up on your chemistry and science if you are looking to join Paradox." She said.
Bob looked at the gear on the wall behind her. It didn't really sound, or look, like his kind of thing.
He thanked the saleswoman and headed to the next vendor.
The next vendor was for Assembly. Bob jumped across the gap in the median and headed toward the vendor.
"Hello! I'm joining a faction. What special abilities does Assembly have?" Bob asked the Summoner inside.
"Well, for starters, Engineers have the ability to create turrets to blast enemies. Summoners are able to conjure creatures to help them in battle. Assembly soldiers are very imaginative and can build virtually anything." he explained.
"Oh. Thank you!" Bob said. It sounded like a nice faction, but it didn't sound like it could do much damage. Bob was looking for a more powerful faction.
Two vendors down, two to go. The next was the Venture League.
He headed down the path to the vendor and saw some lethal flare guns hanging behind the Daredevil. Maybe this was the faction for Bob?
He walked up to the counter and asked, "Excuse me, sir. What can you tell me about Venture?"
The Daredevil looked pleased to answer. "In the Venture League, we focus on doing the most possible damage to the Maelstrom. Venture members are experts at battling solo and can easily take down dragons." He said.
Bob was excited. This sounded like what he was looking for. "Thank you!" He said hurriedly and ran down the stairs.
Bob raced around the circle and up the stairs to the Sentinel vendor. He wasn't quite ready to join Venture yet. Jay had told him to check out all factions, so he walked up the path to the vendor.
"Excuse me. I'm joining a faction. What can you tell me about the Sentinels?" Bob asked.
"Well, the Sentinels focus on power and armor. Our defense is the strongest of all factions and we are experts of fighting. Our weapons are very powerful and take down many enemies in just a few blows." The Knight explained.
That was it. This was the faction for Bob. It was the perfect mix of power and defense. After all, Bob had never really fought before, so he'd need all the armor he could get.
"Thank you!" He cut onto the grass in the center plaza, brushing past a few minifigures, and headed back up the stairs to Nexus Jay.
"I've made my decision. Sentinel is the faction for me!" Bob said.
"Excellent!" Jay grinned. "You can speak to the Sentinel representative outside the vendor and get your gear. You'll have to earn some money and faction tokens to get more powerful armor in the future. Good luck!"
Bob thanked Nexus Jay and ran down the steps to the plaza. He jumped onto the median and ran to the Sentinel representative.
"I'd like to join the Sentinels!" Bob said.
"I'm glad you've decided to join us! Would you like to be a Samurai or a Knight?" The representative asked.
"Knight!" Bob said after thinking for a few seconds.
"Okay then. Hold on..." The rep said, rummaging with something behind the vendor. "Ah! Here we are! Rank 1 Knight gear." He handed Bob a pile of armor with a sword and shield on top. "You'll have to save up money and tokens to get higher ranked gear. Good luck, cadet!" The rep said to Bob.
He saluted and slid the armor on over his plain red-and-blue clothes, which were now ripped and splattered with Maelstrom goo. He took hold of the sword and carefully swung it around, chopping down a shrub in the median.
He grinned. He had made the right choice.
But what to do now? There was only one thing to do. Explore.
Bob headed onto the circular walk and up one of the four paths. It was steep, and torches lined the walkways. Soon he got to a bridge over a small abyss, which he hopped over.
At the end of the path was a mountain, with a launch pad beside it. Bob searched his pockets for his rocket pieces, which he then snapped together and placed on the launcher.
He jumped into the cockpit and blasted off to an unknown planet.
When Bob's rocket landed, he found himself on a dark planet. It looked like the Maelstrom had done a lot of damage.
Thick Maelstrom clouds hung in the air, blocking the planet's sunlight from the inhabitants. The rocket-landing pad was on a broken up rock floating in the air, and there was a dilapidated path to a glowing blue portal.
Bob headed down the path and saw two guards in ninja suits with spears guarding the portal. As he approached, they aimed the spears at him menacingly.
"Halt! No one gets past this gate without a ninja hood." One instructed Bob.
"There is an alternate path at the beginning of this trail." The other said.
"Okay. If you don't mind me asking... where am I?" Bob asked them.
"You are in Forbidden Valley, the home of all ninjas." They said simultaneously.
Bob turned back and jumped onto a small floating rock. There were three rocks leading to a hidden path around the gate with an intricately carved wall blocked with boulders around part of Forbidden Valley.
When Bob got to the entrance, he saw a well with an elderly ninja beside it and a vendor. In the distance, he saw a gigantic tree. It was magnificent! A large dojo sat on top of the tree, and Bob could see a launch pad on one of the branches.
He headed down the path, not stopping to talk to any of the ninjas. Soon he got to a large, open field with Maelstrom gas floating near the bottom.
Bob recognized a large clump of Dark Ronin sleeping in the field.
Bob wasn't afraid anymore. He charged into the field and swung his sword at the Dark Ronin.
They immediately awoke and drew their katana.
Bob found that coins the Maelstrom had obviously stolen from minifigures fell when he defeated an enemy. He was going to need bigger pockets! He quickly picked up the coins from his first Ronin plus a few faction tokens and stuffed them in his left pocket.
The Ronin were now starting to swarm around Bob. His chances of winning the battle like this looked bleak. He kicked at one in front of him, who stumbled backward.
Bob seized this opportunity and ran to the edge of the field. There were more crumbling rocks, which he ran up and found himself closer to the gigantic tree.
He continued toward it, but found himself at a dead end. There was a long gap between rocks, too large for Bob to jump across. He leaned closer, and suddenly a hectic wind blew across his face. It seemed strong enough for Bob to ride.
He jumped into the wind, and sure enough, found himself floating upward.
He leaned forward more and soon landed on the rock. He did the same one more time and was now on a path straight to the top of the massive tree. He looked up.
It was gigantic. The largest tree Bob had ever seen, no doubt about that.
He started up a huge vine that wrapped around the tree at a steady pace.
Bob charged up the huge vine to the top of the giant tree. He passed a tree branch holding a launch pad, which he recognized as a launcher back to Nimbus Station. He could see the towering skyscrapers of it on the tiny speck in the distance.
He continued up the spiraling vine lined with rails and lanterns, and soon reached the top.
There was a vendor next to a branch leading straight up and a large dojo to the side of it. On each large branch was a separate building and a ninja master standing beside it.
Bob headed toward the main dojo and stopped in front of a ninja in a white dragon gi with long black hair and a short beard.
"Excuse me, sir. My name is Bob. Could you tell me what this giant tree is for?" Bob asked the ninja politely.
"Greetings, Bob, wearer of Sentinel blue. My name is Master Fong Shader. This 'giant tree' is the Great Tree. Paradox members and we ninjas use this tree as a base to train without being interrupted by the Maelstrom. Dark Ronin and Horsemen have invaded our home, and Maelstrom Dragons have taken over our sanctuaries. Forbidden Valley is no longer safe. All our ninjas are working hard to defeat this dark force, but to no avail. The Maelstrom grows stronger everyday. Now, Bob, you should speak to Numb Chuck, the official Paradox agent. We would appreciate it greatly if you could help us battle the Maelstrom for just a short period of time. You will be rewarded greatly by Numb Chuck if you complete the task assigned." Master Fong Shader concluded and pointed toward a platform above the Great Tree.
Bob bowed to Master Fong and turned around. He craned his neck to try to see the platform above him where Master Fong had directed him.
The platform was so high; it just looked like a speck above him.
This wasn't going to be easy.
Bob looked under the platform. All that was there was an anvil. Perhaps he could get some bricks to build a ladder or an elevator if he smashed it? There was only one thing to do.
Bob tool hold of his sword with both hands and smashed it against the anvil.
Everything was just a blur for the first few seconds. Then he looked down at the anvil.
It was still all in one piece.
Discouraged, he looked at his sword. All that remained was his hilt. The sword's blade had broken off and now was lying on the ground.
Bob, now even more discouraged, turned around and walked up to the vendor. He looked around on the wall, looking for weapons. There were mostly just clothes and consumables, but then he found a sword. It wasn't the same as his Sentinel sword, but it would have to do.
Bob handed the ninja in a black gi at the counter three hundred plastic and walked away with his new sword.
Obviously he would need a stronger weapon to smash that anvil. He headed up a tree branch to a small building with a panda statue in a thin pond. There were two steppingstones in the pond and a hoodless ninja in a white-and-black gi with spiky yellow hair stood on the second.
Bob hopped onto the first stone.
"Hello. My name is Bob. Do you know how I can get to Numb Chuck?" Bob asked.
"Wonderful to meet you, Bob! My name is Brickmaster Clang. To get to Numb Chuck, you must smash that anvil and build an elevator." Brickmaster Clang explained.
"I tried to smash it with my sword, but it didn't work..." Bob said, holding up his new sword.
Brickmaster Clang smiled. "You must earn a Maelstrom Hammer if you wish to smash the anvil. It will not be an easy task, but I believe someone of your power will be able to handle it."
"What is it?" Bob asked.
"There are four bell shrines in Forbidden Valley. Each are enchanted and after being smashed, they rebuild. You must find all four shrines and smash them. From each, you will obtain a piece that is vital in creating a Maelstrom Hammer. After you have collected these four pieces, bring them back to me and I will make a Maelstrom Hammer for you." Brickmaster Clang said.
Bob bowed to him and hopped back onto the tree branch from the steppingstone. He remembered seeing a bell near the Dark Ronin pasture, so he set off in that direction.
Getting to the bottom of the tree was easier than getting to the top, since he could jump most of the way. He could see the thin layer of Maelstrom gas from the bottom of the Great Tree and ran the rest of the way.
The Ronin were now sleeping motionlessly, and Bob tried to creep past them silently.
His attempts were fruitless, and one Ronin woke up and immediately swung his katana at him.
Bob took his sword and counterattacked the Ronin's. Bob overtook it soon, afraid to make too much noise as not to wake up the other Ronin.
He continued his slow and careful steps toward the shrine, and smashed it with his sword. Pieces fell to the ground, and Bob picked up a unique gray piece that seemed like it would make for a nice hammer.
Bob grinned and once again crept past the sleeping Ronin.
So, now Bob had one piece for the Maelstrom Hammer, three to go.
He ran back to the bottom of the Great Tree and across a long branch. It led to a small rock platform with lanterns all around, and a man-made bridge leading to another.
Bob took the bridge across, and noticed there were two stone statues of samurai with spears.
As he approached, the statues suddenly swirled with electricity and released a large shockwave that rocked the platform Bob was standing on. The statues came to life, and two Dark Ronin appeared in their place.
Bob drew his sword and thrust it at the Ronin.
Soon, the Ronin were defeated and he was free to search for the Maelstrom Hammer pieces.
There was another gap between platforms, and Bob rode the wind over to the next. There was a tall plateau above him, and an odd-looking lantern next to him.
Bob had an idea.
He grasped his sword and smashed the white-and-grey lantern next to him. Pieces fell, and Bob built them into a trampoline.
He jumped onto it and landed smoothly on the plateau. Below him was now a wide, open space with a thin layer of Maelstrom gas at the ground. Dark Ronin on horseback, Maelstrom Horsemen, stood there motionlessly, and held long spears with a glowing-purple complexion as apposed to katana.
Around the area was a high mountain, which Bob jumped onto to avoid confrontation with the Cavalry. His attempts were to no avail, as he slid down the treacherous mountain path. He landed on the ground on his back and had a few minor scrapes on his arms and legs.
He could hear hooves galloping toward him, and instantly threw himself into a sitting position and drew his sword and shield. Bob could see the glowing bell shrine from where he was, but with the Maelstrom Cavalry now swarming, how would he reach it?
"Yah!" Bob lunged at a Horseman and dodged a few deadly balls of Maelstrom energy from the Ronins' spears.
That Horseman was quickly down, but the others were not so easy. Bob had no other choice.
He slid under a Horseman and stopped safely on the other side. Confused, the Cavalry spun around and saw Bob charging toward a flight of uneven stairs to the bell shrine. He turned his head around just in time and just missed several more energy balls.
There it was! The second shrine was in reach.
Bob slashed his sword at it, and the sound of the bell echoed through the canyon crisply.
Bob grabbed the glowing Maelstrom Hammer piece and shoved it in his pocket. He raced down the steps and leaped effortlessly over the crowd of Maelstrom Horsemen and Ronin. He sprinted toward the lantern and smashed it quickly.
Bob grabbed the pieces and started building the trampoline as fast as his little hands could.
The Cavalry was approaching.
As he was about to put the final piece on his exit to this terrible place, a Maelstrom energy orb crushed his creation.
Bob stood and stared. Everything was a blur. He didn't seem to realize the tremendous noise behind him, and was mercilessly swallowed by the huge crowd.
Bob thought it was over. He thought he would become part of the Maelstrom right now, and would soon be battling everyone he came this far for. He could feel the Maelstrom energy creeping through his body. It felt awful. It felt... evil.
But then, something incredible happened. Bob, feeling like he never had before, looked up.
Besides the armor and katana of Ronin and the spears of the Cavalry, he saw a shape above him. It jumped off of the plateau and suddenly a Horseman fell to the ground. Then another.
Bob could hear shots from flare guns above him, and soon all the Maelstrom around him was gone. The shape, which he recognized to be a Daredevil, landed next to Bob and pulled him onto his shoulder.
The Daredevil grabbed onto a vine on the steep mountain and used the thick shrubbery and steps on the mountain to hoist himself and Bob onto the plateau. The Daredevil laid Bob on the hard, rock ground and took off his helmet.
Bob felt better now that Maelstrom gas and infected hooves and feet didn't cover him. He looked up at his rescuer, who proved to be not a he, but a she.
The Daredevil in the green, armored jumpsuit with her trusty flare guns had flowing brown hair and sparkling blue eyes, which reminded Bob of the sea that he hadn't seen since he was a little boy.
"Hello," A voice as smooth as silk said to Bob. "My name is Blaze."
This Daredevil... Blaze... reminded Bob of his mother. She had the same brown hair as Blaze and the eyes were identical. Her blue eyes made Bob think back to the day Bob and his mother went to the beach.
"Come on, Bob, no dilly-dallying!" Bob's mother smiled and called back to a little boy, around seven-years-old, who was standing in the shallow part of the ocean.
Bob laughed and ran over to his mother. He bent over and picked up a shell, then put it in his pocket. Bob still had that shell. He had it in his cabin in the Venture Explorer.
Then he remembered. That the Venture Explorer was gone. All of his belongings were destroyed, or at least infected by the Maelstrom.
This thought of losing the memory of that fantastic day at the beach brought tears to his eyes. Bob's mind suddenly flashed back to reality.
"My name is Bob. It's a pleasure to meet you." Bob said. Blaze smiled. "Thank you... so much... for saving me from the mob. I owe you a tremendous favor, Blaze." Bob finished gratefully.
He wondered why she was called Blaze. He definitely would not have assigned her that nickname.
"They call me Blaze because of my flare guns blazing constantly. I'm almost always in a fight with the Maelstrom." Blaze said, almost reading Bob's mind.
"Oh. Well, Blaze, this has been an extraordinary experience. You certainly are an incredible person. I'd better go, I have to find two more pieces so I can build my Maelstrom Hammer." Bob said.
"I can help you with that!" Blaze exclaimed, standing up and picking up her flare guns. "I already built my Maelstrom Hammer, and I know where all the pieces are. Come on!"
Bob couldn't believe what he was hearing. First Blaze saves his life, now wants to help him again! This was an amazing day.
Bob got up quickly and followed Blaze up the path.
It was a narrow and dilapidated path along the top of the mountain that led to a cliff. There was a wooden guardrail at the edge, and Bob could see powerful gusts of wind bustling toward them.
Blaze jumped into the wind, followed by Bob. They landed on a crumbling stone path with a sleeping Ronin. A long tree branch hung over the road, and a long crow was perched eerily on it.
Blaze quickly took out the Ronin with a few blasts from her flare guns and they continued down the path.
They soon reached a huge tree branch that led back to the Great Tree and continued to the middle of the branch. The duo leaped down to the branch below, which was lined with lamps, rails, and glowing red statues. It led to another stone path that ended abruptly with a step leading down to a field of Ronin and Cavalry.
There it was! Bob could see the bell shrine from where he stood.
Blaze led him down to the large rock with the shrine and held off the Maelstrom. Bob drew his gleaming sword and smashed the bell. The sound of the bell rang out through the field and woke up all the Ronin and attracted the Cavalry.
"Oops..." Bob said nervously as a large clump of Ronin charged toward Blaze.
"Come on, Bob!" Blaze grabbed Bob by the arm and tugged him away from the huge crowd.
Blaze pulled Bob onto the rock with the shrine. The Ronin slashed their swords menacingly at them and the Horsemen swung their spears.
"Ready... go!" Blaze yelled over the tremendous clatter of weapons and hooves.
Bob was tugged toward a glowing blue portal and the Maelstrom followed. Blaze let go of Bob's arm for a second to slip on a ninja hood.
Wait... wasn't this the same kind of portal Bob wasn't allowed to pass through? He thought to himself.
Blaze leaped through the portal, but it suddenly seemed to turn into a wall and Bob slammed into it. This wasn't good.
"Wait! Don't go!" Bob called to Blaze.
It was no use. She seemed not to be able to hear anything on the other side of the portal.
Bob suddenly had a frightening thought. He had said the same words ten years ago.
"Wait! Don't go!" Bob yelled to his mother, who was being carried away by a Maelstrom Ape. Tears streamed down his face.
The Maelstrom had just been created, and Bob's small home world had been invaded. A small chunk of the exploded planet Crux collided with the world and dozens of Maelstrom creations were running amuck.
Bob's mind flashed back to reality. The Maelstrom had taken his mother. He wanted revenge.
Bob grasped his sword and flung it at a Horseman.
The Horseman fell instantly. Bob took his sword from the injured Ronin and thrust it at another Horseman. That one fell, too.
Bob's anger seemed to power him.
He had soon overtaken the entire crowd and ran back to the shrine. He hopped onto the crumbling pathway and started his long run back to the Great Tree.
Bob found an alternate path that lead him back to the long vine twisting around the jagged skeleton of the massive tree and kept him away from the suicidal trap of what he later found out to be Cavalry Hill.
He didn't know where the next shrine was. Perhaps the portal Blaze took lead back to the Great Tree? Maybe she was waiting for him. There was only one thing to do.
Bob took off up the path. The minifigures he past when running up the tree he looked at intensely, hoping they were Blaze. They were not, and when he got to the top of the Great Tree, found out that the portal was indeed not a way back up to the tree.
How would he find the fourth bell shrine without a guide?
Suddenly, he saw something. His heart pounded.
Was this what he thought it was?
It was! There, right in front of him, was the fourth bell shrine! All this time, the final piece to his Maelstrom Hammer had been right in front of him!
Bob quickly drew his sword and charged. The bell cracked and echoed all throughout the rocky plains of Forbidden Valley.
Bob picked up the fourth, final piece of his hammer. Instantly, he sprinted over to Brickmaster Clang.
"Brickmaster Clang! I've found all the pieces to the Maelstrom Hammer!" Bob said eagerly.
"Good job, Bob! Now, which of these Maelstrom Hammer versions would you like?" Clang asked.
He poked his head into the small cabin behind him and took out four grey Maelstrom Hammers. Each was slightly different in detail, but Bob instantly saw one that appealed to him.
"I'll take that one!" Bob said, pointing to the third hammer.
"Wise choice, Sir Bob! The dragon-style Maelstrom Hammer is a very powerful weapon. I think you will find it does much more damage than your current sword." Brickmaster picked up the hammer and handed it to Bob.
He thanked Brickmaster Clang and ran to the anvil.
Grasping the handle of his hammer tightly, Bob slowly lifted it above his head and slammed it down onto the anvil.
The Maelstrom Hammer smashed onto the anvil, making it shatter into a hundred pieces.
Bob quickly slung the hammer over his shoulder and started building an elevator. It was difficult. There were so many pieces; it took all of Bob's creativity and imagination to complete.
He put the final piece onto the platform and breathed a sigh of relief. Bob jumped onto the elevator and rode it up to Numb Chuck.
A tree branch sticking straight up held a wooden balcony with a few small tree limbs protruding around it. Crows were perched on the tree limbs and a wooden snakehead was hanging from a large branch. A minifigure in sleeveless dragon scale-like armor stood on the balcony with his arms crossed. He wore a metal dragon helmet and his entire face besides his eyes was covered in red cloth.
"Is it just dumb luck that you have found Numb Chuck?" Numb Chuck asked.
As Bob was about to answer, he was interrupted. "You obviously have received your Maelstrom Hammer if you have reached Paradox agent Numb Chuck! I applaud you for such a grand achievement!" Chuck exclaimed and clapped for Bob. "You will be rewarded with a Maelstrom-infused ninja hood! Take your pick, young knight! Black or white hood?"
He held up two ninja hoods, one white and one black. Bob chose the white hood and thanked Numb Chuck. This was the key to passing through the portal!
"For your next task, you must defeat a dragon. It is a difficult task, indeed, but you will be rewarded for your troubles."
Defeat a dragon? This sounded like Bob's most difficult task yet. But he was ready to face this mighty beast.
Bob ran to the edge of the platform and jumped off. He landed on the vine leading down the Great Tree and slid down. Bob took the same path Blaze had shown him to the third bell shrine with the glowing blue portal. He wasn't sure if this lead to the dragon's cavern, but it was the only place in Forbidden Valley that he hadn't explored.
He jumped down onto the field covered with thick Maelstrom gas and quickly took off his helmet. He slipped on his white ninja hood and leaped through the portal just like Blaze had.
He reached the other side and looked back at the Ronin still swinging their swords at him. He turned back to the road in front of him.
It was the most used path he had been on so far. Some of the stones had fallen out of the path entirely, and Bob slowly made his way toward a cave filled with Maelstrom gas and goo on the ground. There were several orange bushes and trees, and crows flocked ominously to them.
He got through the dark cave and reached a glowing trampoline. It was obviously a long way down. He couldn't even see where the ground was.
Bob stood on the edge of a cliff and, filled with uncertainty, jumped onto the trampoline.
Bob closed his eyes and bounced high into the air. He then plummeted down to his fate below.
Surprisingly, his feet met another bouncy surface.
Bob opened his eyes and saw that he landed on another trampoline. He bounced to another, now enjoying the trip. The third trampoline proved to be the last, for then Bob landed on a long, stone pathway.
He walked across the trail and jumped up four large slabs of rock acting as stairs. In front of him was a massive factory. Possibly the biggest he had ever seen.
All the windows were broken and there was a large door that by the looks of it, lead to a workshop. Bob headed down the metal sidewalk around the factory and slid past a pile of neatly stacked pipes. In front of him, he could see a small set of stairs leading to a circular balcony holding a network of pipes, wires, and a large blinking machine.
He walked along the sidewalk until it ended abruptly and a small shopping area was unveiled. A vendor with a rack of clothes was carved out in the wall in front of Bob, and cart holding a pile of bricks stood next to it. On the opposite wall was three glass tubes full of different substances, and Bob identified them as water and Maelstrom goo.
Strangely, there was a glowing blue brick in the first tube. What was it?
Bob seemed to get a strange vibe from it, and his curiosity got the best of him.
He drew his sword and slashed it at the glass container.
The tube instantly shattered and all the water and glass fell to the floor. The blue brick dropped and Bob slowly approached it.
He outstretched his hand and grabbed it.
The brick suddenly shrunk until it could be seen no more.
Bob felt different. He felt more powerful than before, as if his creativity was expanding rapidly. He then realized what he had done. He turned around, expecting for the vendor owners to be outraged.
No, they were not mad. They seemed glad that Bob had shattered the container. They dropped the items they were holding and clapped. How strange, Bob thought.
The clapping ceased and the minifigures went back to their business. He walked away, and a woman standing in a large ditch caught his attention. She was wearing a Paradox jumpsuit and holding a grey halberd. By the looks of it, the most dangerous weapon Bob had seen so far. Her grey hair indicated she was at least fifty-years-old, but her eyes were full of youth.
Bob jumped into the hole and the woman smiled. "My name is Vapor Overcast. You are?" Vapor asked.
"Bob." He replied timidly. "Well, Bob, it's a pleasure. By the way, could you do me a favor? See the man in the hard-suit over there?" Overcast asked.
Bob turned his head to a man with purple hair in a large, armored hard-suit. He nodded.
"His name is Brick Fury. He's an absolute Paradox super-soldier! Although, he hasn't been able to defeat a Horseman all day. It's really getting to him. Lure three Horsemen over to him and I'm sure he'll be much obliged." She instructed.
Bob nodded and headed over to Brick Fury.
Brick Fury stood next to a large fire. Bob wasn't sure if he knew that or not, or if he would get upset if he told him there was a fire behind him.
There was no time to ponder over that. He ran past Brick Fury and down the sloped, broken-up path. A few minifigures were already battling Cavalry, but without much luck. A few Ronin came to life and attacked Bob as he passed them, but he soon overtook them and ventured onward.
Several Horsemen saw Bob, waving his arms and hiding his sword, and immediately flung their horses' reins.
He almost fainted. What if Brick Fury was out of ammo? He certainly couldn't take on three Horsemen by himself, even with his new Maelstrom Hammer.
He turned around and bolted up the hill.
Brick Fury saw the great beasts galloping toward him and readied his cannon. He aimed... and fired.
He was indeed not out of ammo, for the closest Horseman fell and was pushed off the cliff side by the rest of the crowd. Fury blasted the other two and blew the smoke off his wrist-mounted cannon.
He turned around to Bob and grinned. "Nice job, kid! I finally got my hands on some Cavalry." He said in a deep, booming voice.
Bob stepped back a few inches. "You're welcome," He said shyly.
After a few more seconds of awkward silence, Bob hurried back to Vapor Overcast.
Bob sat on the edge of the tiny hole Vapor Overcast stood in.
"Thank you, Bob! I'm sure Fury is pleased you brought those Horsemen to him. Anything you would like in return?" She asked kindly.
"Actually, all I really need is directions. Do you know where I might find a dragon?" He asked.
"Of course, Bob! Go past the Horsemen to the end of the cliff side and go up those steps. The dragon cavern is in there." Vapor instructed.
"Thank you!" Bob said and jumped to his feet.
He raced past Brick Fury and past the Ronin, and then slowed down when he got to the Cavalry. It wasn't going to be easy to get past all those Horsemen.
He stood on the absolute edge of the cliff and shimmied past the Horsemen. He dodged a few swings of spears by only inches. When he got to the level part of the field, the path got wider and allowed more room between Bob and Maelstrom's lethal weapons.
He got to the stairs to the dragon caverns. There was a small safe-zone from the Horsemen, but it was so insignificant, he wondered if it would matter. He had to try.
Bob leaped onto the Maelstrom gas-covered field and bolted up the steps as fast as his legs would carry him. All was going well, until he felt a sharp pain in his back.
He cringed and fell onto the hard stairs. An orb of Maelstrom energy had struck him from behind and electricity now swirled around his body. He lay there for a few seconds, too tired to get up.
Bob realized just sitting there wouldn't do him any good. He was vulnerable to any impending attacks from Ronin or more Maelstrom energy. He slowly got to his feet and limped up the rest of the stairs.
He got to the mouth of the cave and sighed in relief. He was safe now. But not for long.
Inside the cave were dragons. How many, Bob did not know.
"Dragons." Bob muttered to himself.
The word hung in the air like a balloon ready to pop.
Even though he could be inches away from an unfortunate fate, he took one step into the darkness of the cave.
Bob was engulfed by the darkness as he took a few uncertain steps into the cave.
As he progressed through the dark tunnel, he noticed an eerie blue light ahead. It was a difficult and painstaking journey. Occasionally there would be a rock in front of him, and he tripped. It would take him a few minutes to get his bearings and figure out which way to go. The blue light at the end of the tunnel grew larger.
As he got close to it, he noticed a few specks of purple inside of the cave. Obviously there were Maelstrom dragons in there; no other Maelstrom creature would be foolish enough to choose a place like this to call home.
When Bob finally reached the end of the dark tunnel, he found himself in a wide, spacious cave. It took him a few seconds to adjust to the light caused by the Maelstrom gas lingering in the air. He stood on the edge of a cliff, and wind gusts could be seen to carry him to the next platform. There were four rock plateaus before him, and a long strip was in the center of the room. Up a few steps on the end of the strip was a large rock plateau, on which a massive blue dragon stood. There were three large platforms, and each had a dragon like this.
Every now and then they would stand on their hind legs and swipe their claws around. The gust created was so strong; Bob felt it even on the other side of the cave.
Bob leaped into the gust of wind and rode it to the first rock plateau. He repeated this process until he had reached the long strip of rock. He drew his Maelstrom Hammer, figuring it was much more powerful than his sword, and carefully made his way up the steps.
The dragon was even more massive up close! The great beast stood up as he saw Bob's head pop up above the step and started to breathe lethal blasts of fire at him.
He instantly ducked and waited for silence, indicating it was safe. Bob could feel intense heat over his head, and the scorching temperatures blurred the cave walls.
The noise stopped and Bob leaped onto the main platform.
Many Dark Ronin appeared out of nowhere and started to attack him. He easily smashed them with his Maelstrom Hammer. It certainly was more powerful than his sword.
After the Ronin were destroyed, he charged at the dragon, which stood up and blasted a fireball at him.
Bob had not expected this, and was completely unprepared. He ran around, jumping every now and then, but his method was useless.
The fireball caught up to him and made Bob leap into the air in distress. This was going to require a lot more planning!
He rubbed his back, putting out a minor fire on his knight shirt, and jumped down the steps.
Bob had a plan. A plan he was sure was going to work.
He peeked his head above the step, as he had done the first time. The dragon stood on the edge of the plateau, swinging his tail back and forth.
He jumped onto the platform and anticipated Ronin to appear. Sure enough, they did, and with one swift jerk of his hammer, they sprawled backwards and off the edge of the rock slab. Only one Ronin remained on the platform, and the plan was going perfectly.
By now, the dragon had stood up and was preparing a fireball to blast at Bob. The Ronin continued to battle Bob, but stopped when a fireball was blasted toward them.
Bob ran in circles again, still not fully recovered from the first fireball. The fireball collided with the knight armor, which now had Maelstrom gas floating around it, and proved to be too much for him.
The knight fell.
Meanwhile, Bob, disguised in Ronin armor, charged toward the dragon with his hammer. The decoy was working!
The dragon sat back down on all fours, thinking the intruder had been defeated.
Bob reached the dragon and swung his Maelstrom Hammer toward him.
What was this? The dragons own guardian turning against him? He roared and stood up on his hind legs again. Bob hung onto one of his claws and climbed onto the great beast's back.
As the dragon sat back down again, thinking Bob had fallen off the edge of the cliff, he readied his hammer and let it drop down onto the monster's back.
The dragon roared in pain as Bob's hammer struck his spine.
It fell, unconscious, but Bob knew too well it would not stay that way for long. He hopped down from the dragon's back and found a pile of bricks in front of the sleeping beast. He thought for a few seconds, wondering what would be his best option.
An idea struck him.
Bob grabbed the bricks and started building. The dragon wouldn't stay asleep for much longer. His head started to rustle and slowly, one eye opened.
By now, Bob was done building, and a massive robot stood behind the dragon.
It grabbed the dragon and started to pick it up. The gigantic creature now was wide-awake and started wrestling with the robot on its hind legs, using its front legs to claw at the robot's armor. A few pieces started falling out of the robot's back, which was arched backwards.
Bob's robot was slipping off the edge of the cliff! He had to do something.
He picked up his hammer and slammed it upon the dragon once more. The dragon fell, exhausted. The robot picked it up slowly and tossed the monster over the edge of the cliff.
The robot now fell apart, the dragon having been too heavy.
Bob had done it! He'd defeated a dragon.
While thinking of what his reward from Numb Chuck would be, he noticed something gleaming where the dragon used to be. He turned around and faced a treasure chest.
Bob walked toward the treasure chest and slowly reached toward the lid. It was unlocked, and when the chest was open only a crack, he was blinded by the sparkly complexion of gems.
His eyes soon adjusted to the light, as apposed to the darkness of a cave, and he opened the chest all the way.
It was filled with bronze coins, silver coins, gold coins, gems, swords, flaming hot dogs, katana, halberds, and much more. Bob removed a sword from the chest and swung it around the room. It vibrated in his hands.
This was certainly a powerful sword, possibly even better than his Maelstrom hammer.
Suddenly, a blast of electricity exploded from the blade of the sword, quickly reaching the top of the cave and illuminating the entire room. He dropped the sword and jumped back.
It was certainly his most powerful weapon yet, not to mention his most dangerous! He then removed a hot dog from the treasure chest and placed it in his pockets.
By the time he had emptied the chest, his pockets were bulging, his shoulders were aching from dozens of weapons hanging from them, and his stomach was full from eating so many hot dogs. He would only have to make it back to the vendor near the factory, and then he could sell some of this.
He slowly made his way out of the cave, Maelstrom Hammer in one hand, and halberd in the other. Thoughts were racing through his head, such as "What will my reward be? Was the treasure chest the reward Numb Chuck was talking about? Why did I eat so many hot dogs?"
Bob was feeling incredibly sluggish carrying all these weapons and items. He jumped over the steps down to rock ledge and continued to the wind gusts.
He stepped into the wind, but was surprised when he found himself falling instead of rising. Apparently, his load was too heavy and the wind did nothing to carry him across the gap.
He swung his Maelstrom Hammer up over his head and just caught the edge of the rock slab with the hammerhead. Bob soon realized he could not hold his weight for long.
He tossed his halberd onto the rock ledge and started to empty his left pocket, tossing coins and precious gems. This lightened his load significantly, but still not enough to hold himself for much longer. He started swinging, hoping his hammer would not slip, and soon caught the rock edge with his right foot.
Bob's heart pounded in his chest, for he was now thousands of feet above the ground, suspended by a hammerhead and his foot. He started inching his foot toward the halberd. He made a dangerous move, lifting his foot off the ledge and slamming it down beside the halberd, but it worked, and he was able to use the halberd as a support to hoist himself up onto the rock slab.
He lay there for a few seconds, trying to process what happened. Bob regained his bearings and grabbed his halberd. Floating would obviously not work, so he would have to jump.
He got a running start and leaped toward the shaky rock plateau.
Bob landed in a crouched position on the rock plateau. It wobbled a bit, but regained is stability soon.
Bob ran to the edge of the platform and jumped to the next successfully, this time standing up.
He repeated this process one more time, but this attempt was less fortunate. He missed his mark by a few inches and began falling into the dark abyss below.
While falling, he began throwing everything heavy away. Swords, coins, and gems fell to the floor below, until all he had left was a moderate amount of coins, his Maelstrom Hammer, and his faction tokens.
The sound of the discarded items hitting the ground below was not heard for at least twenty seconds, which only reinforced Bob's fear. He closed his eyes and continued to fall to his misfortunate fate below.
It was more than two minutes later that Bob opened his eyes again. He wasn't falling; he was rising! His plan worked!
He saw the final rock plateau and maneuvered himself toward it.
He moved away from the wind gusts and landed on the platform. His legs wobbly and his hands shaking, Bob had never felt more relieved in his life.
The cave exit was right in front of him, and he started his long journey out of the damp cave.
Bob exited the dark tunnel and was instantly reintroduced to the familiar sound of hooves galloping and minifigures battling. Forbidden Valley seemed extremely bright compared to the dragon cave.
He raced down the rock steps and leaped onto the cliff edge. Many Horsemen turned toward him but were destroyed by the minifigures behind them. This made it much easier than the first time he had come through, and Bob made his way up the steep hill.
Brick Fury was still firing at the Ronin and Horsemen and was in a much better mood than before Bob had helped him. He jumped up onto the sidewalk around what he later learned was called Paradox Refinery and was about to sell some of his dragon rewards to the vendor when he remembered he threw them away in the dragon cave.
He was discouraged, but not very upset about this. If he kept his treasure, he would probably be laying on the ground at the bottom of the cave, wishing he had saved himself.
He turned around and soon reached the trampoline. He jumped onto it and bounced up to the crumbling path above.
Bob jogged up the spiraling branch of the Great Tree. It was the same phlegmatic environment it was when he left the first time.
He reached the treetop and raced toward the anvil. He grabbed his Maelstrom Hammer and swung it towards the anvil. He threw down his hammer and was reaching for the bricks that should be in the anvil's place, but was surprised when his hands met the solid anvil.
It was still all in one piece, and his Maelstrom Hammer handle was lying beside it. Why hadn't it worked this time? A shining grey item on the other side of the anvil caught Bob's attention.
It was his halberd blade! What was going on? He had tossed his halberd away in the dragon cave.
Unless, he had really thrown away his Maelstrom Hammer and thought it was his halberd.
This was not good. His journey had already ended if his Maelstrom Hammer was gone.
He turned around, leaving the shattered halberd on the ground. Bob bolted down the stair-like vine and made his way down the pathway to the shining portal. He slid on his ninja hood and leaped through the portal gracefully. The trampoline to Paradox Refinery was up ahead, and from there, it was a straight path to the dragon cave. He wished with all his heart his Maelstrom Hammer was still in the cave.
Bob was launched into the air and fell down to the cracked ground below. He jumped up the rock stairs with ease and raced past Paradox Refinery, not stopping to say a friendly hello to Vapor Overcast or vendor owners.
Brick Fury was focused on the Maelstrom and accidentally mistook Bob for one of them. He fired his cannon at him and it hit Bob's leg. He screamed, half in pain and half in shock, and fell, tumbling down the rock hill.
Electricity pulsed through his body and smoke rose from his limp leg. He slowly got back to his feet and continued running toward the dragon cave steps, not turning back to see if Brick Fury noticed his mistake.
Bob bolted up the tiny rock stairs and ran as fast as he could through the dark, wet tunnel. His footsteps echoed throughout the cave, making it sound as if a pack of Maelstrom Horsemen were following him.
There was no time to see if there actually was a mob following him, though. He kept on running and did not stop until he reached the cliff edge. He looked around the room, looking for a metallic object.
He did not see one, but suddenly a gleam caught his eye. It was coming from the bottom of the cave, and he instantly recognized it as his Maelstrom Hammer.
The only problem was, how would he reach it?
Bob took one cautious step onto the jagged rock wall. He had never been rock climbing before, let alone without any harnesses!
He put one hand on a small rock sticking out from the wall and grabbed onto another one. Carefully, he put his other foot below him and started his descent into the dark abyss. Every now and then Bob's sweaty hands would slip and he would have to hug the wall with his arms outstretched, trying not to fall and plunge to his fate thousands of feet below.
By the time it was over, he was utterly confused by being in a dark cave for so long. He had no idea what day it was, the time, or if it was even day or night because of Maelstrom fog blocking out light from Forbidden Valley's sun.
He looked down, straining his eyes to see the ground. At first, there was nothing, but soon he made out a few white objects and gleams of metal.
He grinned at his accomplishment, but soon lost his footing, and started to fall backwards. He tried to regain his balance, but it was no use.
He fell from the rock wall towards the ground that was an unknown distance below. It was only a matter of seconds before he hit the ground on his back, surprisingly lightly.
He immediately began to sink into a pile of hard objects, but he had no idea what they were, due to the fact he was looking up. Bob tried to turn over, but the more he struggled, the more he sank.
Bob struggled even more; obviously unaware the pile he was in was like quicksand. He did not realize that until it was too late. He stopped moving right as he disappeared into the pile of unidentified objects.
When inside it, it was easy to dig his way out of this strange clump, and he soon poked his head out of the side, gasping. He pulled the rest of his body out and slowly got to his feet.
He turned around to face the pile. They looked like bones; giant bones.
Then it hit him: they were dragon bones!
Obviously the dragons thrown down into the abyss by creations built by dragon-battlers would end up down there. Bob found the dragon he battled on the top of the pile, not yet decomposed.
He turned around and now came face-to-face with a massive pile of treasure. It glowed brightly in the dim cave and illuminated the wall surrounding it.
There it was! Sticking out of the pile was Bob's Maelstrom Hammer, surrounded by the other treasure he tossed down there. He was surprised when he was hit in the head with a tiny metal object. It was a coin.
He decided to think nothing of it, since a dragon could have easily knocked it off the cliff edge. Then another hit him.
Still oblivious to the peril he was in, he reached over the glowing pile of treasure and grabbed his Maelstrom Hammer as another coin hit him. This time, it seemed to come from the opposite side of the pile, as apposed to the plateau above. It was followed by what sounded like a muffled deranged laugh, and then complete silence.
Bob grasped his hammer firmly and slowly approached where the noise was coming from.
Bob walked around to the other side of the treasure pile, where the coins and strange sound had come from. He took one leap at the spot and swung his hammer at it. It collided with the ground, and nothing else.
He maneuvered his hammer away and stood there, dumfounded. Maybe it was just his imagination? He always had a vivid imagination. Thinking that was the case, he turned back around and let his mouth drop open.
A campfire sat in front of him, next to the pile of dragon bones.
He rubbed his eyes with his fists. Was he going crazy? The campfire seemed unspeakably real, same with the maniacal laugh.
Bob opened his eyes again and screamed when a minifigure in a neat black suit sat facing him on the other side of the fire. His hair was concealed by a matching top hat, and his eyes were a fiery red, which Bob guessed was an illusion caused by the campfire. His suit sleeves were scraped in several places, and thin clouds of Maelstrom gas floated around him.
"Wh-who are you?" Bob asked cautiously.
"Who wants to know?" The strange minifigure asked in a disturbing voice, not looking up from the fire.
"Bob. My name is Bob." He replied shakily.
"Bob... Bob... And what is this item you have with you... Bob?" The stranger asked.
"This is my Maelstrom Hammer." Bob said.
"Your Maelstrom Hammer? Why do you believe this is yours, my friend, Bob?" The minifigure asked, standing up and turning around to face the pile of dragon bones. Was this minifigure insane? Or was Bob insane?
"It is my Maelstrom Hammer. I earned it, and it belongs to me." Bob said to the strange, infected minifigure in the dark suit.
"Then tell me, Bob, why did you drop your hammer into this abyss of... death?" The stranger asked in a voice that seemed almost caring and kind. "It was an accident! I didn't mean to... death?" Bob repeated.
A cold chill ran down his spine. At that very moment, the stranger in the suit flung himself around and leaped into the air above the campfire. Bob was sure he would land right in the fire when suddenly, a pair of wings appeared on the queer figure in the air, and he soared past him. The wings seemed to be made out of a thick black-and-purple gas, which resembled the Maelstrom gas seen on the battlefields of Forbidden Valley.
Bob quickly tried to turn around, but before he could, the winged creature behind him shoved him toward the fire. Bob tried to maneuver himself away from the blazing fire, which he did successfully.
The eccentric stranger landed, wings still flapping, and reached up. A dark staff formed in his hand with a blue crystal atop it.
As Bob struggled to his feet, the stranger approached the fire, eyes now a bright purple that struck fear into the heart of Bob, and reached across toward him. This winged menace grabbed his right hand, and tapped it with his icy finger.
With that, Bob fell asleep.
Bob awoke suddenly.
At first, he remembered nothing. Where he was, why he fell asleep so suddenly, and what he was doing there, was all a blur. Gradually, it all came back to him.
He was looking for his Maelstrom Hammer in this abyss, and he met the stranger there, who turned out to be some sort of unholy creature. Why did he fall asleep, though? All he could remember was something cold grabbing his hand, and touching him. It made no sense why something so insignificant would cause such an incident.
Bob looked at his right hand, where the winged creature had touched him. On the palm of his hand, in what looked like purple ink, was a small blotch. He looked closer. It was nothing but a small, purple dot in the center of his palm. It just didn't add up.
He suddenly grew cold. What if the strange menace was right behind him? Slowly and casually, Bob reached for his Maelstrom Hammer. With one swift jerk of his wrist, he grabbed the hammer and flung himself around.
Nothing was there but the big pile of dragon bones. He turned back around. The campfire had been put out, now only slowly smoldering. He put his hammer on the ground and looked at the palm of his hand again.
The blotch had grown. It continued to grow right before his eyes, until it broke apart into two tiny dots.
The specks continued to multiply exponentially until they became misshapen and moved around to form a dark, evil, skeletal face.
The skeletal face seemed to be laughing. Not happily, but evilly. Something about it seemed to resemble the strange man Bob had just met, even though they looked nothing alike.
The face was quickly squished into a ball, much larger than when it first appeared on Bob's hand, and became misshapen again. This time, it stayed as one object, but moved around to form a minifigure. It was hard to identify anything on it, but it had a tattered cloak, a top hat, and a scepter.
Bob instantly recognized it as the stranger in the black suit. This face seemed to be laughing again, and quickly faded away. All that was left on his palm was the same tiny dot it had originally been.
This incident was peculiar. If this mysterious stranger really was evil and had meant harm to Bob, why did he not do more damage to him? A tiny dot on his hand could not hurt him. The man was a strange one, indeed. But, there was really no time to ponder over these curious incidents.
Bob grabbed his Maelstrom Hammer and walked around the large coin pile to where the great wind gusts should have come from. Strangely, they seemed to be caused by massive, electric fans planted in the ground. The cave was surely an odd one.
Bob jumped onto the fan nearest to the cave entrance and rode it to the rock plateau, taking nothing but his Maelstrom Hammer and his life with him.
Bob started his long trek through the cave tunnel. Not much had changed, except for the fact that he was tired, confused, and slightly disoriented. It just didn't make sense.
Electric fans at the bottom of a dark abyss? It was impossible. The cave obviously wasn't naturally made. Someone actually wanted those dragons to infest the cave.
Bob exited the tunnel and found himself in a darker version of Forbidden Valley. It was obviously nighttime; there wasn't a speck of sunlight to be spoken of. He bolted down the tiny rock steps and ran past the Cavalry as fast as he could. One confronted him, but after his battle with the dragon, Horsemen were quite simple to defeat.
He caught the Ronin off guard by slipping between its legs and swinging his Maelstrom Hammer at it, making it stumble backwards and off the cliff side.
Bob walked up the broken-up rock hill and proceeded toward the Paradox Refinery, glaring at Brick Fury as he went past, who obviously was unaware of his earlier mistake. He got on the factory sidewalk and stopped at the trampoline. He looked down at his palm.
It was scary to think back to when it shifted into a bigger picture. That evil face had to mean something, and have some correlation to the stranger in the suit met in the dragon cave.
Oblivious to the great adventure that lay before him, Bob stepped onto the trampoline and sprung to the pathway above.
Bob landed on the stone pathway above and proceeded toward the glowing blue portal ahead. All this commotion with his lost Maelstrom Hammer and his meeting with the unusual stranger had distracted him from what he was doing in the first place: going to the Great Tree to collect his reward from Numb Chuck.
He slid on his ninja hood and leaped through the blue portal and into the cliff side battlefield. After a few short skirmishes with Ronin and Horsemen, he got back onto the path to the Great Tree.
Bob thought back to meeting Blaze. It was such a short friendship. He had only known her for a few minutes before they were separated, possibly forever. She was certainly a strange one. Usually, someone like her would want to do anything but go into battle with strange creatures in a distant land. He supposed she was just different; just like him. They would be powerful allies if they ever met again. Bob's intuition would tell them exactly what to do in an emergency, and her perfect mix of power and agility would battle the enemies.
Bob reached the spiraling branch of the Great Tree and, for the fourth time since he reached Forbidden Valley, started to jog up. He reached the treetop and, like before, took out his Maelstrom Hammer. He examined it to make sure it was actually a hammer and not a sword or halberd.
It was, indeed, a Maelstrom Hammer, and he struck it upon the heavy anvil in front of him. It broke into many pieces, and he dropped his hammer. He knelt and began to build an elevator to bring him to Numb Chuck's tree branch.
He completed the ride, feeling exhausted from using all the imagination inside him, and stepped onto it.
His heart fluttered with excitement as he thought about what his reward for this great achievement might be.
Bob's elevator reached Numb Chuck's tree branch and came to a halt. He jumped onto the wooden balcony and walked up to Chuck.
"I've defeated a dragon!" Bob said, grinning.
"Excellent work, Bob! Ki-ya!" Numb Chuck exclaimed, turning toward the flashing elevator and karate-chopping the air, then bowing toward Bob.
The elevator broke into many pieces and fell down to the treetop. Bob wasn't sure whether it was because of the mighty power of Numb Chuck, or because it was supposed to break after use.
Chuck reached over his shoulder and took a dragon tooth that was slung across his back. He handed it to Bob. It purple and grey, and much larger than the fangs of the dragon he battled. It obviously had come from one of the largest ever. He wondered if Chuck had slain the dragon himself. If so, he must be a very powerful ninja, since he appeared to fight with only his hands.
"Here is your reward, Sir Bob! An enchanted dragon tooth, taken from a dragon by yours truly!" Numb Chuck said, this time, turning away from where the broken elevator used to float and kicked the air, then continued, "You will find that Maelstrom cowers in fear when this great tooth is activated. Dragons, in fact, are quite hostile toward their fellow Maelstrom siblings and battle them when they are not obeyed."
Bob bowed to Chuck politely and turned toward the edge of the balcony. With that, dragon tooth in hand, he ran to the edge of the tree branch and jumped.
Bob landed smoothly on the treetop below Numb Chuck's balcony and quickly thrust his massive dragon tooth's hilt into the ground. He stepped away when a miniature dragon awoke from the fang's edge and spread its wings. Its eyes looked right through him, and it opened its mouth as if to roar. The dragon closed its wings and returned to the position of the tooth blade.
This was, indeed, an enchanted dragon tooth. Numb Chuck must have had much more power than he was willing to show.
Bob removed his dragon tooth from the ground. It rumbled in his hand, which he believed was normal. He reached across his shoulder and placed the tooth in a sling on his back over his chain mail.
He turned toward the main dojo on the Great Tree, with Master Fong Shader still standing very still in front of it. He walked up to the ninja master and was about to ask if he had completed all his missions, but was surprised when he spoke first.
"Beware, Sentinel Bob. Chaos has a name! Baron Typhonus is inside the Maelstrom - and he's controlling it! I must warn my superiors." Master Fong Shader said.
With that, he hurried off. Bob was about to go after him, but was stopped when a sudden flash of lightning caught his attention. His surroundings began to fade away, and soon, he found himself in a dark, alternate universe with nothing in sight but a stone walkway in front of him.
Bob looked around him. There was nothing. The only solid thing in sight was the stone walkway in front of him.
He took a few uncertain steps across the path, but stopped in his tracks when he felt a pain in his hand. He grasped it tightly. Slowly, he released his left hand from his palm and noticed that the only different about it was the purple spot.
It had grown, and was starting to change shape again. It turned the same skeletal face he had seen at the bottom of the cave. It was still laughing, and this time, Bob wondered what it was laughing at. Him? It seemed impossible for a spot on his hand to be able to see him. But after all, his entire adventure was based on impossibility.
Another flash of lightning appeared before his eyes, followed by a clap of thunder. He was about to look back at his palm, but was distracted by a red spot in the sky starting to appear.
As it became bigger, he identified it as a laughing, evil face. The same skeletal face as on his hand! He held up his right hand to the sky, and compared the two. They were identical, and both laughing at the same rate.
Simultaneously, both faces began to fade away. As they did, there was another lightning flash, and a tiny shadow appeared at the end of the stony walkway. It was the same shadow that had appeared after the skeletal face the first time.
On his palm, the same things were happening; a flash of lightning, and a shadow.
He was about to make his move and dive off the pathway, when he suddenly fell backwards as both the picture on his hand and the real thing grew and were suddenly right in front of him with another lightning flash.
The massive shadow before him was even taller than a dragon standing on two legs. On both Bob's palm and beside it, the figure lifted both hands, one holding a scepter, and began to laugh evilly.
After another flash of lightning, the shadow started to fade away and the surroundings came into view once more. The rock pathway turned into the tree branch leading to the main dojo of the Great Tree, and the laughing figure on his palm became smaller until only the small blotch of purple remained.
Bob eventually regained his bearings and found the courage to stand up. He thought about what Master Fong Shader told him.
"Chaos has a name! Baron Typhonus is inside the Maelstrom - and he's controlling it!"
This phrase sent a cold chill down his spine. What if the stranger, or creature, he met in the cave actually was Baron Typhonus, or something related to him? Few minifigures actually knew what he looked like; mostly only the Nexus Force faction leaders. It was strange to believe Typhonus would actually choose to confront Bob. And why? He never thought he was anyone special. Just a plain minifigure that worked on the Venture Explorer. There is nothing special about a dull person like me, he thought. Why would such an important person, if it actually was Baron Typhonus, confront someone so insignificant?
Even though Bob was confused and worried, he knew he had a job to do. The whole reason he was wearing this Sentinel armor and in Forbidden Valley was because the Maelstrom took over his home, and he wanted revenge on them.
Since Master Fong left without answering Bob's question, there was nothing else to do there. He walked to the edge of the treetop and began to slide down the curved vine. He put down his hands and feet to stop himself in front of a brick balcony attached to a small branch with a rocket launching pad.
Above the launcher, the tall skyline of Nimbus Station could be seen, just as it could when Bob first reached the Great Tree. He walked down the stone path and stopped before the launchpad. He reached into his pockets and pulled out a few rocket parts, which he attached to one another. He placed his rocket on the launchpad and jumped into the cockpit.
He looked away from the Nimbus Station skyline and towards the breathtaking landscape of Forbidden Valley. In the distance, Master Fong Shader could be seen approaching a field of sleeping Ronin. He tried to move around the cluster without waking them, but he stepped on what looked like a twig, and the entire crowd awoke suddenly. They instantly started swinging their swords at Master Fong.
Having no weapons of his own, he tried to battle them using his knowledge of karate, but it was no use. He fell and tried to run from them. Bob had to do something. He couldn't bear to watch an innocent minifigure be outnumbered in a fight.
He pushed the cockpit of his rocket open, dismantled it, and raced toward the field.
Bob picked up his Maelstrom Hammer as he sprinted down the stair-like vine twisted around the Great Tree. After reaching the rock pathway, he turned toward the field of Ronin and Maelstrom gas. Master Fong was still outnumbered, and losing the battle. Bob ran down the rock hill as fast as possible.
"Master Fong!" He yelled over the clatter of swords striking rock.
This caught Shader's attention, and he turned toward Bob, who had tripped on a rock and was now tumbling down the hill. As he fell, he wondered why it always had to be rock hills, and not grass.
Master Shader was now kicking the Ronin at a fast pace, but more and more rock statues were spawning, and he was becoming weak from repeating the process so many times.
Bob reached the bottom of the hill and was very dizzy as he tried to get up and stop the images in front of him from spinning. Eventually, as Fong reached the inside of the Dark Ronin cluster and was working his way out of the clump, Bob picked up his Maelstrom Hammer again. He grasped it and charged at the Ronin.
He swung it at the creatures on the outside of the mob, and several sprawled backwards and fell to the ground. Shader was becoming visible as Bob cleared more Ronin from the purple crowd.
Getting him out would be easy, but escaping from the mob was the difficulty.
Bob swung his hammer at two Ronin trying to approach him from behind. They fell and toppled backwards, dropping their swords along the way.
Master Fong Shader was right in front of Bob and continuing to kick the Ronin repeatedly. His attacks slowed after every swing, and this was giving the Maelstrom the upper hand. Bob couldn't understand why the Ronin were spawning so fast; they never did when he was battling them. This was just one more thing he couldn't comprehend about Forbidden Valley, and the Maelstrom in general.
The enemies seemed to have already won the battle, when an idea stuck Bob like a brick. What had Numb Chuck just given to him? An enchanted dragon's tooth.
Carefully, he reached over his shoulder and grasped the fang. He pulled it loose and held it high in the air.
Everything seemed to go by slowly.
At first, only one or two Dark Ronin turned toward the purple dragon rising out of the dragon tooth, clawing the air. It was only a few seconds later, which seemed like minutes to Bob and Master Fong, that all the Ronin in the clump of Maelstrom had turned toward it and cowered in fear.
Very slowly, Bob backed away from the mob, followed by Master Fong Shader. As they reached the purified cracked rock pathway, the dragon folded its wings and returned back into the original shape.
As soon as they had gotten off the field, the spawning of Ronin slowed and seemed to stop.
Both Bob and Master Fong Shader sprinted away from the Maelstrom field and did not stop until they reached the roots of the Great Tree. As Bob panted and tried to catch his breath, Fong Shader stood at the tree base, motionless and breathing quite normally.
When Bob stopped huffing and puffing, Fong smiled.
"Thank you, Sir Bob. I could have never fought off the crowd by myself. I will be forever in your debt," he said.
"No problem, Master Fong." Bob replied.
Even though he had just had the experience of a lifetime that could have easily ended in disaster, he felt almost glad and happy for the catastrophe. It had brought great joy to him to save the ninja master from the Maelstrom.
As Bob reached across his shoulder again to put away his enchanted dragon's tooth, still rumbling in his hand, Master Fong Shader opened his mouth again to speak.
He stopped when Bob brought his arm back, leaving his palm visible. His gaze, understandably, was cast at the purple dot on Bob's hand. He really thought nothing of it, since it would be normal for someone to stare at such a sight. It was not that Bob felt differently until the master's expression turned from amazement to fear.
Master Fong took a few uncertain steps backwards onto the curved Great Tree branch, and suddenly broke out into another sprint upwards.
Bob felt shocked, and slightly hurt, considering a ninja master just ran from him in fear. Had it been a coincidence Master Fong had been staring at the purple dot on Bob's hand? If the stranger he had encountered in the cave really was Baron Typhonus, did that have anything to do with the purple dot and why Master Fong Shader seemed to be afraid of it? So many questions had aroused in only a matter of minutes, leaving Bob confused and worried.
He headed up the twisted branch of the Great Tree, hoping to encounter someone with answers before he met with Master Fong Shader again. No one passed him on his way up. He was about to take the final step to the treetop when he thought otherwise. If someone as powerful as Master Fong Shader ran from him, it would not be wise to expose the purple dot to anyone else.
These thoughts seemed out of the ordinary to Bob, and he was almost embarrassed to think them. Very discouraged, he headed back down the tree branch. He stopped in front of the balcony and walked down the hard stone path. He once again took his rocket pieces from his pocket, attached them to one another, and positioned it on the launching station. He leaped into the cockpit and the window closed around him.
With one press of a button on the dashboard, Bob was hurled into space toward Nimbus Station without looking back.
The ride back to Nimbus Station was quiet, with nothing but the slight hum of the rocket engine to be heard. Bob enjoyed this, for he needed some time to think.
He closed his eyes and thought. After only a few short minutes, it soon became evident that there was nothing to think about without first getting some answers. Frustrated, he opened his eyes and slammed his fist upon the dashboard.
He suddenly felt very regretful and saddened by his actions. He had never acted so unruly before in his life. He had always been timid. Why had that now changed? He did not like what he was becoming.
Nimbus Station was approaching quickly and the tall, orange Assembly building could be identified. After being in Nimbus Station for only a few hours, Bob already knew that it was a very busy planet, and he would not find the calm retreat he perceived his rocket as anywhere in the city. Perhaps he could try to discover one, but he was not in the mood for exploring after the commotion in Forbidden Valley.
He tried to compose himself before the rocket reached the landing pad, and enjoyed the rest of the ride in absolute silence and motionlessness, much like Master Fong Shader.
When Bob's rocket reached Nimbus Station, he was dumped out of the rocket once again, and it dismantled itself. This did not seem so strange anymore, but he wondered why the manufacturer of the rocket didn't fix what would seem like a major glitch to travelers.
He placed the rocket pieces back in his pocket and headed down the path, lined with a short, jagged mountainside on one side, and pine trees on the other. He passed the lit torches and jumped over the wooden bridge, looking over the wall beside him and taking in the great view of the massive skyscrapers.
When he reached the plaza, he reached into his pocket and swirled around his coins and faction tokens. It seemed very heavy, so he hurried down the two flights of short plaza steps and hopped into the median containing the Sentinel vendor. He ducked under a low tree branch and began to unload the currency from his pockets when he reached the counter.
"Hello, I'd like to buy the rank two knight gear." Bob said to the muscular knight in front of him. The salesperson began counting the tokens and coins. Bob cringed as he reached the final faction token after counting both stacks of currency and frowned.
"I'm sorry, you'll need a few hundred more coins and about thirty more tokens to buy the next level of gear." He said.
Bob's heart sank, but he thanked the vendor knight anyway and picked up his pile of currency. He ducked under the same tree branch when coming out of the grass patch and walked back up the plaza steps.
A path next to the one leading to the Forbidden Valley rocket launching station looked like the one he came down when coming from Avant Gardens, but had several concrete flights of stairs instead of a hill. The metal arch above it had a flaming wheel on it. Curious, Bob pocketed the last of his coins and headed toward the path.
Bob walked up the first short flight of stairs, then the second, and third, each with a cluster of trees on either side. He hopped up the final fourth set and walked down the worn-down path on a hill. In the distance, there was what looked like a racing garage and a giant fluorescent sign above. He could make out a flashy racetrack sparkling with green, blue, and pink light with Maelstrom clouds above. He instantly knew that this portion of Nimbus Station was a racetrack. He could make out a vendor next to the garage, and a circular platform made of metal in front of it.
He made it to the bottom of the hill and waved toward a minifigure in a blue baseball cap and a jacket with his arms folded. The minifigure only nodded in response.
Bob had to look away from the dazzling sign in front of him, almost blinded by the light. There was a row of three vendors on this side in front of a dense forest of pine trees, much larger than any of the others in Avant Gardens or Nimbus Station. This forest wrapped around the garage and continued on the other side of the hill beside the racing vendor.
He walked toward the vendor beside the garage and saw a neat row of tires, engines, and other car parts hung on the wall. In front of the garage was the start of a metal racetrack with glowing white lights lining the edges of the track. His curiosity now growing even more, Bob placed a portion of his coins on the counter.
Bob's arms struggled to support the enormous mound of car pieces he was holding. He made it onto the metal platform and let the heavy parts drop to the ground, clinking the metal and echoing throughout the race area.
He knelt on the platform and started to assemble his racecar. He started with the wheels and added the axles, then began on the body of the car. It was primarily black, with some spots of red to create the effects of flames at the front of the car. The top of the engine protruded from the top of the hood and gleamed in the light of the fluorescent sign above.
Bob fixed his racer car's seat in place and marveled at it proudly. It looked powerful, with its black paint and fiery details.
He was about to move it onto the track and enter it in the next race, when he wondered if he was forgetting anything. A helmet, perhaps? He could see a fine selection of helmets resting on the counter of a vendor adjacent to the racetrack, so he headed in that direction, reaching into his pocket to make sure he had enough for a helmet.
He did, and chose a blue helmet to match his knight gear. He paid for it and went back to his car.
Three were already lined up at the start of the track, so he wasted no time in pushing his car onto the starting line. Bob jumped into the seat and put on his helmet. The other racers put their cars into gear, and Bob did the same.
His heart pounded in his chest as the light turned from red, to yellow, and finally to green.
The starting horn sounded, and they were off.
Bob slammed his foot onto the accelerator as soon as the green light flashed above him. The other racers – one in a blue car, one in a red car, and one in a black car much like Bob's, but with green designs on the side – quickly passed Bob, obviously being much more experienced at racing.
The racetrack's sponsors' signs lining the track whizzed past them like bullets. As a turn to the left approached, the black-and-green racer started to rub against the blue racer, making an irritating sound. Sparks flew from between the two cars, and suddenly, the green racer flung to the right where the red car was and smashed into it. The red racer spun out of control and collided with the barrier on the side of the track, causing a fiery explosion.
Bob cringed and tried to move away from the black-and-green racer. He took a good look at the racer's jumpsuit while the track was straight with no obstacles in the way, recognizing something familiar about it. He identified the Venture symbol on the back; a skull inside a green star. The racer must be very proud about being a Venture to have the logo on his suit. Bob realized the pattern around the symbol was also on his helmet and racecar.
A turn to the right was ahead, and surprisingly, the Venture racer was slowing down. He turned until he was right in front of the blue racer, and slowed down even more until they collided. He turned to the right, causing the blue racer also to turn, and accelerated. The blue racer began to drive toward the track barrier, still being turned in that direction, and tried to regain control of the car.
The blue racer swerved sharply to the right to avoid the barrier, but had to do the same to the right to avoid the adjacent barrier. He eventually minimized his jagged movements at the end of the turn and continued to accelerate toward the Venture racer.
Toward the end of this turn, the landscape outside the track turned from the forest to a modern industrial site, with the outline of cranes and factories in the making visible in the breathtaking pink horizon. The landscape changed again, and rock plateaus appeared on both sides of the track, which stretched out until the road seemed to end abruptly.
Bob's heart almost stopped. Was there an accident? Had the rest of the track somehow collapsed?
The Venture racer sped up as he approached the dead end, and drove over the edge blithely. He rose into the air, somehow letting the car do a backflip in the air, and fell down to whatever lay below. The blue racer did the same.
As Bob approached, he was relieved to see that the track continued below. He drove over the edge, was launched into the air, and miraculously landed in front of the blue racer. The surroundings changed yet again, now into space-themed setting, with futuristic towers and even more intricate lights lining the road. After the towers, giant meteors floated in the air, turning slowly.
Ahead of all this was another surprising feature: the road seemed to turn vertically and continue like that as far as Bob could see.
The Venture racer, the only one in front of Bob, accelerated as he approached the vertical section of the track. Bob expected him to drive up a few feet and fall backwards down to the road, but the complete opposite occurred.
The car drove up the gentle slope and continued to fly over the vertical road. Bob was shocked. He reached the slope, drove up, and continued on the vertical ground. Surprisingly, he didn't feel like he was vertical. He felt as if gravity had switched positions, and he was once again upright.
The green lights on the track became larger and brighter as the sky faded from pink to black. They partially illuminated the track, but left some parts in complete darkness. Meteors in the air became more frequent, and a sharp turn to the left approached.
Bob moved his foot quickly from the accelerator to the brake, flung the steering wheel to the left, and drifted around the turn. Surprisingly, the darkness helped the visibility of small, glowing spheres along the track, which seemed to give Bob a speed boost. The blue racer behind him had collected many of these items, and to Bob's dismay, released them.
The car's exposed engine exploded into a shower of sparks and fire, and he shot past Bob with incredible speed. He quickly reached the Venture racer, almost overtaking him. The boost ended, and the blue racer began to fall back, giving Bob a chance to catch up.
Another turn to the left immediately followed the first, and Bob repeated his first maneuver to make the turn.
Bob completed the turn with only a few inches to spare. After it laid another gentle slope down to what seemed like another wall, but with a few moments of thinking, he realized it would bring them back to their original position.
He drove up the slope, and gravity seemed to change again. They were upright once more, and the sky began to get lighter again, changing from complete darkness to purple. The lights on the road began to fade away, and two more short mountainsides grew beside the track. Bob accelerated, since the blue racer was slowing down, losing the short speed boost. He got next to the racer and looked around the car's dashboard.
There were several levers and many buttons upon it, including one that glowed green, much like the lights along the track. He pressed it slowly, afraid of what it might do, and the car immediately blasted ahead of the blue racer. Obviously, Bob had collected a few more glowing spheres than he knew about.
Sponsors' signs appeared in front of the rocks as they wore away and a large, metal balcony hung over them. The Venture racer was approaching another vertical road section, and Bob was gaining on him. He was directly behind the black-and-green racer as they drove up the slope.
The gravity switched position yet again, and flashy green lights grew from the track barriers, since the sky had faded from purple to an ominous black.
Orange arrows flashed in the darkness, indicating there was a turn to the left coming up.
Bob used the Venture racer's headlights as a guide and maneuvered himself around the turn. Bob heard the blue racer's engine roaring behind him, and he suddenly flew past him, leaving Bob in last place again, shivering in the wind. The speed boost ended as he got next to the Venture racer.
Two more towers lined the track just around the turn and the sky was changing color yet again. It was now a mix of purple and blue and illuminated the shape of more meteors floating in the air. The Venture racer looked over at the blue racer beside him. He looked back at the road, which was now curving upward until it the track was upside down.
Bob pressed the glowing button on his dashboard again and sped up toward the two racers side-by-side. His boost ended when he was only a few meters away from the race leaders. The blue racer was collecting the glowing spheres along the track and was preparing for another drastic move.
Furious, the Venture racer turned toward the left guardrail. When he was a few feet away from his opponent, he flung the steering wheel the other way, smashing into him. The blue racer spun around frantically and collided with Bob, who began to make the same awkward spiral toward the impenetrable track barrier.
Bob swung the car's steering wheel to the right, trying to stop himself from smashing into the guardrail. The blue racer continued spinning, turning the wheel the wrong way. The front of the car's hood collided with the glowing barrier, pushing it inward a few inches, but leaving no serious damage to the driver or car.
Bob continued to urge the steering wheel away from the railing and successfully maneuvered himself away from it. He took his foot off the accelerator for a few seconds to regain his bearings, and then slammed it down. Meanwhile, the blue racer was backing up away from the rail, and gently applied his foot to the accelerator.
Bob tried to collect the blue spheres along the track, which strangely gave him an eerie vibe. He wasn't sure what they were, but they were indeed powerful. As he collected them, swerving right then left, the button the dashboard started to glow. The Venture racer was now on the upside down section of the track and continuing at a steady pace.
Bob smashed his fist on the glowing button and blasted toward the spiraling road portion.
Bob screamed excitedly as he flew over the track like a bullet.
Bob reached the spiral and gravity switched position continuously. It felt like an out of control roller coaster about to slip off the rails. He was approaching the Venture Racer, who was driving underneath a large laser beam projection that stretched across a gap between two flagpoles. In the distance, the first uphill section of the track was visible. Or was it the second? It was almost impossible to tell, since the gravity switches had disoriented the drivers.
Before the laser beam was a pair cylindrical obstacles, unlike the others on the track. They glowed purple, giving them the appearance of being Maelstrom infected. Bob realized this too late and collided with one. He instantly felt quite weak and powerless. The first few seconds were a blur until he woke up out of his trance and realized he was headed the wrong direction. A thick cloud of the purple gas hung around his car and a few pieces of the broken obstacle lay on the hood. The cloud decreased visibility and he was only able to detect the glowing guardrail around the track and the blue racer approaching the start of the curve.
He turned the steering wheel left as quickly as possible and smashed his foot on the accelerator. Missing the rail by only an inch, he reached the two flagpoles and drove under the projection. The track seemed to end after the poles, but Bob was now acquainted with the frequent drops. There was a slight exception for this drop, since there was a large gap before the road began again.
After a few short seconds of being in the air, Bob landed on the road, which seemed much plainer and simpler compared to the glowing, vertical road beside it. Although it was much wider than before and had many industrial themed columns holding the ceiling, there were no intricate light designs on the road or breathtaking sky. There was a delicate pink sky, but it was partly out by dark clouds. Ahead, there was a hill on both sides of the track that was separated by a rectangular hole in the road with just enough room for a car to pass between it on either side. The hole and the slopes were lined with identical orange, yellow, and black striped barriers.
Bob could see the Venture racer on the balcony that the hills lead to, disappearing quickly. He sped up and soon reached the slope on the right, which was lined with pipes resembling the columns.
There were three cylindrical obstacles at the start of it, but these were striped white and orange instead of glowing purple. The Venture racer went up the left slope, Bob surmised, since it would be impossible to drive around the obstacles. He smashed through them, ducking to avoid the bits and pieces flying at him.
Collecting a few glowing spheres as he went and getting the strange sense from them, he reached the balcony and sped toward his rival.
On the balcony, there was a sharp turn to the left ahead and another to the right. Bob drifted around the corner and caught a glimpse of sparks flying out of the Venture car's tailpipe.
Bob smashed through another cylindrical obstacle in a row of four and drove around a tube hanging a few feet above the track. There were even more columns on the balcony to support the ceiling, from which two screens hung with green arrows pointing toward an alley between two orange guardrails.
He drove down the passageway and found that it ended a short while after that with one obstacle on either side of it. He surmised that the Venture racer had smashed through the center obstacle, and a few plastic, orange shards around the area supported the idea. Bob sped up and drove off the edge of the road bravely, seeing that his rival had landed safely below and was approaching the first turn.
As he fell toward the road, he started to get a strange sense inside of him. It was almost like the vibe he had been feeling along the track, seeming to come from the "speed-boost spheres", but stronger. This was much stronger. He could almost hear a humming noise inside his head.
Realizing he would land any moment, Bob shook off the thoughts.
Surprisingly, a white box, glowing blue slightly, floated in the sky. The colors shifted slowly from light blue, to dark, to light again. It was unavoidable, and he ended up crashing through it.
It disintegrated easily, and the glowing button on his dashboard started blinking frantically.
Bob's sleek car landed on the road below, driving over bricks from the obstacles and the white box he had smashed. Ahead was the arch holding the checkered flag, signifying the end of the lap and the beginning of the next. The sun was setting in the distance and the short, rocky hill below it created something truly amazing. It was, by far, the most beautiful thing Bob had seen in a long time.
He regained his focus and zoomed across the black-and-white checkered tiling on the road, listening to the deafening cheers from the crowd in the bleachers on both sides of him. The Venture racer had already disappeared around the turn, leaving nothing but a grey cloud lingering in the air. Although, Bob did wonder why the Venture car produced the cloud then, but not before. After taking a few sniffs of the air, he identified it as smoke. What could it be coming from?
His heart skipped a beat as his eyes turned toward a burning heap on the edge of the track. It was the red car.
After being pushed into the guardrail by the Venture racer, the car had burst into flames. It was now destroyed. The back bumper had fallen off, the front of the car had been completely crushed, and the windshield had been smashed.
Bob looked around urgently to try to catch a glimpse of the racer himself. Luckily, he identified the red jumpsuit on the other side of the rail, standing in front of the dense forest and coughing from the smoke.
Bob, too, coughed and tried to get away from the wreck as fast as possible. He sped up and drifted around the first turn to the left.
Bob pressed the blinking button on the dashboard, which had now begun to beep as well. He did not expect to be surprised when he pressed this since he had many times before, but he was.
This blast was far greater than any of the others. In only a few seconds, he was at the second turn and had to fling his steering wheel so hard he thought it might come off. In an even shorter amount of time, he had not only caught up to the Venture racer, but also passed him.
Bob was launched off the ramp with the two long plateaus on the other side of the guardrails. He smashed through the obstacles so hard that they flew toward the vertical portion. They reached the "wall" and smashed through it.
The boost died down and he soon realized he had passed his enemy on the track. He heard the Venture racer landing on the road, so wouldn't be much time before he was passed. Or worse. He pushed even harder on the accelerator, determined to keep his lead.
Bob drove up the curve and expected gravity to switch positions. It did, and meteors showed up around the track simultaneously. The "vroom" of his rival's engine behind him was growing stronger.
He was about to move over and make room when something smashed into the back of his car.
Bob was launched forward violently. He was approaching the left turn quickly, and he applied the breaks along with turning the steering wheel to try to avoid the guardrail. He was about to look for what hit him when the answer zoomed past him in a black Venture car.
Bob drifted around the turn and only nudged the rail. The blue racer could be seen beginning to make his way up the wall through the translucent track. Bob moved his foot onto the accelerator and applied it just enough to make it to the next turn. The hum of his approaching rival's engine was very faint, but growing louder.
He made his way around the turn and slammed on the accelerator. He drove up the road's curve and almost didn't notice the sudden change of the gravitational pull. Bob watched the sky change from complete darkness to a bright orange then be gradually blocked by the short stack of rocks. He turned to the left and strained his eyes to see in the darkness caused by the roof. The rock stack ended and let the delicate purple light reach the track once again.
The rest of the trip seemed almost natural to him, after only going through it once before.
It wasn't until the third and final lap that things turned ugly.
Bob listened to the roar of the crowd as he raced under the arch. It was the final lap now. The smoking heap alongside the track was now being removed by group of minifigures pulling it through a gap that was made in the sponsor signs with ropes tied to what remained of the back bumper. The red racer was now sitting under a pine tree, still coughing.
He returned his attention to the road and saw the Venture racer disappear around the turn again. He found it interesting that they were the same distance apart in two different laps, but knew that pondering over this curious fact would only distract him from the hazardous track. He accelerated and drifted around the turn; something he was getting quite used to doing. It was much quicker than just turning and much more effective, not to mention that he would be in the required position when removing his foot from the brake and moved over to the accelerator.
He turned left and right to collect the strange spheres the Venture racer had missed and hit the glowing button when it seemed bright enough. He shot toward the upcoming turn and drifted around it again. His enemy on the track could be seen just off the ramp ahead, and Bob raced toward him as fast as possible.
He was launched off the ramp and not only reached the menace, but passed him. Bob could hear the Venture racer slamming his fist carelessly on the dashboard in anger.
Bob landed on the road and raced as fast as he could to avoid the infuriated racer behind him. He craned his neck to see if he would get smashed into again. It was dangerous, since being hit in that position would break his neck.
The Venture racer was only now landing, whereas Bob had reached the vertical road portion.
He returned his attention to the road and swerved left to collect a trail of the glowing spheres. He did not even notice the gravitational pull switch positions, even though it had shocked him the first time through. He reached the turn and drifted left, resembling the movement of the meteors beside him. He did the same for the next turn, and the next until gravity regained its original position. The sky brightened into a soft shade of pink and was blocked by the rock piles on the roadside.
He looked back again. He was still in the lead, for his rival had not even reached the second left turn yet. He turned his head. His heart skipped a beat as he realized that he had hit the guardrail.
The front of the hood was rubbing against the rail and his speed had decreased significantly. Sparks flying from in between the collision ceased as he turned away from them. The sound of the Venture racer's engine humming behind him was starting to be heard.
He sped up and hoped there would not be another crash until he was off the racetrack.
Bob strained his eyes for the third time during the race to see in the darkness. He found it peculiar that there was a roof on only a small section of the track. But after all, the racetrack was a strange place, with features he had never believed possible. With his competition a long way behind him, he thought he might actually come in first place in this race, even after all the setbacks and obstacles thrown at him.
He reached the uncovered track portion just as his eyes were adjusting to the darkness and now had to squint to see in the light. Although the track was quite hazardous with surprising obstacles and opponents that would do anything just to win, it was really the only place that made him felt relaxed since he was forced to leave the Venture Explorer.
This thought upset him, thinking about his friend Epsilon Starcracker fighting mobs of Maelstrom enemies on his own, and he instantly regretted it. He wasn't sure whether to be happy or sad that a disturbing noise interrupted his mind's troubles.
It now sounded that the Venture racer was right behind him. Although he knew it was a dangerous position to be in, he turned his head around quickly while the road was straight and saw that not only one racer was approaching him, but two.
It seemed absurd that two racers could be behind Bob, since the blue racer – the only other competitor besides the Venture racer – was an enormous distance behind him. He did not turn around for this, since another vertical road portion was coming up.
He drove up the incline and was thrown into the darkness just as his eyes had adjusted to the light. This was something he hadn't noticed before, that the lighting changed as soon as your eyes had adjusted to the last. The lights along the road were the only things that kept him from losing control of the car in complete darkness.
The noises behind him were growing stronger, and just as Bob was about to turn around and see what was going on, something invisible, or seeming to be invisible, collided with the left side of his car. He was pushed into the guardrail, and doing so caused the windshield to shatter and the front bumper to fall off. The bumper was positioned on top of the hood and leaning over the side of the rail.
Bob tried to back up, which then made his bumper wobble and fall off the track completely. It fell, and fell, and fell until it was only a speck seen through the green lights guiding a blue shape in front of the distraught Bob. He recognized the shape as the blue racer, who was being followed at an alarmingly close rate by a dark shadow.
As the blue racer and the object behind him reached the light, Bob identified the shadow as the Venture racer, whose car had blended in with the surroundings: darkness and green lights.
He was now far enough away from the guardrail as not to hit it, so he moved his foot from the brake to the accelerator and floored it. He, too, reached the light and noticed the damage the Venture racer had caused the car. Glass shards lay on the hood and rattled as the car progressed forward. The front of the hood had been bent upward and smoke arose from inside. By the looks of it, the engine would burst into flames at any moment.
Bob was about to stop and hope a track official would come and help when he remembered that this had been no accident. It was done deliberately to him; but for what? Just so that someone could get ahead in the race? It was unethical. Even though he had entered the race just for fun, to experience new things and possibly learn a trick or two in these unfamiliar worlds he was practically stranded on, it now meant much more to him. He wanted to get even with his enemy. He wanted to somehow deprive them of their former glory and knock them off their pedestal once and for all. He wasn't sure how, but he would succeed one way or another.
Full of envy and rage, Bob pushed his foot down until it reached the floor of the car.
Bob sped across the track. He went so fast that the glass shards just lying on the car's hood flew off and he had to shield himself from them.
As soon as he had collected enough glowing spheres, still unsure of what exactly they were, he pushed the glowing button and rocketed even faster toward the two racers ahead of him who were now taking turns smashing into each other's car. They were so engaged in the activity that they did not even notice Bob flying toward them on the slope.
It was when he was only a few meters away that the Venture racer finally realized his arrival. The slight turn and incline both ended and he could see the red projection getting larger in front of him.
The Venture racer separated from the blue racer and drove toward the guardrail until Bob was sure he would crash. He was unsure whether it was done intentionally until the black-and-green car suddenly darted left and smashed the blue racer into the guardrail.
Bob's heart thumped loudly. He had done it again! The blue racer was not so lucky. The hood was pushed up by an explosion, which he guessed was a result of the engine overheating. The windshield, which was much larger than Bob's, seemed also to explode, sending shards of glass in every direction.
Bob ducked until he couldn't see where he was driving to avoid the glass shards.
The blue racer leaped out of the driver's seat and stood beside the car, apparently waiting for track officials to come and tow the car. It would be foolish for him to try to walk back to them, since another race could start and he would have to dive off the track to avoid the racers. It was a difficult position to be in, but when the officials realized one racer was missing, they would come look for him. He wasn't fond of the idea – waiting for what could turn out to be hours – but there wasn't anything else to do.
Bob felt compelled to help, but what could he do? Finishing the race and telling anyone he could about the incident was all that was in his control. He returned his gaze to the track, which was ending soon and continued a few meters away.
The Venture racer wasn't very far ahead of him. He was only now landing as Bob was driving up the ramp. The black-and-green racer seemed quite overconfident now. He wasn't driving as fast as the car let him anymore or taking any shortcut possible, even if it was to the expense of another.
Bob landed on the dark, covered track lined with pipe-like columns and pushed the button on the dashboard as soon as it began to glow. It wasn't a very large boost, but it was enough to pass his only rival left in the race.
Both Bob and the Venture racer took the same route they had on the first lap. He smashed through the cylindrical barriers on the right slope and flew past the airborne bricks, afraid of being sabotaged by his enemy again.
The next few seconds seemed unreal. After being pushed around the track and witnessing two disturbing scenes of cars being deliberately smashed into, he was actually winning. With the Venture car only a few feet behind him, he was somehow uneasy and quite focused at the same time.
There it was! The intricate metal arch could be seen just ahead. The crowd started to cheer as soon as Bob was visible, and this boosted his spirits even more. He drifted around the turn, but he had no idea of what would happen next.
There was a sharp popping sound coming from under the car, like a balloon being stabbed with a needle. The crowd gasped. Smoke arose from next to the frightened Bob, who had just realized that his front, right tire had blown out. He leaned over to try to see if he was correct, and he certainly was.
His speed started to decrease. Even though the incident had occurred in only a few seconds, it seemed like minutes slowly ticking by. He was pushing as hard as he could against the accelerator, and he was still only creeping slowly toward the break in the road.
He shut his eyes and waited to be smashed into by the Venture racer.
It was over. It was all over. Bob would soon be sent flying into the guardrail by the Venture racer. The crowd had been so confident when he first came around that turn, but he had let it slip through his fingers with reckless driving. His enemy would prevail and never learn the important lesson he had been trying to teach – that sometimes, aggressiveness isn't the best option.
Bob opened his eyes again after a few seconds. The Venture racer had not run into him, which was surprising. He was vulnerable and, even he had to admit, it was the perfect time for sabotage. He looked behind him.
There, in plain sight, was the Venture racer backing up and driving around the slope. Bob was dumbfounded. Why would he do something like that when it would be so easy to take Bob out of the race?
He turned his head back around and immediately found the answer. The front of his car was aimed at the guardrail at an angle where pushing him would only make the under miner's car to collapse instead of the one being pushed. He was safe!
The only problem was getting the car to move again. The tire had completely deflated and the rim was now touching the ground, stopping all movement.
He sat there, motionless, until an idea suddenly struck him like a lightning bolt. In one swift movement, he grabbed his sword and stabbed the front, right tire with it.
Bob slashed the tire until a long slit had been made from the top to the back. He quickly did the same with one of the other tires with his left hand, since the right would not reach.
The Venture racer's engine was roaring below him. It would only be a matter of seconds until he would pass the finish line. The crowd started to cheer, but it was unclear to Bob who they were clapping at.
He stabbed the back, left tire with his sword and the car slowly started to creep forward toward a glowing sphere in front of him. The air was quickly rushing out of all the tires. If he didn't make it... he did.
He pushed the button on the dashboard and rocketed toward the road's abrupt end. He flung the steering wheel left, then right to complete the turn, making sure not to drift, which was the cause of his tire's blowout. He drove off the edge of the track and fell toward the continuation below.
The Venture racer was just starting to appear from underneath the second level of the track when Bob landed in front of him with less than a foot to spare. The black-and-green car tried to move around him, since they still had all their tires functioning properly, but it was too late. Bob had already slid under the arch, across the small, checkered road portion just as his speed boost began to subside.
Bob's car stopped moving altogether a short distance after the finish line. The Venture drifted passed him and veered to the right, obviously not learning anything from what it had done to his rival's car.
Bob beamed with pride as he took off his helmet and laid it on his lap. He got out of the car, putting his helmet between his right arm and waist, and bowed slightly to the audience. It was now truly over. After all the ups and downs, being pushed around, doubting he could do it anymore, his persistence had paid off. For once in his life, Bob was actually glad that he had kept going.
Leaving the Venture Explorer was just one of the things he regretted doing – after making what seemed like such a huge mistake, regret was now the one thing he feared most. He thought back to that fateful day.
"Go! Now!" Epsilon's voice echoed in his head.
He was lost in thought until an unexpected scene threw his mind back to reality. The Venture racer climbed out of his car and was slowly walking toward Bob. His exuberant grin faded and turned into a cringe. His enemy (or former enemy, for that matter) walking toward him really never had been a sight to boost his spirits.
He was considering whether it would be uncalled for him to run when the black-and-green racer reached him and began to lift his helmet. This stopped Bob from running; he had waited what seemed like ages to see his rival's face.
The face that had been hidden under the dark helmet was not the sort of one Bob was expecting to see. The most surprising detail was that it was not a man – the Venture racer was a woman. She had black, spiky hair that began to stand up straight as soon as the helmet was removed. A few wisps of hair had been dyed orange and had been combed neatly into a part. Her face, which Bob had expected would be evil and scowling, seemed gentle and kind – the exact opposite of his expectations. Her jacket was a dark shade of grey with orange flames that matched her dyed-hair color inside a white box. On the flames were two symbols that Bob was very well acquainted with: Sentinels and Venture. The Assembly and Paradox symbols were on her pants, which complemented her jacket nicely.
"Hello," Bob said politely, now not so intimidated by his rival.
The faction racer, who now did not seem so much like a Venture Daredevil anymore, stopped in front of his car. Obviously, she was more intimidated by Bob now that she had been finally been beaten in a race.
"Hiya, champ!" She said enthusiastically. Her voice was much less refined than Bob had anticipated. "You rocked out there! You must be, like, a pro!" She continued.
Bob blushed. "Thank you. I'm actually not much of a racer. In fact, this is my first–" he replied, but was interrupted.
"What?! Your first time? Wow!" The faction racer exclaimed.
Bob blushed to an even greater extent.
"Umm, yeah. This was my first race." He said, hoping he could somehow disappear from the awkward situation entirely.
"Wow!" The faction racer said again, "You're the first person that has ever been able to beat the great Velocity Lane in a race!"
She clenched her fists and lifted them into a fighting stance. Bob guessed she was Velocity Lane, since the other two racers' performances had been intentionally sabotaged.
"Well, I suppose the lesser Bob has!" He replied, trying to imitate the stance, but instantly regretted it. I must look like a fool, he thought to himself.
Velocity Lane laughed, but it wasn't clear to him whether she was faking it or not.
He tried to change the subject by saying, "By the way, why did you sabotage those other racers? Isn't that against the rules of the... the..." He stuttered, realizing he didn't know what the track was called. I am definitely looking like a fool, he though.
"Vertigo Loop Raceway." Velocity said, "No, I don't believe it is against the rules... what am I saying? It's not against the rules!" She obviously wasn't fond of doubting herself. "Besides, those guys are my friends!" Velocity Lane turned around and waved to the red racer, who grinned and waved back.
"How come you tried to sabotage me a few times, then? I didn't know you until a few minutes ago." Bob asked quizzically.
"A few times? Well, I only remember doing it once. I didn't cause any serious damage to your car, did I?" She asked.
Bob was dumbfounded.
"But... someone pushed me into the guardrail while it was dark! You were the only one behind me at the time," Bob said matter-of-factly.
"Well, sorry, champ – I mean, Bob – but the only time I touched your car was when Jumper and I were both passing you, and as I already said, I don't think I did much damage to it," Velocity Lane said, motioning behind her towards the blue racer with one hand and running the other across the hood of Bob's car as if to examine it.
This made him suddenly remember about the blue racer's crash. "Speaking of which, shouldn't we tell someone about... Jumper's crash?" Bob asked Velocity Lane.
"Nah, he'll be okay! In fact, here he comes!" She said, pointing behind Bob.
He flung himself around as if the blue car might come flying towards him any second. In the distance, approaching the finish line swiftly, was the blue racer with the hood of his car bent upright. Velocity Lane waved to him as he passed under the metal arch and skidded to a stop between both black cars already parked.
The crowd cheered once more for the race's three victors. Jumper removed his helmet and began to climb out of the car. His black hair remained perfectly still after removing his helmet, which gave Bob the impression that it had been lathered with gel and combed before the race.
Jumper smiled as he strode over to Bob and Velocity Lane, waving to the cheering crowd as he went. His face seemed absolutely flawless to Bob – there wasn't a single blemish to be spoken of. His suit supported the notion, for it was perfectly clean and was free of stains. On the shoulders of his spotless jumpsuit were intricate designs of mechanical wires attached to an engine above his elbow. It was a strange thing to be on a suit, even a racing suit.
"Hiya, Jumper!" Velocity Lane exclaimed as he reached them.
"Hi, Velocity!" Jumper replied in a voice that, although not very loud, seemed to echo throughout the area and lift everyone's spirits.
"This is Bob, the only racer yet to beat the great Velocity Lane!" Velocity explained, pointing toward Bob as if he had been invisible until then, then continued in a hushed voice, "This was his first race."
"First race?" Jumper repeated, "Amazing! I foresee great things in your future, Bob!"
"Thank you," Bob said. The praise was echoing inside his head as well as throughout the track. It was then that a strange thought entered his mind. "By the way, Jumper, how did you complete the race? Your car's whole engine was destroyed after performance was sabotaged." Bob then realized this sounded rude, and looked at Velocity Lane. She did not seem to notice. In fact, she was smiling.
"Oh, that," Jumper said, turning around and walking toward his car. He pulled a concealed component out from under the hood and headed back to the two racers, one puzzled and the other excited. Jumper's expression turned into a sly grin as he held up his hand, in which a pair of multi-colored jumper cables lay.
After finishing his conversation with Velocity Lane and Jumper, then receiving many congratulations from race spectators that were climbing out of the bleachers, Bob made his way off the track through a gap in the guardrail. On his way out, he stopped in front of a window with a track official behind it as he had been instructed after asking Velocity Lane and Jumper where the exit was.
"I'm here to collect my winnings for the race," Bob said to the minifigure dressed in a white jacket in front of him. She pulled a drawer out from below the counter and began to take multiple stacks of coins out. As the pile grew larger, Bob's eyes lit up. She pulled out another drawer in which faction tokens were stacked and began to take some from the pile of Sentinel tokens.
The teller slid the two mounds of currency through the tiny gap in the bottom of the glass as Bob's mouth involuntarily gaped open. After a few seconds of the minifigure staring at him in amazement, he picked up each pile and loaded them into a pocket. This was, no doubt, more than enough to cover the expenses for the next rank in Sentinel knight gear.
Bob thanked the minifigure, who had stopped staring, and ran outside, into the light of the fluorescent sign above. He was so exhilarated that he did not pay any attention to the peculiar scene beside him: a minifigure in a black suit and top hat disappearing into a dark cloud with a minifigure slung across his shoulder.
Bob dashed back to Nimbus Plaza as fast as he could – faster than he ever thought possible. He reached it in a matter of seconds, plus an extra few to reach the Sentinel vendor. By the time he got there, he was panting and the knight behind the counter was giving him a strange look. After catching his breath, he unloaded mounds of coins and faction tokens from his pockets until most of the counter was covered in shining, colorful currency.
"I'm here for the rank two knight gear!" Bob said in an enthusiastic voice.
Now, the minifigure in the vendor was gaping absentmindedly at both Bob, who was smiling even more absentmindedly back, and the heap of items that had been unloaded from seemingly-bottomless pockets. He shook his head and began to count the coins and tokens.
Even with the years of experience the knight had with counting currency, it took quite a few minutes to count and stack the piles Bob had. When he was done, he slid a few stacks of coins and tokens back to Bob and put the others into a drawer under the counter. Bob had been expecting this, so he took the three stacks slid toward him and loaded them back into his pockets. The knight turned around and faced the wall, where many different pairs of armor, weapons, helmets, and chain mail hung. He picked up a chain mail suit, a helmet, a pair of shoulder pads, a sword, and a shield. Bob snatched each one as soon as they were placed on the counter, making the knight regain the strange look.
"Thank you!" Bob said, and dashed from the vendor.
Bob pulled his sword out of the thick ground, picked up his shield, and then gazed at his reflection. The gear was fantastic. Although the window of the orange building was smudged and did not offer a very strong reflection, it was enough for him to tell that his new suit fit perfectly. If the rank two gear looked that good, he wondered what rank three would look like. He shook off the though – he was a long way from new gear. He may not ever get rank three gear. He had a job to do.
Bob stopped looking at his reflection altogether when a sudden feeling weighed down upon him like an anvil. He was exhausted, not having slept for over two days. It being the dead of night when leaving the Venture Explorer did not help, either, since he had already been tired that night from working an extra shift. But why had he been? Bob tried to think back to that day. Right after he began the day's work, one of the ship's pilots that he was only slightly acquainted with had told him that some new recruits would be coming late that night, and he would need Bob to work the extra shift.
"Don't we have any other guides?" He asked the pilot.
"I'm afraid not. Our newly promoted tour guide isn't here right now, so you will have to cover for him," The pilot replied, and left without another word, not giving any hint as to where the other guide might be.
It was strange, but not enough to ponder about at the moment. As already explained to himself, he had a job to do. Bob jumped from the median and headed toward one of the many paths of Nimbus Station.
By now, half of the sun had disappeared below the horizon, which happened to be the sea surrounding a large portion of Nimbus Station. The sunset itself was stunning, but when combined with its rays reflecting off the gently rolling waves, turning them from blue to orange, it was absolutely incredible.
The path that Bob took did not seem very promising, but he had learned over the years that the apparently simple things sometimes turn out to be the most fascinating. Shortly after leaving Nimbus Plaza, the intricate stone path had worn away and a crude, dirt path was all that was left. It was not much of a path at all, nor a trail, but it was so intriguing that Bob did not stop and choose another passage. A trail of dark rocks was all that stood between him and the expansive waters, which would soon grow cold with the swift approach of night.
After the grey, brick path ended, the landscape began to change. Instead of modern streetlights, torches in the shapes of skulls were planted in the ground, illuminating the area ahead. Beside the first torch was a median with a large bush in it that looked like a gardener had clipped it countless times in it. In back of the median was an oddly placed, poorly kept pine tree that leaned to one side. Nimbus Station officials obviously had stopped tending to the area long ago, for the grass was of average height in some places and absurdly tall in others.
Soon, even the dirt path disappeared, leaving nothing but a few footprints and animal tracks in places. Ahead, a trail of boulders acted as a barrier between the land and the mouth of a river in which a rope bridge was suspended above. Beside the bridge was a mountainside on which Bob suspected the Avant Gardens launchpad lay.
He stepped onto the bridge, which had no handrail – not even a rope – and it instantly swayed back and forth, even with the minimum amount of weight he was applying. With the next step, it swung a little more and squeaked. Each step resulted in the same outcome, but he was finally able to make it across without falling into the frigid water below.
A launching station stood in front of him, surrounded by trees with foliage shaped like big, leafy umbrellas. Where the launchpad lead was unapparent, but so far, unknown worlds in far-off places that Bob had visited hadn't been all bad. In fact, his last trip had lead to an everlasting friendship between him and Blaze, or which it seemed after only a few minutes together. Hopefully, his next would go the same way.
He unloaded the rocket parts from his pockets, which seemed very heavy at the moment, and snapped them together. He set the rocket on the launching station, climbed into the cockpit, and slid the windshield shut.
With a trembling finger, Bob pushed the launch button and blasted toward his next adventure.
Only a few minutes after the rocket was launched, Bob fell asleep. It seemed like only a few seconds before he heard a strange beeping sound inside the rocket. It seemed like he was at a strange angle, but he did not pay much attention to it since the rocket often changed courses and might seem in an awkward position at times. He tried to just block it out and just go back to sleep, but he soon realized it could be a warning signal. His eyelids instantly flung open and he sat bolt upright, hitting his head on the windshield in the process. Bob sunk back into the seat, trying to resist falling asleep again. Eventually, he was able to force his eyes back open. All that was visible through the cockpit was a blue sky. He recognized the position the rocket had stopped in as the stance for when the destination had been reached – he was there.
He slid the cockpit open and leaped out, landing on a hard surface. He stood on a greenish-grey platform that was obviously somewhat like a balcony, for he was surrounded by many dark green treetops and many more in the foggy distance. He liked wherever he was so far. The platform had several yellow designs on it and was protected by yellow guardrails that were much taller than he was. Ahead of him was the ramp to the ground.
Bob's rocket began to dismantle itself and he pocketed the pieces as they came to him. His shield, which had been placed behind the seat during the ride, fell toward him, being caught expertly. Drawing his sword, as he did not know what could be coming, Bob headed down the ramp.
As Bob headed down the steep incline, which was divided in the center by another yellow handrail, the scenery around him changed from the endless sea of green treetops to the forest of dark brown trunks. He reached the ground and passed by a mailbox and a skull-shaped torch before being greeted by a minifigure dressed much like Nexus Jay, which lead Bob to believe he was another Nexus Force representative. The only difference between the two was that this man's suit was white and green instead of white and blue. As he got closer, he noticed the Venture League symbol on his sleeves and a small, white nametag that said, "Venture League Grunt." It was a strange name, but most of the people he had met so far on his journey had strange names – or nicknames – like Velocity Lane or Jumper.
"That's some of that fancy faction gear, huh?" Venture League Grunt asked Bob in a tone that implied he was not really interested, but it was his job to ask the question. "You'll get some good use out of it here, believe me."
"Okay, thank you," Bob said, trying not to sound rude or that the information given was not very important, which it was not.
When he turned to leave, Venture League Grunt continued, "Those pirates really made a mess of things! You'd better go and help them out."
"Okay, got it," Bob said and turned to leave again.
"Careful crossing that ravine! Time your jumps carefully or it's down you go." Venture League said.
"Got it. Help the pirates and be careful crossing the ravine," Bob repeated. He waited a few seconds to see if Grunt was going to go on, which wouldn't be surprising.
The representative did not go on, he only removed a cloth from his pocket and began to polish his helmet's dark visor. Bob turned around quickly and left, trying to prevent another awkward exchange.
Surrounding the clearing in the dense forest were trees and many different kinds of shrubbery, most of which looked like ferns but differed in a way almost invisible to the eye. Beside the plants were large mushrooms, some of which were larger than Bob was. There were a few torches placed irregularly throughout the path so close to the trees that he wondered if forest fires ever started. Ahead of him were two paths, both at slight inclines, lined with more bushes and trees. Protruding from the dirt slightly were large rock slabs that acted as stairs, which was unneeded since it was such a trivial hill. Bob took the trail on the right. It was a difficult decision since it was possible that each lead to a different destination, but he was finally able to (after quite a few minutes of comparing) decide upon it.
Bob passed one torch before the hill subsided and disappeared. Ahead was a jagged rock portion of the trail that curved downward and reminded him of the trails in Forbidden Valley. Instead of strictly fern-like shrubs, there were now small flower bulbs that had just begun to bloom beside the pathway. He was about to continue onward when there was an ominous rustling sound in the forest. Oh no, Bob thought, this is just like in the movies. He pointed his sword toward where the sound had come from, putting his shield in front of his body as if the creature might come lunging at him and attack at any moment. There was another rustling sound. His palms began to become sweaty and his knees buckled. Now, there was a brown figure just noticeable in the brush. It approached Bob. As the beast emerged from the forest, it felt as if a heavy weight had been dropped on him. In front of him was a single warthog.
Bob's mind raced. Out of all the frightening things in the universe, warthogs were what he feared most. His hands were so sweaty that he dropped his sword. It clattered onto the rock slab. He cringed at the sound. The warthog stood there, staring at Bob silently. He carefully picked up his sword, being careful not to let it slip again. Slowly and silently as not to upset the beast – or what he thought of as a beast – in front of him, he moved around the warthog, facing it every second so as to prevent an unknown attack. When he was a few feet away, it was still standing there motionless, reminding Bob somewhat of Master Fong Shader; he bolted from the hairy creature with excellent footwork, but was oblivious to the fact that the reputed hill was really the ravine Venture League Grunt had informed him about and plunged toward his untimely fate.
Bob wasn't sure to feel pleased or dismayed. He had escaped the warthog, but now he was plunging toward the raging water rapids below. His arms were flailing helplessly as if they might grab onto something and be able to maintain their grasp. The sound of water rushing downstream below was getting louder. He knew this was the end. He closed his eyes and waited to splash into the freezing water.
A few seconds later, Bob was surprised when he slammed into the opposite of what he thought he would. Instead of being frigid water, he had landed on what seemed like a smooth platform. Although his back now ached and his exposed hands stung from hitting whatever he had, he was overjoyed to have survived and not been stabbed by his sword when landing. Bob slowly got to his feet slowly and realized that he was on exactly what he had suspected: a platform carved from rock. There were two skull-shaped torches on the side of the plateau and two piles of brown and yellow bricks in the center. He spun around, peeking over the edges of his rock platform but being careful not to lose his balance and fall to where he had first expected. He noticed part of a rope bridge hanging beside him, but only a few planks toward the beginning remained and it would be impossible to jump to and grab the two ropes – then hang onto, at least. Beside the two piles of bricks was his shield, which he picked up as not to lose. He turned around once more, looking for his sword. His eyes bulged as he saw his sword fall.
Bob caught his sword in the nick of time just as it was about to be too far away to reach it. Unfortunately, his lunge had been too far to land and he went plunging toward the water once again. He tried to grab the edge of the plateau as he fell toward it, but it was too far away to reach. Even if he had caught onto it, how would he have held on? He would have had to do a handstand on the edge of a precarious ledge in a furious ravine. If he had not held the position, he would have gone tumbling into the water. There was only one other option that could possible save him – he must grab onto the platform with his feet.
Bob knew it would only be a split second before he missed his chance entirely and his journey, no, his life would be over. He maneuvered his legs back until his mind told him to stop whatever it was he was attempting and hoped they could catch the edge of the plateau before it was too late.
His hope had nearly been depleted before his feet, inside his thick boots, felt something hit them. He had done it. Now the only trouble would be not losing their awkward grasp as his body continued to fall. He fell completely upside down and tried to catch onto the rock frame of the platform so he had two grips on it. Bob caught it. All worry seemed to be lifted from his shoulders – or maybe it just seemed that way, since he was upside down. There was no time to think about that humorous possibility. He was now hanging onto a shaking rock plateau thousands of feet above a raging river in a deep gorge.
Bob knew he could not hang on very long, especially with his sword in one hand and his shield in the other. His legs were already starting to hurt; he had never really been the strongest minifigure in the neighborhood, but would have strived to be if he had known he would be in such a position in his life.
Carefully as not to lose his left hand's grip on the platform's frame, Bob removed his right hand and tried to jam his sword into the rock. The stone was tough and resisted for that reason. He tried again and again until finally the blade penetrated the outer layer of hard rock and sunk deep into it, leaving nothing but the hilt protruding. He quickly moved his hand back to the ledge brace and gripped it firmly.
Now, Bob removed his left hand from the beam and grabbed onto the sword's hilt for support. He was feeling extremely weak right now and would fall if he had to maintain his stance for much longer. He put his shield's handle over the sword hilt so he had nothing to hold onto and had both hands free.
Bob did not make an effort to hang onto the broad pole now. Instead, he took his right hand off of it put both hands on the sword handle. Now, he removed one foot from the platform and let it dangle in the air. Slowly, he did the same with the other foot and began to drop toward the gulf.
It felt good to finally be upright again, but his troubles were not over. Bob stopped falling when his arms were at full extent. Now, all his weight was hanging from just one sword stuck into a slab of rock. After a few seconds of his new position, the tip of the sword was already starting to cut farther and farther up into the rock. In a few seconds, it would fall out.
Bob maneuvered his legs, which were still sore from supporting him on the ledge, around the pillar and squeezed it tightly. He slowly moved one hand over to the pole and carefully tried to climb up toward the top of the plateau. His heart pounded in his chest and he was sweating even though he felt ice-cold. Now, his waist was level with the sword, which he still held onto for a small amount of support – anything would greatly improve his performance. Bob climbed a little higher up the column until his knee and the sword were at the same height. Warily, he took his hand off the sword and lifted his right leg up. He placed it on top of the hilt, being sure not to apply enough weight as to move it any more.
Bob knew that his next move would require all the strength he could muster, precision, and extreme levels of quickness. With one swift motion, he removed his left leg from around the pole and jumped onto the sword.
As soon as Bob landed on the sword, it fell out of the rock completely and began to fall into the ravine. Before this happened, he was able to launch himself a few feet upward – now his waist was level with the plateau top. It would be a shame to go through all the trouble he had to save his sword (which was right now his only weapon) and lose both it and his shield anyway. He grabbed onto a crack in the rock with both hands and simultaneously caught the sword, shield still hanging from its hilt, between his feet. Struggling to hang on, he removed one hand from the crevice and put it in one farther away.
Bending his elbows slightly, Bob was able to hoist himself a little farther onto the platform. He continued his process until he was safely resting on the stone. He gasped for air. His entire body was sweaty, his legs and feet ached from supporting his whole weight, and he suddenly realized that he was starving. He had not eaten anything since he had battled the dragon in Forbidden Valley. It had been over a day since then. Trying not to acknowledge his hunger and fatigue, he sat upright and removed the sword from between his feet.
Bob looked at the pile of bricks in front of him. They must have something to do with getting from one plateau, or rock ledge, to another. He bent over and began to build a device like the trampolines in Forbidden Valley.
Soon, Bob had built a mechanism that looked like a glowing yellow-and-brown trampoline. Making sure he had both a shield and sword in his hands, he stepped onto the instrument on the floor and bounced toward a rock ledge crudely carved into a jagged mountainside.
As Bob bounced toward the ledge, he noticed (at any other time it would have been indisputable, but he was still shaky from almost falling into the ravine) that the front of it had been sculpted into the shape of a tiki, with fires burning inside the mouth and eyes to make it glow. After involuntarily doing a few flips in the air, he landed on the cliff. There were two skull torches beside him and three wooden crates of varying sizes in front of him. As he turned to the left, which was the only way that seemed like it would lead anywhere, for there was a steep rock pile in front of and to the right of him, he also saw a pair of binoculars perched atop a pole stuck into the rock.
Bob approached the edge of the cliff and peered over it. Below was another ledge, but this one had a waterfall above it. Most of the water hit the overhang and ran across it before entering another cascade into the ravine. Although it was risky, since he did not know if the currents would be strong enough to push him into the gorge, Bob jumped from the cliff and fell toward the similar one below. He hit the rock hard, but it was impossible to stop and relax. Because of the water running across it, the ledge was slippery and he ended up sliding towards the brim.
Bob barely had enough time to jump again, and not knowing how far he would have to only add to his nervousness. Luckily, this was the final jump he would have to make. The ridge he was landing on was a broad one that looked it led out of the ravine. He landed on it with a few meters between him and the cliff edge.
Bob panted. His legs had already been sore, but now they felt as if they were on fire. He looked down to make sure they were not – anything was possible in these unfamiliar lands. They were not, so after one final gasp for air, he looked up and began to take in the surroundings. Beside him was the end of the broken rope bridge. Most of the planks were still accessible at this side, but all of the center ones were either missing entirely or broken, which made them just as useful as the missing ones. There was a torch on either side of this side of the bridge, which he guessed was the cause of the smoke floating overhead.
Bob looked down at the rock he was standing on. By the looks of it, it was a very popular trail. The cliff, which was once all one slab of rock, was now broken up into bits that were rarely any larger than one foot in length. Aside from the rocks being tan here and grey there, the stone path resembled the ones in Forbidden Valley and brought back vivid memories of his adventures there. Even though it had been less than 24 hours since then, it seemed like he hadn't been there for months. Despite all that, he longed to be back there – he was accustomed to the cold climate and dark appearance. Wherever he was now seemed like the exact opposite. This thought lead to another significant one: where was he? It had not occurred to him to ask Venture League Grunt. It was either because Grunt seemed like he was only willing to do what his job required or because he was so uneasy from arriving at a new world. Similarly, Bob was now unwilling to go back to the representative after his encounter on the plateau. There was no one around now. He would just have to wait until another minifigure showed up – hopefully more attentive than Venture League Grunt.
Bob, brushing aside the question of where he was, noticed a light-green color in the distance. He turned toward it and identified it as green grass. There was a pond in the center of it, which explained the grass's bright complexion instead of a dark, dull color. There were more umbrella-shaped trees beside the pond which now varied in color from yellow to red instead of a single shade of orange. The walls that surrounded the area were somewhat like mountainsides, except they went straight up instead of being at an incline.
A red color in the light blue water caught Bob's attention. At first, he passed it off as a red umbrella tree, but the "tree" began to move. He focused on the small shape and was able to identify it as a huge crab. He had never, ever, seen a crab of that size. If he were to get close to it, it would no doubt be as tall as he was. There were several more crabs dawdling beside the water. He looked to see how a person was to get over to the little pond – it looked quite relaxing, aside from the fact there were giant crustaceans nearby. There was another rope bridge that lead to the ledge, but this one had all wooden planks in act. None were broken or missing – some were placed slightly farther away then the others, but it was still usable. Bob peered over the edge of the cliff he was currently on and saw the next bluff was hundreds of feet below. If his legs were hurting now, they would most likely fall off if he attempted the jump. The bluff was a large one that looked like it had a small shop set up on it, and in front of it was another rock plateau. That settled it. He would not be going down there.
Bob turned around and walked back to the middle of the ledge. The only exit to the ravine (or entrance to somewhere else) was a couloir blocked off by a pile of wooden planks that resembled ship parts. The turn to the left ahead looked much darker than outside the narrow canyon and obviously had a roof over it, most likely made of boulders that piled up from rockslides on the mountainside. He was hesitant to enter after this thought, since if even a pebble dropped the entire pile would collapse. There would not be enough time to escape and he would be either crushed or trapped by the jagged rocks. Although he did not want to enter a place where he could be trapped so easily, part of his mind was telling him there was no other way. Carefully, he knocked aside the wooden planks and entered the gorge.
As Bob progressed through the passage, it grew darker and darker. There was, indeed a roof over this part of the tunnel and was made mostly out of rock slabs. He felt slightly reassured. Such large rocks would probably not fall easily. Or at least he hoped. In front of the wall and beside the turn was a torch that illuminated the rest of the tunnel. Bob turned, his pace having quickened, and headed down toward a turn to the right. There were large stalagmites on the ground that got larger and larger until they could no longer be seen because of the wall blocking them. Either that or the tunnel ended after the next curve.
Between two stalagmites and next to another torch was a barrel. It was a plain barrel in plain sight. By the looks of it, it had not been exposed much. If it had, it would have been weather beaten. This barrel didn't have one scratch on it. Bob slowed down. He had visions of a ferocious monster jumping from the barrel and attacking him when he got close. There was no getting past it. He knew he would have to face whatever creatures, or just dust, lie inside. Positioning his shield in front of his body and pointing his sword at it, he ran toward the barrel at a tremendously faster speed.
Just as Bob's sword was about to slice the barrel in two, the wooden container opened up in the center and a small face peeked out. The face looked frightened and the fact that it was nervously trembling supported the notion. Bob drew back his sword when he realized that this was not a Maelstrom-infected creature, or even a creature at all. It was a minifigure.
The minifigure had looked absolutely terrified when he saw Bob charging at him with his sword – almost as if he would faint and collapse back into the barrel, closing the small gap and leaving Bob wondering if he should open it up. He looked relieved when the sword that would have lead to his demise was yielded back. His trembling stopped somewhat, which let Bob have a look at his face – the only thing visible at the moment. His eyes looked sad and anxious, which gave the impression he had been either trapped in the barrel or too frightened to get out.
At first there was just silence, but a small squeak was soon uttered from inside the barrel. Bob guessed it was a mouse, but the sound began to grow until he could make sense of it. The minifigure was trying to speak.
"Have you found your way across that ravine? Me, I'm afraid of heights." The minifigure admitted in a voice just barely loud enough to hear.
"Yes, I made it ac–"
"Shh!" The minifigure in the barrel hissed, putting a finger to his quivering lips. He looked left and right. Seeing no one, he closed the barrel and disappeared.
Bob couldn't help but grin. He was afraid of some things (like warthogs), but this minifigure's fear was to a much greater extent. What was it he was afraid of? Bob was thinking when a purple gleam a few paces away caught his attention. He turned on his heel and faced a huge tract with a small valley in the center. Patrolling the area were groups and groups of Maelstrom creatures with glowing crates beside them that emitted a glowing, purple gas.
After gazing in awe at the glowing purple stones in the valley and the purple smoke that complemented the glow quite well rising from the long boxes, Bob instantly ran under the rock arch created by two huge boulders leaning against each other and the top of the cave walls. As he approached them, the Maelstrom creatures could be identified as Stromling Pirates. Epsilon Starcracker had informed him of them after he returned to the Venture Explorer from his trip to Gnarled Forest – this lead Bob to believe that he was now in Gnarled Forest, unless Stromling Pirates had somehow commuted from their natural habitat. He found this unlikely, since they were probably accustomed to the humid conditions of the dense forests. They also would have had to be brought there on ships, which he doubted the Maelstrom had an abundance of.
The account Epsilon had given him was quite descriptive and Bob found it even more interesting than when it had been told to him many months before. He remembered the conversation vividly, since he treasured every piece of advice given to him by Epsilon as if it would be necessary to recall the information in a matter of life or death, and although he was reluctant to admit it, the situation he was in at that moment may have been just that. Stromling Pirates had two lethal blades on one hand that would begin to infect a person with a Maelstrom virus if they were scraped with them. Their bodies often emitted Maelstrom sludge slowly, which after all the years of wandering had began to wear away their clothing – a tattered brown sailor's shirt and plain brown pants – since the substance was corrosive and would sometimes erode thin materials. Their shirts having been partially eroded left their skeletal selves exposed. They all had wooden right legs, which slowed them down and forced them to limp but made them look much more fierce.
Along with the description Epsilon Starcracker had given him, Bob also had the experience of fighting a Stromling Pirate when the Venture Explorer was attacked. The battle was fruitless and the Stromling Pirate had overtaken him quickly, but it had been his first time fighting anything in his life. Or had it been? As a child when his home world was invaded, he may have fought a Maelstrom creature or two. Yes... He had been deep in the woods, much like where he was now (which he was almost certain was Gnarled Forest. Epsilon had given him a brief illustration of the area and it seemed to match his current surroundings) and had encountered quite a few enemies there. He had only fought what he later found out were called Stromlings, but it was a battle nevertheless. After the wretched Ape took his mother, he had no choice but to leave his home. It was no longer safe. After all, he was only a child, and a child could not be expected to live in a shabby house by himself, especially when there were vicious predators lurking outside.
Bob now realized that he had let his mind get the best of him. It was hardly the time to be reflecting upon his past. What had he been focused on? Stromling Pirates. The one he had faced off on the Venture Explorer had given him quite a few scratches, (luckily not with the blades that would have infected him) but he was confident that he could handle them now that he had a sword, not to mention a shield, instead of just an auxiliary rocket launcher dropped by a fleeing passenger.
As Bob was about to make his way onto the battlefield, he felt a strong eagerness inside of him. Was he mad? He was going into battle! Ever since he had first encountered the Maelstrom, the last thing he would ever want to do was have to fight it. He had dreaded himself reaching adulthood and perhaps being obligated to join the Nexus Force. That was the main reason he had taken the job as a guide on the Venture Explorer. He thought he would be safe there, protected by his friends and the many guards aboard. His eagerness turned to sadness as he now realized that the people he had once relied on were now in his hands. Epsilon Starcracker was in his hands. They were all in his hands. Inside those plain, yellow hands, one with a dark purple dot in the center, rested countless lives.
As Bob approached, he noticed a feature that had been obscured by the mist before. Marking the end of the small valley in the center of the area was a huge stack of rock slabs that towered a good hundred feet above the ground. The most remarkable thing about the rock stack was the massive skull in the center.
Even though the demonic skull was pointed downward, its eye appeared to be staring right at Bob. Only one eye was looking at him because it was the only one open – the other eye seemed to be closed – either that, or whoever carved out the sinister sculpture was never able to finish it. This thought sent chills down his spine. He moved to the right, trying to escape the effigy's steely glare. He then realized what a ludicrous act he was attempting. After all, it was only a statue, not an actual person. He looked back up at the skull, just to make sure his previous thought was a fact.
Its eye had turned to look at him.
It was then that his feelings about the rock sculpture changed significantly. It must be possessed – cursed by some wicked spirit or haunted by the sculptor who never got the chance to finish his creation. Bob was still worrying over the matter and wandering about aimlessly, his mind lost in thought, when he collided with something cold and slippery. His back had hit the object, so he had no immediate way of knowing what it was. Slowly, dreading who or what he might come face-to-face with, he turned around. His worst fears were proven to be true as his eyes met with a motionless Stromling Pirate.
Bob's first impression was to run – to run as fast as his legs would carry him and never look back – but after only a split second of deep thought, he decided otherwise. The Maelstrom may not be the smartest of species, but they knew enough to have an idea of when to attack. As soon as his feet started moving, two sharp blades dripping with a purple liquid would tear across his back and he would be forever under the command of the superior Maelstrom creatures. It would be too risky a tactic. He would need something different.
The Stromling Pirate was now obviously confused. When he had previously encountered a person – or a worthless life form, as a Maelstrom creature looked about them – they had never stood there, staring right at him, blithely unaware of the danger they were in. (Bob had a fairly good idea of what danger he was in, but he was too petrified to show it. It was that and knowing that a Stromling Pirate would have a better chance of defeating you if they knew you were afraid that kept him from showing his true emotions.) As stated prior, Stromling Pirates' brains had not developed to the point where they could function at a fast pace, or faster than Bob's, for that matter, so he was nervously debating what his best option would be. A slash with his blades would surely take the frozen knight down. Yes, that was what he would do.
Even having made up his mind, the Stromling Pirate had no chance of attacking Bob, for the sword in the knightly opponent's hand quickly flew toward him, taking him down with a single blow.
The Stromling Pirate fell to the ground as Bob drew his sword back from the creature's waist. He hit the ground with a soft "thud" noise, his brown tri-corner falling off as he did. This left the top of his head exposed, which was a shocking sight. The top of the Stromling Pirate's head seemed as if it was on fire – tiny, purple flames wavered and flapped in the wind from time to time. It was truly outrageous, but only because he was unaccustomed to the real hideousness of the Maelstrom, since it was often covered up with armor or unique clothes to match (and often blend in with) the surrounding area.
Now that Bob had the Stromling Pirate off his back – he couldn't help but chuckle at his pun – he reached over his shoulder and wiped slimy ooze off his armor. He looked at his hand – on it was a thick, purple slime. He cringed at the sight. Obviously, some of the Maelstrom slime that the Stromling Pirate's body released had rubbed off on him when he had collided with it. After staring at the disgusting substance on his fingertips, he had a disturbing thought.
Epsilon Starcracker said the ooze was corrosive.
Immediately, Bob dove toward a row of plants sticking out from underneath a stack of boulders and vigorously wiped the sludge off his fingers. It had already started to burn, and no doubt his skin would have thinned tremendously if he had kept it on for any longer. When he was done wiping his hand on the plants (which immediately began to shrivel down to nothing), looked up at something that had come to stand in front of him a few seconds before. It was no sooner that he was practically hypnotized by the sight of a Stromling Admiral standing before him.
The Admiral's piercing red eyes seemed to look right through Bob. The demon stood perfectly still, aside from the slow rocking forwards and backwards from his heavy breathing. As the motionlessness continued, the briefing Epsilon Starcracker had given Bob after the one on Stromling Pirates played through his head as if he had recorded it the many months back and saved it.
Stromling Admirals were twice as deadly as Stromling Pirates, with grappling hooks on their right hand that could blast out of their wrist alarmingly fast and either grab onto the ground or their prey. If the sharp hooks were to grab you... Bob didn't want to think about it. Although it may not seem so, a Stromling Admiral's grappling hook sinking into the ground is just as deadly, if not worse, as catching you. While the hook, which was attached to a rusty, metal chain, was attached to the ground, poisonous waves of Maelstrom energy would be emitted from the hook's former location. They would grow and grow until the bottoms touched the ground, then erupt into a powerful explosion. The detonations could easily take someone down if they were close enough, and the shock wave given off would no doubt throw anyone within range off their feet. While the Admiral's target was recovering, they would charge toward them and swipe them with the grappling hook. This was too much for Bob to bear at the moment. How he wished he was back on the Venture Explorer, being protected by people that had more than two days of experience fighting! His predicament only got worse when the Stromling Admiral lifted his hook, preparing to blast.
Bob instinctively rolled on his back to the left without hesitation. He knew all too well what would happen if he didn't and wasn't ready to experience it. As it is, he barely missed the grappling hook's deadly edges as it shot from the Admiral's wrist and sunk deep into the ground. The chain clattered noisily and swayed back and forth as it reached full extent, and the Stromling Admiral took a step back with one foot. He pulled what looked like a tiny lever on the metal tip of his wrist then pulled back on the chain with his whole body.
A few seconds later, just as Bob was getting up (and debating whether to run or fight), a large ring of glowing Maelstrom energy erupted from the Admiral's wrist. The blast knocked Bob off his feet, and after the second and third detonations ended up with the same result, he decided to crawl to his enemy.
After a few more blasts and explosions, Bob had reached the Admiral just as he was starting to withdraw the grappling hook. There was no time to lose. Bob grabbed his sword from inside the case dangling from his belt and flung it at the enemy approaching him just as he had with the Stromling Pirate. It worked. The blade collided with the Admiral's waist before an attack could come from the opponent. His enemy grew a pained expression on his face and his grappling hook hand instantly dropped onto the sword with a "clank" sound. With the hook, he maneuvered it away from his body. It was not a very strong push, and Bob easily was able to force it back to its former location. Suddenly, the Stromling Admiral hit the sword blade so hard that it flew from Bob's hand and toward his weakly armored body.
Luckily, only the hilt of the sword hit Bob. After another clattering sound, the sword fell into the soft ground as Bob stumbled backwards, expecting a different outcome of the weapon hitting him. The Stromling Admiral was just as surprised. He, too, had expected the blow to take down the knight once and for all.
When Bob began to fall after taking a few awkward steps back, the Admiral just stared. Of course, the minds of Maelstrom creatures were not all that advanced, so he was desperately trying to figure out why his opponent hadn't been impaled by the flying sword. No answer came. Instead, he just charged toward the figure on lying beside the sword protruding from the dirt and raised his grappling hook.
Through the grated front of his helmet, Bob saw only the dark sky above. Realizing his enemy could be preparing another attack, he quickly lifted his neck and saw the hook just being fired from the wrist of the Admiral. His heart skipped a beat. In a split second, he had rolled out of the way of the hazardous object hurtling toward him. His body barely missed the edge closest to him, but his left arm took a nasty scrape from it. Bob yelped out as the sharp point of the grappling hook tore through the thin fabric between armor pieces at his elbow and across his skin. Soon, he heard the formidable sound of Maelstrom energy rings being fired aimlessly from his opponent's robotic forearm and exploding when having reached the ground. His own energy had been depleted. He knew it would be senseless to try anything beside the monster trying to destroy him. In a few seconds, the hook would be drawn away from him, but he would be attacked. He couldn't fight back. Not in this condition. Besides that, he could not pull his sword from the ground. It would take both hands and all the strength he could muster to move it even an inch, and his left arm was in no condition to be put to work. All he could do now was wait – wait for his demise. For that reason, it was almost like that of a miracle when a dark, heavily armored figure suddenly seemed to materialize out of thin air and strike the Stromling Admiral with his double-missile rocket launcher.
A split second after the two projectiles left their stationary position in the rocket launcher, they collided with the back of the Stromling Admiral and exploded into fiery bursts. The Admiral was caught off guard and released a gravelly cry. Hook still stuck in the ground, he collapsed just as the Stromling Pirate had minutes before.
Now that it was not moving, Bob got a good look at his rescuer. He wore dark armor that lit up every few seconds over a matching jumpsuit. On the center of the jumpsuit and under his bulky shoulder pads that curved and extended halfway up his helmet was a symbol Bob had become fairly acquainted with by now – a squinting eye inside a red vortex – the Paradox crest. There was only one Paradox faction class that looked like that: Space Marauder.
The Space Marauder still stood motionless, staring at where the Stromling Admiral stood previously. Suddenly, his helmet whipped to the side to look at Bob. Quite disturbed, he crawled back, only to collapse onto his back. He had forgotten about his arm's injury. While still holding onto his rocket launcher in one hand and handgun (which resembled a sextant with a glowing purple tip) in the other, the Space Marauder removed his helmet and placed it under his arm.
Surprisingly, his face seemed both strong and kind at the same time. His vibrant blue eyes immediately indicated confidence and a no-nonsense attitude while his smile said something else. He had a slick, black crew cut that appeared to have been smoothed out by his lustrous helmet. Bob's guess was that it had not been combed at all before he put his helmet on.
Chapter 13.4 Edit
One of the Space Marauder's most notable facial features was a pair of large scars parallel to one another that ran from beside his right eye to halfway across his cheek. Most likely the claws of a dragon had caused them – that, or a Stromling Pirate's blades.
Bob forced himself upright while making sure he did not use the injured one. Even moving it onto his lap was painful. Seeing the look of agony, the Space Marauder sauntered over to him, not looking bothered in the slightest. Thinking it would be only kind, Bob removed his helmet just as the minifigure in front of him had.
"Thanks for taking care of that Admiral," Bob said shyly after a few more tense seconds. He had never been skilled when it came to starting a conversation. Blaze had started the exchange last time, which had not been nearly as awkward.
"No problem, buddy," the Space Marauder said as if he'd known Bob his whole life, looking down at the Stromling Admiral sprawled out beside the valley entrance and kicking it. Bob was able to perceive this action as a sign that he, too, was not great at introducing themselves to strangers.
"I'm Bob," Bob said, getting to his feet while holding his left arm in a sling position.
"Darkrule," The Space Marauder replied, lifting his gaze to meet Bob's.
Bob would have shaken hands with the Marauder, whose name was apparently Darkrule, if it were not for his injured arm. Darkrule obviously sensed this, for he looked toward the cut, which had begun to bleed.
"Hook get you?" Darkrule asked. Bob nodded. "Well, I think I have just the thing to fix that setback."
Chapter 13.5 Edit
It was only a matter of seconds before Bob's arm was in a makeshift sling consisting of a large palm leaf tied around his shoulder. In such a short time, Darkrule was able to climb a nearby palm tree (which oddly enough bore bananas), remove a resilient leaf with a dagger that he took from his pocket, and fashion the support bandage out of it. While the leaf was being cut, Bob had started a brief conversation between the two – one that was not uncomfortable.
"By the way," Bob began, "where are we?"
"Well, this particular area is the Maelstrom Trench. This world, or exploded piece of Crux – whichever you prefer – is Gnarled Forest," Darkrule replied, putting the dagger away and beginning to climb back down the palm with a leaf in hand.
Bob beamed. He had been right, for once. It really was Gnarled Forest. He was going to ask a question about Crux, which no one had ever given him a comprehendible answer, not even Commander Beck, but Darkrule was already instructing him how to position his arm for the sling.
With difficulty, Bob was still able to hold his shield, although it was awkwardly slanted to the right instead of pointing straight out. Because of this, he simply put the shield on his back for the time being.
Now, the only problem was Bob's sword. It was still stuck in the ground, and he doubted it would be easy to get out, even with both Darkrule and himself pulling. As if he had read his mind, Darkrule walked to the sword hilt protruding from the dirt and tugged it out as if it had been nothing more than a mere toothpick. Bob couldn't help but gape as the sword was handed to him with a plain "here." Bob closed his mouth. Surely, Darkrule was a man of many talents, but tried his best to be modest about them.
Bob noticed that now Darkrule had walked a few away from the palm tree and stood with his hands on his hips, staring into a gap in the dense forests. He was about to walk over and see what was so intriguing when the Space Marauder abruptly turned toward him and said, "Well, I'd better be going. It looks like the Maelstrom is gone. For now, at least. See you, Bob!"
And with that, he disappeared.
Chapter 13.6 Edit
Just as fast as Darkrule had appeared, he was gone. This time, instead of dematerializing, he disappeared into a thick, dark cloud. It was impossible to identify what the gas was. It resembled smoke from a fire in many ways, including smell, but this was darker – much darker.
Bob was unsure what to do now. Already, moments after Darkrule's departure, Stromling Pirates were beginning to spawn nearby. It only took an eye blink to miss one appearing right in front of you, and by then, it was too late. He also noticed a Stromling Admiral on the other side of the valley, which glowed an eerie purple light. He needed to get out of the Maelstrom Trench – and fast.
Bob hurried over to where Darkrule had been standing. He felt overwhelmingly relieved to see what he did: a path. Although it was not specifically a path, only rock slabs sticking out of the dirt acting as steps, someone had obviously gone through the trouble of creating the tablets, and that was good enough to pacify him.
This trail was not much brighter than the Bob's current location, since the trees' thick foliage blocked out most of the sunlight. Nevertheless, he was happy to be getting out of the Maelstrom Trench with only a minor injury. Before his adventure, he never would have considered having his arm in a sling a minor injury, but it was certainly better than being smashed – a fate that many minifigures were suffering at the time.
Bob was just about to start his trek through the forest when he heard heavy breathing behind him. Oh no, he thought to himself. Although he was reluctant to do it, he knew putting it off would only put him in an even greater danger. Slowly, dreading to see what horrible creature was standing behind him, he turned around to face Stromling Pirate staring at him. They both only stared for a few seconds. Bob now knew all too well what to and not to do around Stromling Pirates. Suddenly, his sword flew up and slashed across the enemy's chest. With that, he burst into a sprint up the rock steps.
Chapter 13.7 Edit
After a few seconds of sprinting up the trail (there were only a few rock steps since there was such a gentle incline), Bob slowed down. The Stromling Pirate couldn't possibly reach him now, if he even survived the blow – the chances of which were slim. He walked, panting, a little more before becoming less hopeful. The trail did not appear to be opening up to anywhere. For all he knew, it could lead all the way through the forest. It could take hours to reach wherever the destination was. Should he go back? Where else would he go? It was foolish of him not to check for substitute routes at Maelstrom Trench.
Bob was still deep in thought when there came to be a fork in the road. He did not notice until he saw movement not far ahead. He quickly flashed back to reality. The movement was caused by a minifigure – a minifigure that looked quite panicked. He was in a bright, striped white-and-blue shirt, plain white pants spotted with dirt here and there, and a dark green hat made from a strip of cloth tied around his head and slightly hanging down in the back. He seemed quite tall, which Bob soon realized was because he was standing on a wooden platform attached to a tree and raised several feet above the ground. The minifigure, a pirate by the looks of it, had his hands on his head, as if covering his ears, and was pacing back and forth, going from one edge of the platform to the other. His eyes were large and droopy, which made the pirate look like he had not slept for days because of worry or anxiety over something.
The path in front of Bob, the one with the worried pirate ahead, appeared to be much brighter than the current one he was on. The alternative seemed to be going nowhere – it was dark, lifeless, and looked like the one he had just come from and couldn't wait to leave. As expected, he took the path directly ahead, blithely unaware of what he would be missing.
Chapter 13.8 Edit
There were two large, pink mushrooms across from the platform the nervous pirate was standing on. They looked poisonous, being such a vibrant, bright color, and for that reason, Bob tried to stay away from them. There were wooden two crates beside the platform, one small and one larger, which acted as stairs. He hopped up the steps, which squeaked every time his weight shifted, and stood on the edge of the platform.
The pirate did not even seem to notice Bob's arrival – he just kept pacing as far as the tiny balcony would let him. Bob had to step back down onto the second chest so he would not be knocked over by the marching pirate.
"Excuse me?" Bob said, making sure he was loud enough for the pirate to hear over his apprehensive squeals.
"Did that Renee lass send you?" The pirate asked, pausing momentarily from his pacing to look at the minifigure in front of him. Bob was about to say no; he didn't know whom Renee was; but the pirate kept talking. "Good, I need help with this here Siren contraption."
"Actually, I don't know who Re–" Bob began quickly, but was still cut off.
"That mermaid contraption looks like it's missin' some bricks. Can you fix that Siren?" The pirate asked, then clumsily hopped around, flapping his hands and blowing at nothing in particular.
Bob nodded, figuring the pirate would just start talking again if he tried to answer. So far, everyone he had met at Gnarled Forest except Darkrule, who had only interrupted his thoughts, had done just that. He turned away and leaped onto the ground from the box. In Bob's mind, the pirate was making a big deal over a frivolous broken Siren statue – it did not sound like a top priority when evil Maelstrom creatures were invading.
Bob saw a large pile of marble lying on the ground up ahead. He saw nothing else that could be put together into a statue of some sort, so he assumed that was the Siren pieces. Surrounding it were several Stromling Pirates wandering aimlessly. He sighed. It had been his hope for no more battles during his trip. Drawing his sword, he charged toward the small group of purple creatures. Although he was hesitant to do what he did, especially after his last encounter with an Admiral, Bob knew rebuilding the Siren statue relied on the Stromling Pirates' presence. There was nothing to do other than fight them. The question was how to do it, since there were three – and they all guarded each other. With his arm in a makeshift sling, it wouldn't be of any use. It would be impossible for him to use his shield in any way, or even get it off his back without putting down his sword, and what would keep some savage animal lurking in the thicket nearby from snatching it unnoticed?
Bob reached the three Stromling Pirates with only one glancing up at him, or even acknowledging his arrival, for that matter. This one was the farthest away, which was a problem. If he waited for the one focused on him to make the first move, the others would catch on. Bob leapt over the two Stromling Pirates wandering about a few feet ahead and hurled his sword toward his target, not having time to decide whether to keep it in hand or throw it. The sword met its mark with surprising accuracy and the Pirate fell to the ground with the sword sticking up from its shoulder. Bob landed on the other side of the fallen enemy and picked up his sword. The other Stromling Pirates had watched the incident with startled faces and were now moving slowly toward him, extending their arms and trying to scrape the knight with their blades.
The Stromling Pirates were like zombies – glowing, purple zombies. They had no purpose for all the distress they were causing, nor did they really know what they were doing. Baron Typhonus gave them orders and they carried them out. There was nothing else to it. He thought of them as slaves, but they were more than that. The moment this crossed Bob's mind, he felt a sense of anger welling up inside him. It was not right. It was just not right. He did not want to hurt them, and deep down, he did not think they wanted to hurt him, either. They were misunderstood creatures. It really was not necessary to destroy them, and yet... it was the only way. Perhaps his reluctance to fight the Stromling Pirates was not out of fear but out of sympathy. With apology and regret plainly resting in his eyes, Bob struck down the two Maelstrom creatures approaching them with a swift swipe of his Maelstrom-covered sword.
Chapter 13.9 Edit
As the two Stromling Pirates fell to the ground, Bob felt the hidden sense of sympathy grow stronger. Should he have done what he did? Would it have been possible to complete the pirate's mission if he hadn't? No, it was the only way. If he had not gotten rid of the guards (he surmised that they had been placed there to guard the Siren statue for some reason – it was unlikely that they had found the path after wandering through miles and miles of jungle), they would have struck him down without even realizing what they were doing.
Now that his enemies were down, Bob proceeded to the building of the Siren statue. There were several bricks of different sizes and dimensions lying around and it was practically impossible to tell how it went together or how it was supposed to look. He found a large, circular shaped piece that was bigger than any of the others – that couldn't possibly go on the statue anywhere, so that must be the base. He dropped that on the ground and coughed as a thick cloud of dust and dirt rose up around him. Next, he found one that looked like a mermaid's tail. Assuming that went next, he placed it on top of the disk already laid down. They snapped into place. After finding the torso of the Siren statue, locking it into place, and putting the arms in the sockets, the effigy was almost complete. The only thing missing was something a statue was nothing without: a head.
Bob spun around, looking for something that looked like a head. There was nothing on the ground nearby, nor was there anything in the bushes on either side of him. He began to grow worried. If it had rolled through the shrubs, it could now be lost forever. If it was, he could not complete the statue and he would have failed the pirate. He snapped back to reality when he saw a wooden crate a few paces away – inside was a pile of yellow cylinders – statue heads. Grinning, he proceeded to the small box and took one of the yellow, stone heads out. Turning on his heel and strolling back to his creation, he was just about to slide the head onto the small pole protruding from the torso when something suddenly seemed amiss. It gave him an eerie vibe. Looking up from his intent stare at the statue, his heart skipped a beat and began to pound in his chest. The sight sent chills down his spine and he began to sweat, all of which happening at the same time.
Ahead of him, in front of a huge multitude of minifigures with furious expressions, were hundreds of warthogs.
Chapter 14.0 Edit
As if one warthog wasn't enough to scare Bob beyond belief, hundreds made him wish the Stromling Pirates had smashed him. The minifigures' steely, infuriated expressions didn't help in the slightest. What was going on? Bob was adept at looking deeper than people's images revealed. By the looks of it, the minifigures were angry with him. They were probably waiting for him to make the first move then release the warthogs on him. But why were they angry with him? What had he done wrong? He could think of nothing. It made no sense. Bob could not decide what to do. Run or hide? Warthogs could easily outrun him. That wouldn't do. If he hid in the jungle on either side of him, no doubt he would lose his way when the coast was clear and it was safe to come back. Either tactic seemed useless. Although running and hiding were both probably bound with the same outcome, at least he could avoid the warthogs by hiding. He could not by running. If he was lucky, he would be able to find his way through the forest.
He was about to break into a sprint into the wood when something horrible suddenly occurred. His sword slipped from his sweaty palm. Bob did not even know that he had dropped his sword until he heard the "thump" he knew all too well. He cringed and dropped to his knees, clumsy fingers trying to grasp the sword, but it was too late. A sharp, shrill whistle sounded and all the warthogs began charging in unison.
It was like nothing he had seen before – probably because he had never wanted to see it. Hundreds of warthogs were galloping toward him, shaking the ground as they went. Bob wanted to run – he was desperately trying to – but it was as if his feet were glued in place. No matter how hard he tried, he could not move. He was frozen with fear, something that he never had been before.
Chapter 14.1 Edit
The warthogs were already halfway to Bob. They would trample him in a matter of seconds. He still could not move as hard as he tried.
He was about to close his eyes and hope for the best when something cold grabbed his arm. He screamed, expecting that not to happen until the minifigures had reached him after being trampled repeatedly by a pack of vicious warthogs. He was being dragged into the jungle. He only had time to pick up his sword before he disappeared into the thicket. It all happened so quickly – one minute, Bob was watching an entire herd of warthogs galloping toward him, the next he was being dragged into the jungle, and finally, he was in a vast, empty clearing.
He was lying on dark soil like ashes from a fire densely packed down and staring at the sky, which was a light shade of blue mottled with white clouds. It was impossible to see through the dense clusters of trees, but he could no longer hear the stampede. It was as if he had been saved yet again by a sudden miracle. In actuality, that was exactly what it was.
Bob quickly sat up. Whoever – or whatever – had dragged him there, did not necessarily mean good to him. He spun around on his knees, looking around desperately, but saw nothing but a steep plateau nearby, nor were there any signs of life. Returning to his former position, he let out a cry again when he saw a Space Marauder sitting cross-legged in front of him. Bob suddenly realized who it was.
"Darkrule!" he said in relief, recognizing the armor of his friend.
The Space Marauder removed his helmet. It was not Darkrule. The Space Marauder's hair was not the slick, black, crew cut of Darkrule. Instead, it was a shocking orange color spiked up in many different places. His eyes were like
Chapter 14.2 Edit
"Darkrule? Who is this Darkrule, cadet?" The Space Marauder said in a deep, commanding voice.
"My friend... I thought you were him, because–" Bob began.
"Yes, yes, there are many in this armor these days," The Space Marauder said, almost seeming to know exactly what Bob was going to say.
Bob looked around him. "Where are we?"
There was a pause before the Space Marauder said, "Gnarled Forest."
"Okay," Bob said, assuming the Space Marauder did not want to let on, "and who are you?"
"Canax. Commander Canax." The Paradox said, not asking for Bob's name and not seeming interested in the slightest.
Bob got to his feet and turned his back from Commander Canax. Are all Space Marauders so difficult to talk to? Bob thought to himself privately. He turned his head left and right. There was nothing to be seen – only darker soil and the cliff edge. Something seemed familiar about the place... what was it? Had he been there before? No... Bob turned back around to face Commander Canax. He was surprised to find that the Space Marauder was also standing now. He had gotten up without making any sound at all.
"Why did you bring me here?" Bob asked quizzically.
"So you could escape those warthogs, soldier!" Commander Canax said. There was a hint of annoyance in his tone.
Bob turned back around again. Anger was building up inside him. No one was treating him with respect that day. He wanted to thrash out wildly and kick something, but there was nothing around to kick – just the plain ground to stomp on. He never got the chance, though, because just then, the answer to his question came right to him. This was a secret environment of Gnarled Forest. Commander Beck had told him all about it. To get to the secret area, you would have to get past barriers set up by the First Builders of the Universe – Bob did not exactly understand, but he knew enough about the Universe to have a good idea.
"You're a hacker!" Bob cried to Commander Canax, spinning around on his heel.
Chapter 14.3 Edit
Commander Canax's expression turned from a faint, lax grin to a look of dismayed horror. "No... you've got it all wrong–"
"Oh, really, do I?" Bob said sarcastically, "Well maybe you'd like to explain where you you've taken me to? You can't do this! It's illegal!"
"I can do whatever I want, rookie! If I hadn't done what I did, those warthogs would have killed you! It was a misunderstanding with them, and it's a misunderstanding with me!" Canax shouted like Bob was hundreds of feet away and might not hear him.
"Rookie? Is that what you think I am? A rookie?" Bob asked forcefully, stepping closer to the Space Marauder, whose face had been turning red with anger and rage.
Commander Canax's face now softened, but his voice did not. It was quieter, but not any less harsh. It quavered, and it was now apparent what Bob had pointed out had hurt him deeply. "If you don't want my help, so be it. The next time you are in trouble, I will be sure to let you fall."
He reached behind his back and pulled out a long staff with a bat on the top. It glowed a bright red color and hummed weakly. The humming was misleading, because in actuality, the staff had more power than anyone could imagine. It did not start out that way, but it became so, regardless of how weak it was in the past. Canax swirled the wand around in the air and the glow began to grow stronger around the bat atop the pole. The bat's eyes began to glow red, much like what the Space Marauder's were as a result of his anger.
Bob was regretting what he had said before. He could very well imagine what Commander Canax meant to do to him, but he turned out not to be right. When the staff was glowing so bright that Bob was forced to squint (but even then his eyes were not protected from the seemingly-ultraviolet light) and the humming had grown into the roaring sounds of a hurricane, he thrust the staff at Bob. Bob was instantly thrown off balance. Commander Canax remained perfectly still even though the ground was trembling violently as if a large chunk of the plateau might break off at any time.
Bob was suddenly lifted into the air and flew over the Space Marauder, who was now directing the staff behind him. Bob's limp body was hurled through the clusters of trees, receiving many scrapes as he went, and landed roughly on the path in front of the Siren statue on his injured arm. He instantly got to his feet, ignoring the pain that was removing any feeling at all from his already-injured arm, and lunged into the trees that he had come from. Instead of landing on the dark soil that he expected, he was in the middle of the dense forest. The secret area Commander Canax had brought him to had vanished.
Chapter 14.4 Edit
Bob, once again, was feeling dumbfounded. He had no idea hacking the environment was that easy. His heart pounded when he saw what he had dreaded seeing a few paces ahead: warthogs. It was complete chaos – there were warthogs digging, some clawing at the trees, some jumping wildly, and the minifigures were doing ultimately exactly the same thing. Some were digging with whatever they had (the strangest spectacle Bob saw was a minifigure that was trying to dig with the barrel of his rifle), others were climbing trees and swiping at the foliage with their swords, and the remainder was ripping the bushes from the dirt, apparently searching for something: a knight named Bob.
Bob backed out of the jungle as quietly as he could. A few warthogs' ears perked up and they stopped digging when he would step on a twig, but they soon went back to their work and Bob went back to his. The minifigures never looked up from their toil, figuring whatever sounds they heard came from the clumsy warthogs that were prancing around them. Every now and then, one would jump down from a tree and look right in Bob's direction, but they never noticed him, for the palm leaf wrapped around his arm acted as camouflage.
When Bob finally completed his retreat from the forest and knew his worries were over for the time being, the pain overcame him in his left arm. He wanted to cry out and continue to do so until help came, but he knew that the warthogs would come for him. As much as he wanted to disagree with the Space Marauder, he knew Commander Canax was right. The beasts would kill him. Bob clutched his arm, but realizing that only made the pain worsen, released his grasp at once. There was nothing to stop it. What could he do? The nervous pirate would never be of any help. With whatever trouble he was already going through, he could not handle any more. With Darkrule gone and not seeing anyone else besides Venture League Grunt on his way to the current path he was on, he would have to fend for himself.
Chapter 14.5 Edit
In a few minutes, most of the pain had subsided. It was, no doubt, in even worse condition than before, but there was nothing to do for it. Bob needed to power on until he found help. There had to be an inhabited section of Gnarled Forest nearby. He was sure of that. It was a good thing that the pain in Bob's arm was gone, for he could hear voices not far away. They were coming from in the jungle.
His greatest fears were all suddenly realized when he heard an unfamiliar voice say, "Let's check over there. Bob has to be around here somewhere, we saw him just minutes ago!"
Why were they looking for him, of all people? What had he ever done? In the few seconds he had gotten a look at their faces, he could not recognize any of them. Perhaps he had met them, but he had never gotten acquainted with them. Never.
Bob scrambled to his feet as a chorus of "yeah" and "let's go" rang through the forest, followed by nearby stomping of thousands of feet. They were on the move. For all he knew, they could have been headed right toward him at that very second. He flew past the Siren statue with great gentleness, but then backtracked a few steps just as quickly. Should he complete the statue? The pirate seemed to have relied on him to do it. He was so close to escaping the warthogs and minifigures searching for him, but he felt like he shouldn't. Not yet. He needed to complete the task given to him.
He dove toward the marble head peeking out of the bushes. Picking up the statue head, Bob proceeded back to the effigy and placed the cylindrical object on it. There was a quick rumble inside the statue, during with he stepped back and watched in amazement as a beautiful sound was emitted from his creation – the mermaid was singing. Bob was hypnotized by the singing of the Siren statue. It was the most wonderful thing he had heard in a long time. He wanted to stand right there forever, listening to the song over and over, never stopping to do a single thing, not giving a care to whatever was going on around him, but it was not possible at the moment, for he instantly snapped out of the trance when he heard the same voice he had heard a few moments earlier say, "what is that?"
"The Siren statue!" Another voice cried in realization, and instantly there was a tremendous rustling only a few meters away.
"I think we've found Bobert!"
Chapter 14.6 Edit
There were only a few seconds before the large group of minifigures came bursting out of the trees, weapons ready and out in front of them. To there surprise, there was no one in front of them; the only thing to see was the Siren statue moving its arms up and down now and then. Naturally, they all would have been hypnotized by the magnificent voice emitted from the statue, but they were too determined to find Bob to care about anything else, even something as amazing as that.
"Where did he go?" An Engineer cried, flipping his visor up to get a better look, but there was truly nothing to be seen. Bob was gone.
A Buccaneer standing at the front of the pack – the ringleader, by the looks of it – bent over and unclipped a rusty chain tied around a warthog's neck. The warthog instantly bolted around, sniffing in bushes, and digging tiny holes here and there. It released squeals every now and then, but the Buccaneer did not seem satisfied. He stepped forward toward the Siren statue, raising his sword high above his head, and slashed downward with the cutlass. It sliced at an angle through the marble and the chunk removed fell to the ground, making all the minifigures not paying attention jump back in surprise.
The song ended abruptly, but the Buccaneer did not care. He tore off his tricorne and threw it on the ground in frustration, not having found what he had been looking for. Then, his anger turned to surprise when he heard a familiar sound nearby. The sound of a wooden crate closing.
With two fingers, he motioned the gang to move left to where the nervous pirate was pacing on his platform – where two wooden crates lay. A Sorcerer opened mouth to speak, but the Buccaneer put a finger to his lips and once again motioned to the left.
Chapter 14.7 Edit
When the Buccaneer patted the ground silently, his warthog instinctively trotted back to him, and the metal chain was tied back around his neck with a single flourish of his hand. He had obviously done so many times before.
The group made their way to the pirate, who did not look up from his marching. He was still performing the same movements with his thumbs, twiddling them about and rubbing his temples every now and then. The Buccaneer proceeded toward the first crate and was about to smash it to bits with a shot from his pistol when the distressed pirate a few feet above finally looked up. His expression turned even more troubled. It was a miracle he did not faint right then and there, leaving the group wondering whether to continue their search for "Bobert" or get help. (The pirate surely knew which option the gang in front of him would choose, which was the reason he tried so hard to keep himself from fainting.)
The Buccaneer must have sensed that the pirate seemed to be hiding something, for he quickly tucked his pistol into a holster hanging from his belt, grabbed the pirate by the shirt collar and said between his gritted teeth, "Where is he?"
"Wh-who?" The pirate stuttered back, trying to get out of the Venture minifigure's grasp.
"You know who I mean!" The Buccaneer shouted, letting go and pushing the pirate into the jungle behind him.
Ripping the pistol from the holster, he pulled the trigger and to some of the other minifigures' surprise, a shark was released. Along with a thick spray of water, a shark landed on the ground beside the crate and began tearing it to pieces.
There was nothing – and no one – inside the crate. The shark proceeded to the larger crate and was just about to rip a wooden panel off when a large, grey object was hurled out of it, sending the top flying, and collided with the Buccaneer, sending him flying backwards. The object landed – it was a knight with his arm in a green cast.
"It's Bobert!" The Engineer exclaimed, sliding his visor down and grabbing what looked like two magnets pulsing with electricity, but the knight took him off his feet with an expertly performed roundhouse kick.
The warthogs came charging toward him and the Buccaneer was just getting to this feet, clutching his throbbing head, but Bob had already disappeared around the turn ahead. The Buccaneer ordered them to stop.
Chapter 14.8 Edit
Bob expected to hear a thousand pounding footsteps behind him made by both man and beast, but he did not. That did not necessarily mean he was not being followed, though – they could be sneaking toward him, for all he knew. The Buccaneer did not show any mercy toward anyone, and it was unlikely he would toward him. Tying that chain around his warthog, which he had witnessed through a tiny peephole in the crate he had been hiding in, seemed inhuman, but the Venture did not care.
Soon, Bob came to a fork in the road. He knew he only had a few seconds to decide where to go. He may not be entirely hidden behind the trees, and if the group of minifigures saw him faltering in his movement, they would surely come after him if they were not already. The path on the right looked quite plain – the most prominent feature was a short cliff that had a pile of tall bricks nearby that looked like it could assemble the crow's nest of a ship. A rope beside the crow's nest pieces lead Bob to believe that the device would pull him up to the cliff, or he would swing up to it. There was an alternative route instead of building the cliff-scaling device that lead around the cluster of trees he had just run past. The path on the right looked livelier than the other. There was a small step made of a long slab of rock stuck into the ground with a pirate standing on top, grinning mischievously and swinging his arms around as he turned his body. He was looking left, then right, left, then right, searching for a minifigure coming either way that he could greet heartily. The bright red plume jutting out of the back tip of his black tricorne and dark blue naval jacket lead Bob to believe that he was a high-ranked pirate, possibly a captain or admiral.
Time was ticking away. In the distance of the path on the right, the sky was quickly growing dark. That was not happening on the left. Bob had learned from Maelstrom Trench and many areas of Forbidden Valley that dark skies usually meant Maelstrom – and lots of it. He was hoping to stay as far away from Maelstrom as possible for as long as possible after what the Stromling Pirate had done to his arm, which was still aching and stinging. For that reason, he darted towards the left path.
Chapter 14.9 Edit
Bob had only taken a few quick steps after lunging between the tree clusters before he stopped in his tracks. He was standing on vibrant, green grass – the first he had seen since he arrived in Gnarled Forest. His surroundings matched the color of the ground. It, too, was a bright shade of green instead of a dull brown or dark green. There were two pink, plump mushrooms beside him, so he instinctively moved to the right, still fearing they were quite poisonous. There was a large pond a few paces in front of him and a tall palm tree in front of it, which bore bananas like the ones at the Maelstrom Trench.
He was marveling at the water, something he had surprisingly not seen for a long time, wondering if it would be foolhardy for him to drink from it when something else caught his eye. He stopped thinking about his thirst and focused his attention on it.
Some grey object was moving in the distance. It could easily be one of the Samurai in the group of minifigures that had been following him or a Knight like himself. He hoped this was not the case – he did not have the courage to fight another Sentinel. He was already nervous, knowing he would have to face the Maelstrom eventually.
Bob moved forward tentatively, deciding to expose himself instead of hide again. No more hiding. He needed to face whatever it was. He was overcome with relief when he realized the object was not a Knight, Samurai, or even a minifigure at all. It was an elephant. Although he was relieved, he was also feeling a bit of apprehension. Elephants were one of the most powerful creatures ever discovered – beside the Maelstrom, that is. They were usually gentle, carefree animals – gentle giants – but if provoked they could crush a man in anger or fear, not even meaning to do so.
Bob removed his gaze from the elephant for a few seconds to get a good look at where he was. He appeared to be on a huge cliff ledge, for the ground ended abruptly about ten meters to the left and he could see a green mountain in the distance, shrouded by mist. It was miles below him. When he looked up, he saw an awesome mountaintop rising high above him. His suspicions had been proved true.
Chapter 15.0 Edit
Soon, several other elephants moved into view. They were moving toward the ferns growing near the edge of the ledge, ripping them out of the ground with their trunks and planting them in their mouths.
When Bob felt safe around the elephants, not believing he would spook them, he once again began staring intently at the pond and continuing his thoughts about if the water was clean. He had not drunk anything in days and his throat was incredibly dry. He slowly inched himself toward the water. He was a few feet away when he craned his neck to see into the pond.
Tiny particles of dirt and many grass blades floated in the water. He cringed, but continued to creep toward the dirty water. He knelt down beside it and was about to reach in and bring a handful up to his mouth when he stopped himself. What was he doing? His adventure could not last forever – or much longer, at least. He did not need the water. There would be another opportunity soon. He was sure of that.
Bob got back on his feet and took another look at the elephants in front of him. Go back or proceed past them, he asked himself. They looked quite peaceful. He doubted they would be afraid of a weak knight like himself, even if he were armed with a sword. He walked around the pond, looking in and being glad he did not drink from it. He slowed down as he approached the mammoth creatures in front of him and made a wide circle around them. Ahead was a rock arch even larger than the elephants themselves that was covered with vines and ivy. He took a few seconds to look for poison ivy, and seeing none, he proceeded onward.
Only one elephant had noticed Bob's presence, so he felt safe when he turned his back to walk under the arch. He stopped in his tracks when a creature even larger than the elephants stood up on its hind legs in front of him. It was not facing him, so he did not instantly recognize what it was. When the huge beast lifted its black, muscular arms and pounded its chest with its fists, he instantly knew what it was.
The creature in front of Bob was a Maelstrom Ape.
Chapter 15.1 Edit
Bob couldn't do it. He couldn't take on a Maelstrom Ape by himself. This meant he would have to go back and take the other path, the one that obviously had Maelstrom invading it, and a lot of it. He only hoped that whatever creatures lurked down that trail weren't even more powerful than what was in front of him at the moment, because that would mark the end of his journey for sure.
Bob took a few silent steps backwards, holding his breath. He only needed a few more steps and he would be out of view from the Maelstrom Ape – and safe. Unfortunately, he knew all too well that things in this new world would never be as easy as one would hope, and that proved to be true when he felt his foot come upon something sharp and uneven.
It was a twig.
He tried to get off it as soon as possible, but it was too late. He heard the all-too-familiar cracking of the twig. The Maelstrom Ape spun around and instantly grabbed a nearby boulder, picking it up as if it were a mere pebble. The beast's eyes were full of rage as he hurled the giant stone at the knight now running from him as fast as possible.
Bob was running as fast as he ever had – as if his life depended on it, which he knew it just might. He cried out in pain as the boulder struck his heel and he fell to the ground. Luckily, he did not land on his injured arm, but it was really of no consolation, nor did he have time to reflect upon his luck. He tumbled forward and splashed into the pond that one elephant had been drinking from.
Chapter 15.2 Edit
When Bob emerged from the pond a few seconds later, it was truly an appalling sight. He was trying to gasp for air, but since the water was only beginning to drain out of the grated face of his helmet, he only took in a large amount of water and choked. This happened several times before the last of the water poured out and he removed his helmet.
He coughed for a while and when he was finally able to stop, it became evident to him that his eyes were stinging from the water. He closed them until they stopped stinging – or until the stinging was bearable, anyway – and looked around.
The elephant that had been drinking from the pond had bolted in the other direction and was at the edge of the rock overhand, now staring towards where he had been standing moments ago. Luckily, the Maelstrom Ape had returned right to his previous position and was now out of view. Bob's sword had flown out of its case as he was rolling around and was now lying on the ground several feet away.
He stepped out of the pond and began to walk toward it. The water that had poured into his armor and chain mail and soaked into his clothes seemed to be adding a great number of pounds to the heavy gear he was already carrying. He knew that even though the water had not been all that cold, since he was in a quite humid environment, the water would soon grow cold regardless. There was nothing to dry off with, though, so he would have to deal with the freezing conditions that would soon take place.
He bent over to pick up the sword and placed it in the case fastened securely to his belt. He instantly took the sword back out, turned the long case over, let the water pour out, and placed the sword back inside. Bob turned his attention to the large leaf his arm was in. After such a nasty fall, the knot had loosened. He tightened the knot by pulling on both ends of it at once, which was difficult using only one hand. He then reached across his shoulder and checked to see if his shield was still attached to the leather sling fastened around his body. It was not.
He proceeded back to the pond, where he reached in and promptly pulled out a shield with nothing more to it.
Chapter 15.3 Edit
After equipping the dripping shield to the sling on his back, Bob bent over to examine where the boulder had struck his heel. It had begun to sting, which drew his attention towards it. Removing his boot to get a better look, he found a gruesome scrape from the bottom of his foot to halfway up his ankle. It stung tremendously every time he touched it, even when it was the lightest of touches.
He put it back into the pond, trying to ignore how much it was now hurting, and bathed it until it looked clean when he took it out. He then slipped his foot back into the boot. As much as he knew he ought to be doing more for it, there was nothing else to do.
Now that his injuries had been tended to, it was time to turn his attention to the mission. Bob could not continue with the path he was currently on, since the Maelstrom Ape was guarding it. The best thing to do was turn back and take the alternative route. So he did.
He turned and walked away from the elephants. He did not look back. Bob sauntered away from the cliff ledge and stopped beside the plateau with the crow's nest elements. He would be exposed to the minifigures chasing him if he took the path in front of him with the blue-jacketed pirate still looking around. Even if he sprinted, he would still be exposed to them for a split second if they were still there. Could he go back to the elephants? Could he fight the Ape alone?
As much as he wanted to tell himself he could, he knew the answer was "no." He could not. Reaching back with his foot and placing it a few feet behind him, he prepared to leap onto the small, rock step ahead of him.
Bob launched himself toward the path, knowing it would be the fastest way. Or at least he hoped it would. As he was flying toward the tan rock slab, he turned his head to see if the group of minifigures – and warthogs – was still standing there, waiting for him to make an appearance. He was stunned to find out that they were not.
The group had turned away and was just disappearing around the turn with the warthogs close behind, heads down.
Chapter 15.4 Edit
Bob landed on the stone while still staring at where the minifigures were walking away. Although the trees were blocking his view, the image was still fresh in his mind. It made no sense. As glad as he was that they decided to give him a chance, he could not comprehend why they would. They had spent so much energy looking for him, and when it would have been so easy to capture him, they decided otherwise. Perhaps they had some honor, even if it was buried quite deeply inside them.
Bob stopped staring into the thicket and turned his attention to the trail ahead of him. The sky was growing darker by the second. Suddenly, there was a flash of lightning in the sky, soon followed by a deep rumbling from not far away. He could hear rain pouring somewhere ahead. Above the tree clusters on the right side of him, the sky was not only an ominous shade of grey but also purple – a dark purple like no other.
Ahead of Bob was a small hill downward with large rock-slab-stairs sticking out of them. The trail turned to the right as the ground leveled out and there was a circular clearing on the left of the path. The clearing was absolutely empty. Something, or someone, had obviously been keeping shrubs from growing there, because there wasn't a single plant to be spoken of in the small circle.
The most shocking thing about the trail in front of him was a large, cylindrical cage hanging from a tree next to the curve of the path. Inside was a skeleton, whose arms and head were hanging limply out. The grin of the pirate beside Bob grew as he had approached. He had nodded to the knight then returned to his business, which was looking back and forth, scanning the area for minifigures and then deciding whether they were friends or foes. He was not an admiral like it appeared. In actuality, he was a mercenary. He had been hired many years before to guard what lie ahead, for it was something that was not a real threat the way it was, but if someone unwanted somehow gained access, it would spell disaster for Gnarled Forest. In fact, there was two things kept in Brig Rock that required such high security: Maelstrom and ninjas.
Chapter 15.5 Edit
Bob headed down the steps to at a time. Although he was still quite anxious about what might awaited his arrival ahead, he was also eager to find out what it was. This was such an intriguing question that he couldn't wait to find the answer, even if he might later regret it – which he knew would, regardless of what precautions he took.
When Bob reached the leveled-out ground, he looked up at the skeleton hanging out of the cage. It was a disturbing sight. He could only imagine some minifigure being locked up in that crate for weeks on end until he finally perished. There was no guarantee that the minifigure was even guilty of a crime, anyway. It was highly likely that a mutiny took place. The crew overtook their superior in the end, and the captain was sent to his premature demise. This thought sent shivers down his spine.
Bob stopped imagining what horror the caged minifigure must have experienced when he heard a familiar rustling in the trees nearby. His heart almost stopped at this sound. It was just like the rustling he had heard before the group of minifigures burst onto the trail. He had only a few seconds to dart toward the two wooden crates and had even less time to fit himself inside one – and do so silently. He was almost sure that was what would happen now. They would burst forth and capture him just like that. Then he would be the new prisoner inside that cage dangling a few meters above him.
Bob had only drawn his sword and was quickly deciding whether to run or slash at whatever would leap toward him when something huge emerged from the trees and bushes surrounding the clearing. It was not a group of minifigures. The creature was black, hairy, and pounding its chest with its fists. He did not even need to look to know that a Maelstrom Ape was standing in front of him.
Chapter 15.6 Edit
Bob knew he needed to run, but he involuntarily charged toward the Ape, who was already picking up a boulder and lifting it above his head. Despite himself, he leapt at the monster in front of him and slashed at the arms powerfully with his sword. The Maelstrom Ape roared deafeningly, dropping the boulder without much thought.
Bob narrowly dodged it as it hit the ground, making it tremble violently. The trees swayed back and forth, their flimsy trunks to give at any moment. He had to rearrange his footing to avoid falling. With his wrists severely injured, the Maelstrom Ape's hands were now out of commission.
He was at a loss for what to do now. He had never experienced something like what had just happened. Deep down, he was panicking. It seemed impossible to fight back now, especially when the enemy was armed with a sword. This sense of panic quickly turned to rage. It didn't seem like a fair fight. He was now at a disadvantage – a disadvantage that might cost him his life. Could the knight really do such a thing? Strike down the foe when they are now not even properly armed anymore? When they could only wait for their decease?
The answer to this question was proved to be no when instead of finishing off the great beast, Bob turned and ran under the cage suspended in the air. He was retreating. As much as he would have liked to avenge the many losses that Maelstrom Ape must have caused, he knew it was not right. If it were going to be a fight to the death between himself and an Ape, it would be done fairly. He had honor, and maybe his enemy did too. If the Ape did not already, he surely did now. He had been taught a valuable lesson that he would never forget.
Chapter 15.7 Edit
Bob ran down the path as quick as he could. The trail was widening and he could see a massive clearing ahead of him. That was all he could see, for an eerie fog had spread around him. He slowed his pace so if a turn came up, he would not walk straight into the forest.
Soon, rain began to pelt his body. The fog began to lift and his surroundings became visible. It was truly amazing what he saw.
Ahead of him was a massive area of land that was surrounded by a rugged mountainside with many small caves carved out of it. In front of the mountain stood three platforms like the ones in the ravine, but much shorter. Beside the three plateaus was a set of rock stairs that really lead to no particular place, since the landing had obviously broken off, leaving a wide gap between two flights of stairs. The second flight led to part of the mountain that had been carved and leveled out to create a trail like all the others in Gnarled Forest. The mountainside on the left of Bob had also been leveled out on the side to form a mountain path to lead to the caves, which were each at least a hundred feet off the ground.
As Bob moved forward, he saw something that he had dreaded seeing. It was the reason he had wanted to fight the Maelstrom Ape near the elephants and avoid taking this route all along.
Behind the huge set of stairs was Maelstrom – a lot of it. There was a cave larger than all the others behind the stairs, this one on the ground as apposed to high above it. Walking slowly out of the cave like a zombie was a Stromling Admiral. Surrounding the cave was a great number of Admirals and Stromling Pirates. Because of all the Maelstrom that must be living inside the cave, the ground all around the cave had been dyed purple by Maelstrom slime.
This sent shivers down Bob's spine for the second time in the past few minutes.
Chapter 15.8 Edit
Bob slowly approached the action ahead. He moved to the left to get a better view, since the large set of stairs in front of him was obscuring a good bit of the cave. There was a mob of Stromling Admirals and Pirates around the cave and only one minifigure. It was a Samurai of the Sentinel faction.
He was quite skilled with his sword and was able to overtake the Maelstrom easily. Unfortunately, every time he was close to getting the number of enemies down to a reasonable number, more appeared at a rapid pace. It seemed like a hopeless battle. Every once and awhile, the Samurai would take a hit from an Admiral or a Pirate and Bob would cringe. He could only imagine what pain the minifigure must be feeling.
Bob moved to the right to see on the other side of the staircase. There was another cave there, and there was an almost identical situation going on there. There was a large crowd of Maelstrom densely packed around the cave and a minifigure was desperately trying to battle it. This minifigure was an Assembly Engineer. He used his two wrenches, both of which looked very futuristic in design, to smash the enemies in front of him.
The crowd was starting to grow larger. The Engineer threw a set of yellow bricks on the ground and began to build some large device. It was unclear to Bob what it was that he was attempting, since the Admirals were already aiming at the minifigure with their grappling hooks and the Stromling Pirates were approaching him with their bladed arms outstretched.
He was amazed when the Engineer finished the contraption and it was revealed what he had built. It was a manually operated laser turret.
Chapter 15.9 Edit
The turret was mainly consisted of four triangular planks striped yellow and black like police tape. They faced inward and the tips met at the top of the device, where a large, double-barreled blaster was perched. Inside the base of the turret was a seat behind many levers and buttons and screens.
Bob would be clueless in the seat of a contraption like that, which was why he was even more amazed when the Engineer jumped behind all those controls and started skillfully pulling and pressing each of them. One by one, the enemies in front of him fell, each struck by as laser being emitted from the high-power weaponry atop the turret.
Bob turned his attention to a third cave, where he saw the same situation as he did at the other two caves. There was a large group of Maelstrom creatures crowded around and one helpless minifigure was trying their best to stop the invasion. This minifigure was a Sorcerer. He used his staff (the top of which was shaped like the head of a horse) to take down several enemies at once. It almost seemed sinister how the staff never even touched an Admiral or a Pirate, and it was still able to do such damage – or really, any damage at all. The Sorcerer only swung it near the creatures and they began to fall with nothing more to it. Another thing that Bob found strange about the minifigure he was observing was how his hat seemed dark and shady, yet it glowed a purple light. It had never seemed possible for something to be both bright and dark at the same time, and yet he was looking at it with his own eyes.
Chapter 16.0 Edit
Bob looked back at the first cave, the one with the Samurai guarding it. The Samurai's skill with a sword was what made that cave so memorable, which was why he was puzzled when he did not see the Samurai near the cave. Already, the Maelstrom crowd was starting to grow. It was not a pleasant thing to see, nor was seeing the Samurai running up the stairs in front of him any better.
The Sentinel reached the top and jumped to the second flight. The minifigure dashed out of view. Figuring the Samurai would probably be back any second, Bob waited. Minutes passed, and there was no sign of the Sentinel. He grew uneasy. The crowd of Maelstrom was exploding all over the place. The two groups, one for the abandoned cave and one for the Engineer's cave, were close to becoming one. He knew he needed to do something, and soon, before all of Gnarled Forest was invaded. He would hate for that to happen and for himself to have just stood there, watching the destruction of a world. He needed to take action.
Drawing his sword from its case and gripping it firmly, he charged into battle. Bob arrived at the scene and realized that the situation was even worse than he had anticipated. There was an entire sea of purple creatures in front of him, each pushing the one in front of them to try to attack the knight that had so nobly approached them. He knew putting it off wouldn't help. But where should he start?
This question was answered for him when a Stromling Admiral was shoved toward him. The enemy was instantly destroyed by a slash from Bob's sword.
Chapter 16.1 Edit
With the first enemy already defeated, Bob wildly slashed his sword at the first row of Admirals and they all fell at once. He continued this technique and only stopped to defeat an enemy out of order when a brave Stromling Admiral would aim their hook at him. They were not fast enough to succeed in their attack.
Soon, the crowd was down to half its original size. The creatures continued to spawn, but Bob still had the upper hand. He was taking down the Stromlings faster than they were spawning. At this moment, he got an eerie feeling like he was being watched. He looked around quickly, his sword's attacks not ceasing, but saw nothing.
The Engineer and the Sorcerer were still occupied by their Maelstrom enemies. Even when they did look over to see how well Bob was doing, it was not the same sort of feeling that he got. When they looked over at him, he felt proud of that he was doing. When whoever else was watching him looked over, he felt afraid. He was not afraid of a minifigure – or was he?
The Maelstrom mob had practically vanished. Only one Stromling Admiral was left. Without hesitation, Bob thrust his sword toward his enemy with all the strength he had left in him. The Admiral fell without even having a chance to attack.
Bob expected many more to spawn now and for the cycle to begin all over again, but it did not. Instead, he heard slow, heavy footsteps from inside the cave. They were getting closer. His heart began to race. It almost stopped altogether when a Buccaneer – one without his tricorne – stepped out of the cave with an evil grin on his face.
Chapter 16.2 Edit
"Good to see you again, Bobert!" The Buccaneer said, putting as much emphasis and mockery on 'Bobert' as possible.
"'Bobert'? What are you–" Bob began.
"I think you know exactly what I'm talking about," The Buccaneer said. He stepped closer to Bob. "You traitor."
Bob was confused. "Traitor?"
"Don't play dumb with me, Bob. We know all about your past, present, and future,"
Bob was wondering what he meant by "we" when the Buccaneer pointed to the Engineer and Sorcerer several paces beside him. They finished off the enemies they were battling and promptly headed toward the stairs. It was all clear to Bob now – he had been tricked. It was all a set-up. The Engineer and Sorcerer had been placed there purposely to keep an eye on him. The Samurai was also in on the plan – he was to leave and let Bob battle the Maelstrom. They all knew he couldn't just wait for another minifigure to come by. He felt so foolish.
"You betrayed the Nexus Force, Bob! Now you will pay the price for your deception! Let's hope the Darkitecht can find a new assistant!" The Buccaneer cried and lifted his pistol. He readied the firearm.
Bob tried desperately to run, but he was frozen in fear. If only Commander Canax could save him once again from the cruel fiend in front of him.
The Buccaneer put his finger on the trigger of the gun and prepared to launch a barbarous shark at his victim. He pulled the trigger. The giant, wet beast emerged once again from the barrel of his pistol.
A split second later, a miracle occurred. Bob heard the familiar "clicks" of guns and several projectiles were fired from other firearms nearby. The bullets hurled toward the shark and met their mark with unmistakable accuracy. The shark slammed against the mountainside. Bob looked up at the plateau to the left of him.
On top of the platform was a Daredevil – a Daredevil named Blaze.
Chapter 16.3 Edit
Blaze jumped off the plateau and expertly performed a mid-air flip. When she landed, she placed her flare-guns in their holsters and removed her helmet. The Buccaneer was already shocked that his plan had been foiled – even Bob was – but he was even more surprised to find out that a woman had foiled his plan.
Bob and Blaze exchanged glances. When he was with Blaze, Bob knew he was safe. Her having saved him from the shark reassured this.
"No!" The Buccaneer yelled when he finally understood what had happened, "No, no, no!"
He raised his pistol and pulled the trigger again, but nothing happened. Water only trickled from the barrel down onto his hand. He threw the gun on the ground in anger. Suddenly, his eyes started to glow. It was apparent to both Bob and Blaze at the same time that he had more than his pistol with him.
The Buccaneer raised his cutlass and began to swipe it at Blaze and Bob. Blaze knew her flare-guns wouldn't be of any help against a sword, and she didn't have any other weapons. Bob grabbed his sword just in time to block the blow.
He slowly forced the sword back toward the Buccaneer, making the Venture draw his away and take a step back. Bob took a step forward and slashed his sword at the Buccaneer, who blocked the blow with his. When the Buccaneer was fully in the cave, Blaze joined in on the action. She fired shots in the air with her flare-guns, making the opponent think she was firing at him.
Soon, Bob disappeared into the darkness of the cave. He came out several seconds later with good news.
Chapter 16.4 Edit
"How did you find me here?" Bob asked excitedly after he had shared the news with Blaze.
"Well, I really had no idea you would be here, but as soon as I saw a Buccaneer and a Knight fighting... I just knew," Blaze said.
Bob wasn't sure whether she was being vague for a reason or whether he was supposed to understand.
"Come on, I'll explain where it's safe. There are spies everywhere." Blaze looked around.
There was an Assembly Summoner standing on the other side of the enclosure formed by the huge mountain chain. He just stood there, staring at them. He had his fingers interlocked in front of him, trying to look innocent, but it was all too obvious that he was not.
Blaze grabbed Bob's hand and pulled him toward the massive set of stairs. From the back, it just looked like a giant piece of concrete, so it almost seemed strange when they turned around the side of the block and it suddenly was a set of stairs. As Blaze was leading Bob to the top, he noticed something about the mountain that had been looming over him the whole time – more than the mountain had been looming over him the whole time.
Carved into the mountain, a great distance above the ground, were caves. Bob had already realized that. What he had not realized was that these caves were different than the others – inside were minifigures, not Maelstrom.
This was not the most surprising thing about the caves – the minifigures in those caves were unlike all the others that he had met in Gnarled Forest.
These minifigures were ninjas.
Chapter 16.5 Edit
It did seem strange for ninjas to be found in a world inhabited by pirates, since it was a known fact in the universe that pirates and ninjas were sworn enemies, but then it all became clear to Bob. In front of the ninjas were metal bars – jail cell bars. The ninjas clung to them like life preservers. It was obvious that the ninjas were pushing as hard as they could on the bars, because they were the only things that stood between them and freedom.
Bob understood that ninjas were the natural enemies of pirates and that they really should not have been in Gnarled Forest in the first place, but what were the pirates imprisoning them for in the first place? Just choosing to study ninjitsu instead of becoming a pirate? It didn't seem right.
Blaze led Bob up the huge set of stairs and stopped at the top. She indicated for him to back up to the edge of the landing and get a running start at the gap between flights. They both did, and Blaze went first. She didn't seem the slightest bit nervous that if she miscalculated the distance between the two sets of steps, she would fall over thirty feet and no doubt break several bones. Blaze ran to the edge of the small platform and leapt to the continuation of the set of stairs. She proceeded to the top of the steps.
Bob did the same thing, but his landing was not as smooth. He landed on his toes at the absolute edge of the step and began slipping off. Blaze had just reached the top of the stairs. She turned around to see Bob hanging off the side of the stairs with his fingers firmly gripping a tiny crack in the concrete. She grabbed his arms at the last possible second and pulled him up with no trouble at all.
Chapter 16.6 Edit
"Thank you!" Bob said quietly. Blaze said nothing in response, only smiled, but it was apparent to Bob that the grin meant 'no problem.'
Blaze took hold of Bob's hand and led him down the jungle path. There was a steep mountainside to the right of them and a thick forest to the left. Blaze led him toward the mountainside. Oh no, she can't expect me to climb a mountain to find this 'safe place,' Bob thought to himself.
He felt quite relieved when she peeked around the side of the rocks instead of looking up towards the top of the mountain. Although it didn't necessarily mean they weren't climbing a mountain, it was still reassuring.
Bob was just about to ask where they were heading was when Blaze jumped back from her position spying around the rocks and pulled Bob back with her. He fell to the ground. Blaze looked down at him and put a finger to her lip. Moments later, Bob heard a wild scream coming from somewhere up ahead. Some airborne object flying past them followed this. It looked like a minifigure flailing its limbs helplessly, but that was unlikely – how would he have been launched with such force?
The object landed – it groaned. Bob looked over at it. It was a minifigure. Two more projectiles flew by – these were much smaller than the first. They landed – one sunk deep into the ground, but the other bounced up and then landed. There was then the sharp 'crack' of a gun being fired and a fish emerged from the item, which could now be identified as a pistol. The other was a sword.
Yet another object flew past them, this one larger than any of the others. The minifigure scrambled to his feet and bolted out of the way just as the object landed. It was a boulder.
The minifigure – an amateur Buccaneer, by the looks of it – leapt onto the stairs leading down to the caves, screaming as he went.
Blaze grabbed Bob by the wrist and dragged him around the side of the mountain. He managed to break free from her tight grasp so he could get onto his feet. When he did, he saw a Maelstrom Ape in front of him – and Blaze was fighting it.
Her flare guns discharged continuously at the beast in front of her. The deafening noise only ceased once while Bob was watching, but the shrieks and groans from the Ape quickly filled in the silence. Blaze was keeping her fingers pulled back on the triggers of her guns longer than usual – probably charging up for an even more powerful attack. The Ape was lifting a boulder above his head. It was only a matter of seconds before the huge projectile was launched at the courageous Daredevil fighting the Maelstrom Ape – and Blaze would be smashed.
She released the triggers. Two massive bursts of fire erupted from the barrels of her firearms and exploded into even larger infernos that spread all across the Maelstrom Ape's body. Bob cringed.
After this powerful attack on Blaze's part, the Ape collapsed, but it was apparent to Bob that he had not been defeated. He still rustled every few seconds and tried to get up, only to realize his exhaustion and fall back onto the ground. Bob rushed forward and slashed his sword wildly at their mighty foe.
The Maelstrom Ape was almost defeated. He tried to get up with all his might, but he always fell back down. The power of Blaze's flare guns – combined with the fierceness of Bob's slashes – was too much. There was no escape from the pain.
With one final surge of energy, the Ape got to his feet, to the surprise of the duo battling him, and flung his two massive fists toward Blaze. She dropped and rolled out of the way moments before the Maelstrom Ape's fists collided with the ground. It seemed like a huge shockwave was released from them – Bob and Blaze flew backwards, Blaze landing in the cluster of trees and Bob hitting the mountainside, then falling down onto the ground. A few seconds later, Blaze leapt out of the forest, and with one final shot from her flare guns, the Ape fell for the final time.
Bob's back ached from colliding with the rocks so hard. He really wished he could just relax and rest after what happened, but he knew that wasn't possible with Blaze wanting to lead him to somewhere safe to tell him the rest of the story. He got back up and walked over to Blaze, who was looking down at the fallen Ape.
When Bob reached her, Blaze tucked her flare guns back into their holsters. Pushing aside the Maelstrom Ape, she began to assemble the trampoline that would launch them onto the ledge above. This trampoline was vital, because this was not just another pile of boulders in front of them, it was a wall. There was nothing to hold onto, so it was impossible just to scale it and proceed without help from some contraption – in this case, a trampoline.
Blaze finished building the trampoline. She stepped onto it and immediately sprang up toward the sky, then fell gently down to the ground. Bob stepped around the Ape's body and stepped onto the trampoline. He bounced up to the top of the wall-like rock in front of him, involuntarily performed a few flips in mid-air and landed on the edge of the cliff. It seemed like everything around him was spinning. Blaze pulled him up and began to lead him down the dirt path through the jungle.
After a few seconds on this trail, Bob heard a distinct sound up ahead. He could hear waves rolling in the ocean, then breaking as they reached the shore. This sound grew as he continued through the thicket. As the path turned, the soothing noise suddenly became much louder. Bob's surroundings suddenly matched this familiar sound – he was no longer standing in the middle of the jungle. In front of him was a beach, but this was no ordinary beach. It was like nothing Bob had ever seen.
In front of him, there was a massive pile of boulders with several large items on it, some of which looked quite out of place – a white pipe organ, a cannon, and the wheel of a ship. In front of the wheel was a minifigure in a long, red coat and an admiral's hat with a skull and crossbones on it. There was a red parrot perched on his shoulder, an eye patch over one eye, and a black hook for his right hand.
"Hello, Jack!" Blaze said as she lead Bob passed the pirate admiral.
"Good day to you, Blaze!" The admiral replied.
The strangest thing about this beach was the feature where the shore met the water. There was a large tree protruding from the water, and on top of the tree was a pirate ship. And what a grand pirate ship it was – red and yellow body with striped red and white sails, a marble mermaid statue atop the bow. Its owner must have surely been proud to have it, and distraught when – however it may have happened – it got stuck in the top of a tree.
"Here we are!" Blaze said as she reached the sand. Bob looked around and took in the surroundings. It may have been a long journey to find this beach, but it was worth it. It was truly incredible.
Built on the sand were several wooden huts that looked like they had been made in a hurry – they were very small and the wood planks looked like they had been applied quite carelessly. In front of each hut was a pirate, some tending to fires and others gazing at the water. The sun had almost set below the horizon at this point, casting streaks of orange across the sea.
To Bob's relief, there were no swords clashing, Stromling Admirals firing rings of Maelstrom energy, Apes groaning, or flare guns blazing – he was finally at a peaceful place in Gnarled Forest. "No need to constantly be on guard here," Bob thought. But in actuality, his thoughts were horribly mistaken.
Blaze took Bob's hand once again and lead him across the beach until they reached a mountainside. They were a good distance away from the pirates, making it hard for any eavesdroppers to listen in on their conversation.
With one quick glance toward the top of the mountain, Blaze said in a hushed tone, "Okay, Bob, do you know why those people were chasing you, and why they all had warthogs with them?"
"No, but the Buccaneer leading them seemed to think I was a criminal or something... and he mentioned something about 'the Darkitecht' and me being his assistant." Bob said.
"Yes, the Darkitecht is another name for Baron Typhonus – the overlord of the Maelstrom. He controls every the Maelstrom's every move in hopes of destroying imagination once and for all – and imprisoning all minifigures as Maelstrom creatures on the way."
"That's horrible!" Bob cried. Many pirates turned to look at him. Blaze shot Bob a look of alarm.
"Worse then you could ever imagine," Blaze continued even quieter then before, "which is why I find it hard to believe that someone like you could be connected to someone like that. I choose not to believe the rumors. I don't think you have anything to do with the Darkitecht."
"Rumors? Who started them?" Bob asked.
Blaze looked around. "Mythrans."
"Mythrans are the highest ranked minifigures in the universe. They have the power to do anything they desire. Some say Mythrans are made entirely out of pure imagination, but I have never encountered one, so I don't know if that is true or not. Mythrans always help minifigures in need, so I can't understand why they would do something so cruel as to say that you, of all people, are working for Baron Typhonus. They even told everyone that you were afraid of warthogs!" Blaze's voice quivered. "Making up lies about an innocent person working for the Baron is one thing. But telling everyone about his fear? That is truly awful."
"Wow." Bob said after it had all sunk in. The truth was all clear to him now. The Mythrans had spread horrible rumors about him. There was no doubt that the entire universe had heard these lies, and only a handful of people knew that they actually were lies. He was lucky that Blaze was one of these people that knew the truth. If she actually believed those lies, he would be all alone.
The Buccaneer, obviously a veteran of the Nexus Force, must have heard the news and started a team of other outraged minifigures to hunt down Bob, the supposed assistant of Baron Typhonus. They must have felt so betrayed – Bob having helped them when they came aboard the Venture Explorer, then hearing that he is evil. Bob couldn't blame them. But what the Mythrans did was unethical.
Bob was still deep in thought when Blaze said, "Well, it's been a long day. We should probably get some rest."
Bob looked up at the sky. The sun had set and darkness was beginning to spread around them. Pirates at the camp were extinguishing their campfires and heading inside their huts. He suddenly realized that he was exhausted. Learning about the Mythrans and what they had done had distracted him. It really had been a long day for him. Arriving in Gnarled Forest, meeting Darkrule, running from the warthogs, being saved by Commander Canax, fighting off waves of Admirals, coming face-to-face with the Buccaneer again, then being reunited with Blaze. The experience was unbelievable.
"Let's see..." Blaze said as she wandered toward the back of a pirate's hut, where there were several bales of hay stacked up. She grabbed two of the hay bales and brought them back to Bob. She dropped them near the base of the mountain a few feet away from each other. "Two makeshift pillows! Not much, but they will have to do for tonight." Leaning closer to Bob, she whispered, "Pirates are not the most hospitable people."
Bob laid down on his hay bale and Blaze laid down on hers.
"Say, Bob... what happened to your arm?"
"Long story. I'll explain in the morning." Bob said. He closed his eyes and reminisced about his adventurers in Gnarled Forest. It was not long before he fell asleep.
Bob awoke with a start. Someone was calling his name. It was a familiar voice. He had heard it before, not very long ago, but he could not remember whose voice it was. It was certainly not Blaze's – it was a man's voice. It was a whisper, but it cut through the darkness of night like a dagger.
He looked around. There was no one in sight. The pirates were sound asleep in their huts. Blaze was asleep as well.
Something shimmering in the darkness caught Bob's eye. It was at the center of the camp, between the two mountains. It was a cloud. It glowed a faint purple color. It began to fade away, then turned into a black cloud – even darker the shadows that surrounded him. It grew and grew until Bob could see an object in the center of the cloud. It was a minifigure.
The minifigure dropped to the ground, landing on his feet. He wore a black cloak and a black top hat, and held a sapphire scepter in his hand. The most remarkable thing about this minifigure, and also the most disturbingly familiar, was the pair of purple wings on his back. The wings suddenly turned into dark clouds like the one he had emerged from and dispersed into the air. Bob suddenly knew who this was.
It was Baron Typhonus.
Bob reached for Blaze, but she had disappeared.
The Baron walked toward Bob. The cloud behind him disappeared just as his wings had moments ago. He held his scepter up and it, too, dissipated into the air similarly to the disappearance of his wings and the cloud.
"Hello, Bob!" Baron Typhonus said, increasing his pace. His voice sounded cheerful but evil at the same time. He did his best to sound innocent, but it was evident he meant harm.
"What do you want, Typhonus?" Bob said hostilely. As the words came out of his mouth, he was shocked that he had gotten it out and not been overcome by fear. The Baron seemed surprised at his bravery as well.
"Well, well, Bob, it seems that you have adapted some courage since we last met. By the way, did you find the gift I left you?"
Bob looked at his hand. The purple blotch was still there, as unpleasant and eye-catching as ever. "It's no gift, it's a curse." He said.
"Whatever is the matter? Just upset because there is no one to save you? That you may actually have to stand up for yourself?" The Baron asked.
Bob bit his tongue.
"Really, it is time for you to finally do something on your own instead of letting your cowardice get to you and wait for your friends to come and do the work for you."
While the Baron talked, Bob slowly reached behind his back, where his sword laid. He grasped the handle. After picking it up as quietly as possible, he suddenly brought his arm back and hurled the sword at Baron Typhonus.
The Baron lifted his hand and the sword disappeared, quickly chewed up by the darkness itself – darkness that used to belong to the purple cloud. Just then, Bob was distracted by something moving on his body.
The darkness was eating away at his armor.
Bob grabbed at what remained of his breastplate, trying to fight off the darkness that had engulfed it, but as soon as he touched the tiny cloud his fingers stung like they had been attacked by thousands of bees simultaneously. He flung his hand away from the armor and buried it into the sand.
Typhonus was getting closer to Bob. The closer he got, the more his piercing red eyes glowed. When he was no less than a meter away, he lifted his pale hands and a trail of purple smoke formed in front of them. The eerie smoke moved toward him. The Baron began to laugh maniacally, just as he had in the dragon's den.
Bob looked at his body. The purple smoke was wrapping around him tighter and tighter until everything began to change. His hands turned purple, as did the rest of his body.
The Maelstrom was infecting him. He was becoming a Stromling.
"No... no, no!" Bob cried.
Bob opened his eyes and gasped. He sat upright.
It had been a dream – some horrible, twisted nightmare.
He looked to the left of him. Blaze was there, unlike in that awful dream. He looked at his hands. They were no longer dyed purple, aside from the one ugly, purple blemish. He was himself again.
Blaze sat upright, hearing Bob gasping.
"Bob? What happened?"
"A nightmare." Bob said.
"Ah. It's common to have nightmares about him. It seems that every minifigure lately is suffering from hallucinations about the Darkitecht," Blaze explained. "Especially if you have actually encountered him – after you look into his eyes, he forever has the power to visit you in your dreams and turn every happy thought that enters your mind into a nightmare."
Bob's body grew cold. This had been no ordinary nightmare. Baron Typhonus had visited him. He did not even know for sure that it was a dream. For all he knew, it was real.
"Bob? What is it?" Blaze asked, noticing that Bob was growing paler then he usually was and his eyes were full of fear. "You haven't actually met the Baron... have you?"
Bob did not want to answer this question. He was already horrified enough, and Blaze knowing the truth would only add to the stress.
He looked down at the palm of his hand. The purple dot was beginning to glow. He could hear Blaze still murmuring "Bob?" over and over again, but it soon began to fade away in his mind. Just like in that horrible dream, a purple smoke began to form beside him. It slowly drifted toward his body. It reached his leg and the worst thing about the nightmare began to come true – Bob began to become a Stromling. His legs were suddenly engulfed in the purple gas and they glowed the unpleasant color. The same began to take place with the rest of his body. He looked over at Blaze's face – she was now in shock and was leaning away from him.
Bob's head underwent the awful transformation. The purple smoke spread across his eyes and his vision suddenly went blurry. It felt as if he was blacking out, and he suddenly lost consciousness altogether.
When Bob came to several seconds later, he looked down at himself. He had gone back to normal. He was no longer a Stromling. He was the same old Bob he used to be. He was almost certain that had been another dream – or another wild hallucination – but when he looked over at Blaze's face, he knew it had been real.
"No... no, no, no." Blaze said. "It's true. It can't be true. But..." She suddenly got to her feet. She ran from Bob, toward the rock on which Jack used to stand.
When she had reached the entrance to the forest, Bob cried, "Blaze! Wait!"
She looked back at him. Her eyes glistened with tears. She turned back away from Bob and ran into the dense forest.
Bob stood up on the soft sand. His emotions had peaked. He was filled with anger and rage both at the Mythrans that had spread the rumors in the first place and the Darkitecht for reassuring everyone's fears that they were true. He couldn't believe that the Baron had been able to turn him into a Stromling. It didn't seem possible, but yet, the past few days had been filled with impossibilities. He really should have seen this coming – he felt so foolish.
Bob walked over to a dock at the end of the beach, where there was a rocket-launching pad. He looked up at the sky. Even thousands of miles away, in the blackness of night, the glaring lights of Nimbus Station were visible. He took the pieces of his rocket out of his pockets and began to assemble his spacecraft. When he had finished, he loaded it onto the launchpad and stepped into the cockpit. The windshield closed around him and the rocket blasted off into the sky.
As he hurtled toward Nimbus Station, Bob thought about his adventures in Gnarled Forest. Every world he visited, the chances of him completing his journey became slimmer. Now he had a team of both vicious minifigures and savage warthogs after him – and by now, Blaze had probably joined forces with them. On top of this, the most awful, evil person in the universe was also just waiting for Bob to fall into a deep sleep, so he could once again attack him in what should have been the safest place possible – his dreams. After only getting a half-night's sleep, he was still feeling tired. But he could not fall asleep, with the danger of the Darkitecht visiting him while he slept. It didn't seem like it could get any worse.
But it could – and it would, very soon.
Bob awoke suddenly.
He had drifted off to sleep.
His mind raced as he scolded himself harshly in his mind for falling asleep. The Baron could have attacked him again – how did he know for a fact that he didn't? He peered through the cockpit windshield. He did not see any sign of the Maelstrom, or a huge purple storm cloud. It appeared to Bob that the Darkitecht had not ruined his moments of sleep.
Bob relaxed. He sat back in his seat and began to think about Nimbus Station. He had already been to Forbidden Valley, home of the ninjas, and Gnarled Forest, home of the pirates. Where would he travel now? There was really no way of knowing until he reached his destination.
He looked up. His heart skipped a beat at what he saw. His eyes bulged and he began to sweat as he continued to stare at what he used to know as Nimbus Station.
The rocket stopped at the entrance to the Avant Gardens launchpad. Bob was dumped out of his spacecraft, just as he had before, and it took itself apart. He absent-mindedly put the rocket parts in his pocket and just stared at the wasteland below him.
The world was no longer a safe, worry-free city where he could go upon his business peacefully without having to constantly be on-guard. Nimbus Station had been attacked – and the guest of honor had just arrived.
Bob slowly walked down the hill that came to the plaza – or what used to be a plaza. The four faction vendors were destroyed, the buildings in ruins. The neat, clean tiles that formed the intricate paths around Nimbus Station were now broken and covered in Maelstrom-sludge. The sky was a purplish-color and the air smelled foul. Bob pulled his shirt over his nose until he became accustomed to the disgusting air.
Stromlings were roaming free in the streets. As Bob reached the plaza, he pulled out his sword. A Stromling ran up the steps toward him but Bob just held his sword in front of his body and the Stromling ran right into it. Stromlings had become even more utterly mindless since Avant Gardens.
Bob walked down the steps and slashed down another Stromling. A Mech stood in the center of the plaza, in the circle of grass. The Mech did not notice Bob approaching, as he was facing the other direction, scanning the area for minifigures – any minifigures that had not yet been annihilated.
As he neared the target, he noticed that the center of the plaza was no longer a patch of grass. There was a gaping hole in its place and a clear, white light gleamed from the bottom of the abyss. He wondered what could possibly be down there that cast that much light probably miles up to the surface. Deep in thought, gazing into the trench, Bob did not notice the Mech turn around and lift his blaster-arm. When he heard the vacuum-like sound of the Mech charging up his shot, he snapped back to reality just in time to dodge the blast. He thrust his sword into the Mech's right leg and it fell into the abyss, sparks flying.
Bob looked down into the hole his fallen foe had collapsed into. The Mech was still falling, and continued to until he was just a speck underneath Nimbus Station.
Bob backed away from the gaping abyss in the center of Nimbus Station. After a few steps, he felt his foot come in contact with something slimy – he could tell by the way his shoe slid around on it. This was followed by a disturbing, high-pitched screeching sound. He flung himself around to realize he had stepped on a Stromling's foot.
The Stromling, now filled with anger and rage that this clumsy knight had stomped on his foot, slashed around his double-bladed fist. Bob dodged the attacks and kicked the disgusting little creature hard in the side. It flew backwards a few feet and then fell motionless.
Bob ran toward the small alleyway that lead to the Gnarled Forest launchpad entrance between the Assembly vendor and the Venture League vendor, where another Mech was walking awkwardly down the narrow hall. When he saw Bob, he tried to lift his blaster-arm but it was no use. He was stuck in the alley. Moments later, Bob's sword came slicing into the Mech's protective chest-plate. Sparks flew and he kicked his enemy through one of the purple hedges that lined the alley, beside the Assembly vendor.
He charged up the steps and struck down two more Stromlings that were wandering beside the path to the Gnarled Forest launchpad, which was almost indistinguishable with a thick cloud of Maelstrom-gas hovering in front of it.
It was all quiet for a few seconds. Bob walked through the shrub-lined alley and down the steps to the center of the plaza. Then, certain spots throughout Nimbus Station began to glow. The glowing spots grew in size until it was absolutely blinding, then it died down. Stromlings and Mechs stood in the place of the light.
Bob swung himself around at the sound of hard, mechanical footsteps behind him. He kicked the Mech approaching him in the leg then made one more sword slice, avoiding the shower of sparks that followed. He turned back around and ran toward a lone Stromling running about, giggling evilly, and hit it hard with the tip of his sword.
He ran back to the hill to the Avant Gardens launchpad, quickly slashing a few Stromlings on the way, and lunged at a Mech that was walking around the loop at the edge of the plaza. He dug his sword down into the armor of the robot. He stood back up to pull his sword out of the side of the Maelstrom Mech.
After tackling a Stromling that was running toward him and quickly winning the struggle, Bob looked around Nimbus Station. Only one enemy remained – a Stromling that stood on the edge of the abyss. He ran toward his final enemy.
Upon nearing his target, he leapt into the air and landed behind the Stromling. The disgusting, little creature turned around in surprise. His eyes were full of fear. Bob kicked the Stromling toward the endless cavern below.
It struggled to keep his balance, but it could not perform the feat on its own. The Stromling looked at Bob in total reliance, praying for his help, but Bob did not help him. The Stromling fell backwards into the light-flooded abyss, to join the fallen Mech below.
Bob turned back toward the inner plaza. The glowing spheres appeared again. They grew until they then died down and more enemies lied in their places. Bob ran toward a Stromling in front of him and jabbed his sword toward its side, then kicking it out of the way. He ran toward the path to the Forbidden Valley launch pad, where there was a Stromling running about. He kicked the Stromling out of the way and it flew over the fences lining the path. He proceeded toward the hill to the Avant Gardens launch pad and slashed down a Maelstrom Mech that had begun his normal, senseless walk around the loop of Nimbus Station.
Bob now saw two Stromlings running at him from opposite directions. When they had almost reached him, he jumped into the air. The little purple creatures below him, obviously not being too bright, did not notice that their target was no longer there until they had collided with each other head-on.
Bob fell back down to the ground, sword aimed toward the two collided Stromlings. He fell directly on them and struck down both with a single swipe.
Bob walked away from the pile of fallen enemies and proceeded his rounds throughout the plaza, kicking and swiping at every purple creature (or evil robot) that came toward him. He continued this until the spheres appeared again, and he began the process once more.
Bob completed four more "waves", as he thought of them, until the glowing did not start again. He looked around. Perhaps he had defeated all the enemies in Nimbus Station?
He thought this was the case until he saw that one spot had begun to glow. It was in front of the destroyed Assembly vendor. He watched from a distance until the glowing spot shrunk and a single enemy was in its place. It looked like a Stromling from afar, but as he got closer, he realized it was some mutation of a Maelstrom creature – same purple complexion, but it wore a purple-splattered breastplate and a matching helmet. Instead of a double-bladed arm for a weapon, it had a lethal hammer.
The disturbing creature looked around. When it saw Bob, its eyes widened. It charged toward him faster than he had though possible by something on two legs, and Bob barely had time to raise his sword before the hammer in an uppercut motion struck him. His lower jaw collided painfully with his upper teeth and he stumbled backwards. He thought for sure his teeth would be broken, but after doing a careful inspection with his tongue in his crippled position on the ground, he decided otherwise. Hearing heavy, swift footsteps in front of him, he jumped up and soared over the beast, landing directly behind it. He kicked his leg backwards and it struck the mutated Stromling in the back. Bob turned around and charged toward it. The creature turned back around, swinging his hammer, but it fell with one final slash from Bob's sword.
Bob stepped away from the fallen, mutated Stromling. He assumed the glowing spheres would appear again, but after waiting for about twenty seconds, they did not. Perhaps he had defeated all the Nimbus Station invaders? Maybe the last enemy he had vanquished was the ringleader, or at least, the boss?
If it really were over, what would he do now? Nimbus Station had not turned back into what it was before. With all the destruction the Maelstrom had caused, it would be impossible to restore the city.
An excruciating pain in his leg interrupted Bob's thoughts. He looked behind him and saw that a Stromling Pirate had attacked him.
Its double-bladed sword-like arm had made a deep wound in his ankle. As the Pirate drew back its blade, the pain grew even worse.
Apparently, he had been so lost in thought that, yet again; he had completely missed an enemy sneak up on him. He felt foolish to have even missed the glowing spheres, which glowed as bright as tiny suns.
Despite the overwhelming pain, Bob forced himself to strike down the Pirate that had ambushed him.
A thorough inspection of the are lead Bob to believe that this wave was unlike the others, for this one contained only Stromling Pirates as apposed to Stromlings and Mechs.
Like the several other times, Bob made his way around Nimbus Station, swinging his sword this way and that way violently. Stopping at the path to the Vertigo Loop racetrack where he had beaten Velocity Lane, he made a quick scan of the area. He only saw one more enemy, walking slowly around the demolished Paradox vendor. He raced toward he Stromling Pirate, putting his sword in striking position. Upon reaching his target, he made one swift swipe, followed by a strong kick, and finally stood above his fallen foe.
The glowing began again, and Bob prepared for the next battle.
This wave was like the last, but with several Admirals thrown in with the Pirates. Although he had much trouble with facing Admirals early in his Gnarled Forest journey (his left arm still ached when he tried to move it), he had progressed very far in his fighting skills since then and was able to defeat all the enemies in this wave without much difficulty.
The next few waves flew by. He had started to get the hang of this battle.
After defeating countless enemies and clearing many waves, the glowing did not begin. This time, Bob was not foolish enough to believe that it was over. He took a good look around him and spotted that there was, indeed, a glowing spot.
This one was much larger than any of the others. It was positioned at what used to be the Venture League vendor. Bob slowly walked toward it, but had to look away when the light became absolutely blinding. When he turned back, there seemed to be a giant blob of something black with a few patches of purple here and there. With these slight hints of color, it was still not distinguishable. Then, ever so slowly, what looked like a head rose from the "blob" and it began to turn around.
It was a giant Maelstrom Ape.
But this was no ordinary Maelstrom Ape. It was not just slightly larger than its counterparts in Gnarled Forest – this one was absolutely huge.
The monstrous beast looked around. Its eyes suddenly narrowed when they met Bob, then widened in realization. The monster reached behind its back and then raised its arms above its head.
It was preparing to throw a boulder at Bob.
The huge stone was suddenly hurtling through the air, and Bob barely had enough time to duck before it flew over his head.
If he had waited one more millisecond, the boulder would have taken his head clean off! This thought sent shivers down Bob's spine in his crouched position on the ground.
He raised his head to see if there was anything else behind hurled at him. There was not, but Bob could tell that the ape was planning his next move.
Within seconds, Bob was on his feet and rushing up the stairs with his sword in front of him, preparing to stab the ape.
Bob could clearly see fear in the eyes of his opponent. Deep down, underneath all the evil and hatred that the Darkitecht had armed his minion with, there was a heart. This creature had feelings. Bob had partially realized this back in Gnarled Forest, but now he truly understood.
Unfortunately, sparing this ape was not an option. Nimbus Station was in his hands, and he could not let all those minifigures down. Bob reached his opponent and stabbed it with the lethal tip of his sword.
The menacing ape howled with rage and flung Bob back over his head. He landed on the path behind the Venture League building, a few meters away from the gorgeous sea that shined brilliantly in the moonlight.
Bob did not have time to reflect on the sea's beauty, though. He quickly got to his feet just in time to dodge another boulder.
Bob raced toward his foe once again and slashed his weapon like a madman before the ape had a chance to attack.
When the huge monster reached his fists toward his chest, Bob instinctively backed away. Memories of this attack in Gnarled Forest came flooding back to him. The ape began to pound his chest, and then he slammed his two clenched fists down onto the ground. Each time, Bob could feel a tremendous shockwave that almost knocked him off his feet. If he had not fled before this attack, he would have been flung into the sea – which he could now see several gray, menacing fins darting about in.
After three ground-pound attacks, as Bob thought of them, he raced back up the stairs and leapt toward the ape a few seconds before another boulder was raised. He soared above the boulder and landed behind his opponent. There was now a pile of bricks lying where he stood – apparently, the shockwaves had uncovered them.
Bob quickly saw a pattern to the brick styles and realized what it built – it was an anchor. His arms flailed around as he tried to assemble it as fast as possible. The ape had turned around and was now facing him once again. It began to pound its chest again, signaling another attack.
Bob put the final piece on his creation and tried to pick it up. It was the heaviest object he had ever tried to lift. As hard as it was to raise the anchor, his life could easily depend on it.
One – two – three – an attack was coming.
Bob gathered all the strength he had left. The anchor began to move and rise off the ground a few centimeters.
The ape's fists were beginning to fall from its chest to the ground. A few more milliseconds and it would be over for Bob.
The anchor was now off the ground – now he just needed to gather enough force for it to hit the ape. He spun in a circle, raising the anchor even higher. After he had completed the rotation, he let go.
The anchor hit its target with astounding accuracy – right on the head. Bob couldn't help but cringe.
He suddenly began to start attacking wildly. After about a minute, he could see that the ape was beginning to regain consciousness. It was beginning to stir a bit. Time was running out.
Bob made one final hit, as strong as he possibly could, and the ape collapsed once more. It did not move at all.
Bob had won.
Bob stood above the fallen ape. Coins had fallen around the limp body – apparently, it had done a lot of thieving from minifigures in his time.
He quickly pocketed the loot that the ape had dropped. Coins and faction tokens were practically spilling out of his pockets by the time he had finished. Hopefully, combined with the rest of the loot he would collect on the rest of his journey, it would be enough for the next rank of Knight gear – that is, if Nimbus Station were ever returned to its former glory. Bob's hopes sank as he realized that this might be the new Nimbus Station.
Bob waited a little while, waiting for the glowing spheres to appear again. He was certain that they would.
After about thirty seconds, the spheres did appear again. As always, they grew and grew, then shrunk down and enemies took their places. After a quick inspection of the area, Bob decided that this wave consisted of a type of enemy very similar to the one he had seen early on in his Nimbus Station journey – it had a spiked helmet, silver armor splattered with a bright Maelstrom liquid, and a hammer as a right hand. One of these "Hammer Stromlings", as Bob came to referring to them as, approached him, and he found that they were much easier to defeat than the other one he had faced. It fell after only a few blows from his sword, as apposed to the long battle he had with the other.
Bob ran around Nimbus Station, defeating the Hammer Stromlings one by one as he wondered how much longer this could go on for. Suddenly, a thought occurred to him. In his visit from the Darkitecht in Gnarled Forest, he had woken up in a dream, and then awoken from the dream. Could this be the same type of thing? He had fallen asleep on the rocket going back to Nimbus Station; that was evident. Could Nimbus Station being invaded just be one big, crazy dream? He stopped running and battling for a few moments to think. He looked around. The colors were vivid and when all those enemies in Nimbus Station had struck Bob, the pain had seemed so real. It couldn't be a dream.
He continued fighting the Hammer Stromlings until he saw no more. The next wave flew by with only the same types of enemies having spawned. This wave was very uneventful – Bob defeated all the enemies with ease.
In the next wave, it was mainly composed of Hammer Stromlings, but there were several Maelstrom Mechs thrown in. Although, after a single glance at one of them, Bob knew these were not the same. The ones he had first seen in Avant Gardens had been mainly orange and white, but these Mechs were all purple. Thick Maelstrom fumes were emitted from them, unlike the ones he had seen before.
Bob approached one of the new Mech breeds and slashed its back with his sword. The others would have fallen with a single slash, but this one turned around and aimed its laser at him, apparently not badly injured by the blow.
Bob watched as the red target danced around his shoulder menacingly. In a split second, he parried the attack and made several more blows to the Mech's back. The enemy now fell and Bob kicked it once to make sure the battle really was over.
These Mechs were significantly harder to battle than the ones from Avant Gardens, obviously. It was especially difficult with Bob partially being an inexperienced fighter. If the next few waves consisted mainly of this new type of Mech, it could be a problem.
A Hammer Stromling ran toward him, giggling as the dim-witted Stromlings would, but did not get to make an attack. Bob kicked the little creature into the huge, glowing abyss in the center of the plaza as soon as it reached him.
He now saw another purple Mech walking around the loop. Its right arm was raised, as usual. Bob didn't even want to imagine what it would feel like to be hit by one of those lasers. As he ran toward his next target, the only thing he could picture was falling to his knees in excruciating pain, then being carried off by the Maelstrom Mech. It was probably programmed to go directly to the Baron after capturing a minifigure – especially after capturing Bob. Baron Typhonus obviously had some reason to want to capture Bob.
But what was the reason?
Bob reached the Mech and sliced his sword across its chest armor. The robot, obviously taken by surprise, stumbled backwards a few feet. He continued to attack, without letting his opponent make a single move. Soon, sparks flew out of the Maelstrom Mech and it collapsed. Bob moved onto his next battle.
He soon found a group of Hammer Stromlings near the Forbidden Valley trail, and he sent them all sprawling backwards after a few swipes with his sword.
Bob continued to clear wave after wave with no difficulty. Even with this new type of Mech and fairly new Hammer Stromlings, he had very little trouble with his next few battles. There was no variance in the enemies that he saw in the next few waves – they were all Hammer Stromlings or purple Mechs. It stayed this way until Bob suddenly noticed that something was amiss. He saw some enemies running about that were different than the others. They were a darker purple color than the Hammer Stromlings. They were also larger than Hammer Stromlings but smaller than Mechs, and they ran much faster than either of these enemies. Something about them was vaguely familiar, but from afar, he couldn't tell what type of Maelstrom creature they were.
Then, one of these unidentifiable enemies approached Bob. As it got closer, memories from Gnarled Forest flooded back. This was a Maelstrom Admiral – but not just any type of Admiral. The ones he had seen in Gnarled Forest were all different colors – clothes were grey and tan, hat was black and white, and skin was purple. This Admiral was completely purple, like the Mech.
As the Admiral slowly approached Bob, he wondered if all the Maelstrom creatures he had come across also had purple counterparts like these. That thought would have to wait until later, since the Stromling Admiral had now raised its arm and was preparing to fire. Bob leapt out of the way just as the mechanical, hook-hand shot out of the Admiral's arm, attached with a chain. Where the hook had been moments before, rings of Maelstrom energy began to shoot out at the ground.
Bob moved around to the back of the Admiral, where it was the most vulnerable, and began attacking with his sword. His opponent stopped firing the rings of energy, and the chain quickly recoiled, putting the hook back in place.
Bob knew that he only had a few more seconds before another attack would come. He thrust his sword into a powerful uppercut, making the Admiral's jaw collide painfully with his upper teeth. Bob then kicked his foe and made one final slash on its back as it sprawled away, then fell.
After surveying the area, Bob saw another new enemy. It looked like a giant spider with a large, dark blue head. Several big, orange eyes were peeking out in all directions from the creature's oddly shaped head.
As he began to approach the spider, sword raised, it suddenly spun around. Two objects that looked like barrels of rifles were now visible on either side of the spider's head. Before Bob could back away and study his enemy more, he was struck by a burst of electricity that had suddenly erupted from one of the barrels.
Bob collapsed in pain, blue electricity swirling around his body. He tumbled around the ground violently, unable to control his movements. After several more seconds of nothing but sheer agony, the electricity stopped attacking him. He tried to move his legs and get up, but it was almost impossible. Turning over and looking up at the sky, he saw the spider standing over him. His sword was several inches from his outstretched hand.
Moving even this much toward his sword seemed like a challenge, but he knew he must defeat this monster before it caused him any more pain. It didn't feel like he could handle any more. He was practically immobilized after one attack. He could almost touch the sword, but it would take more to grab it. Almost there...
"Bob?" Blaze asked as she reached the pirate camp at the edge of Gnarled Forest.
The sun was beginning to rise, casting orange streaks across the shimmering water once again.
Looking around, she couldn't see her friend anywhere. All the pirates were still inside their huts, sleeping soundly. There was evidently no one else around. Blaze cried one more tear silently.
She had lost him forever.
With a sudden burst of energy, Bob grasped his sword. Before the giant spider above him could react, he thrust the sword into the body of the great beast. He then flung the creature's limp body over his head, hearing it slam against the hard stone ground.
Looking at his exposed hands, he now realized what bad shape the spider's attacks had put him in. They were spotted with ugly charcoal colors. Even so, the purple dot on his right hand was plainly visible, as always. Bob pulled up the metal grate of his helmet and wiped his forehead with his sleeve. More black spots came off.
After several more minutes, he knew he needed to get up. More enemies would come soon – possibly another spider. He couldn't take another blast of electricity like that. With a bit of difficulty, Bob was able to sit up. Slowly, he got to his feet. Trying to walk, he felt a great deal of fatigue, as if he would collapse again any moment. He took his time walking toward a Stromling near the Avant Gardens area, and quickly dispatched the ugly, purple creature when he got there.
Bob wasn't sure how he could go on with this little strength. He could see another spider in the distance, and a few more purple Admirals that had just spotted him. He had to regain his bearings, and fast. The Admirals were closing in on him.
The sound of so many pounding feet on the ground disturbed him, especially considering his past troubles with Admirals. But even with this fear in mind, and his great fatigue from the spider battle, he was confident as he drew his sword.
The three Admirals had reached him, stopping short to fire their hooks one by one. Knowing that avoiding the attacks was absolutely crucial, Bob lunged out of the way, despite the pain it caused. He landed to the right of the Admirals, and it was already too late for them to stop their attacks. The lethal, hook-like weapons were already well into the soft ground between stones, and the Maelstrom-energy rings were already emerging. It was almost hypnotizing to look at – the purple color was quite bright and almost hard to believe that it could be dangerous until you felt it. On the other hand, they appeared ominous and dark at the same time. It was an enchanting combination that seemed impossible until you actually experienced it.
Bob swiped his sword wildly at the first Admiral. It stopped firing the lethal rings, although the two others continued. The confident knight continued attacking his opponent until it fell, having had no other opportunity to make another attack. The two remaining Admirals stopped firing and dashed toward Bob, preparing to launch their hooks again.
He continued his past strategy to succeed in winning these battles with not much difficulty. Standing above the three fallen Admirals, he didn't have much time to recover. A few Stromlings had reached him, and Bob sent them flying with punches and slashes.
Despite his injuries, Bob didn't have much trouble with the next few "waves", defeating Stromling after Stromling, spider after spider. The battle continued as normal, until the Maelstrom seemed to stop spawning once again. Looking around, he soon found a large, glowing spot on the outside of the plaza between the Gnarled Forest and Forbidden Valley areas. He waited for the process of the light expanding to end – to his own surprise, quite eagerly. In the past few hours, he had gone through incredible difficulties to save Nimbus Station, the small city he had come to love in such short time. It had been his intention all along for it all to end, but now he was actually quite anxious to find out what else he would have to go through to complete his journey.
The huge sphere reached its largest point, then shrunk down as usual. In its place was an enormous spider.
Bob stood on the opposite side of the plaza, staring at the disturbing creature. It wasn't like the other spiders he had battled – this one was much larger, and it was mainly purple, with white and pink at the edges of its spindly legs. The others had been black, with dark blue heads.
Also, the head of this spider seemed to be engorged at the back – one possible meaning of this could be a larger brain than its smaller counterparts, making it even more intelligent.
The glowing pupils of the huge spider scanned the area. Soon, they met with Bob. Before he had a chance to move, the huge beast was practically halfway toward him, legs moving like lightning. He hardly had time to turn around before he felt a sharp pain in his leg. Looking at his ankle, he saw a sharp harpoon-like object sticking out of it, attached to a long chain that lead back to the spider. His gaze turned to his opponent, which had stopped moving for a few moments. On the side of its massive head was another harpoon attached to a launcher. Turning back to his injured leg, he grabbed the spear and pulled it out of his ankle. Quickly examining it, he saw a spot of blood at the tip. A mix of anger and confusion building up inside of him, he tugged hard on the chain, knocking the spider off its feet. He looked at his arm, which was still in the makeshift leaf-cast from Gnarled Forest. With his free hand, he ripped the palm leaf from his arm. Resuming the confrontation, with a sharp jerk, he sent both the chain and the spider flying against the destroyed Sentinel building.
The battle had begun.
The spider collided with a loud "thud" against the burning Sentinel building. Drawing his sword, Bob prepared for whatever came next in what he expected to be a long, brutal duel. His rival fell into the bushes between the building and the vendor. Bob's anger growing stronger, he approached the bushes as he grabbed his shield from behind his back. The spider slowly stood up, the leaves rustling around its monstrous body. Before it could fully regain consciousness from the fierce blow, Bob lunged at it, sword in striking position. He came down swiftly on top of his opponent, and his sword stabbed one of its legs.
The spider made a loud hissing sound before it jumped up and fired a burst of electricity at Bob. He leapt out of the way as quickly as he could to avoid the blast, missing it by a few inches. After hitting the ground hard, he soon heard another harpoon click into place. He crawled behind the vendor right as the deadly spear whizzed past his head and flew into a bush.
Lunging out of his position behind the vendor (which had just begun to catch fire), Bob readied his sword and snapped the chain connecting the launcher to the spear with a single swipe. Now, the spider was out of ammo for the harpoon. The first barb was rendered useless from Bob's attack – in fact, the chain connected to it still dangled behind the spider, clanking loudly against the stones whenever it moved – and the second was now snapped in two. Seeing this as a perfect opportunity, the valiant knight dove his sword at the spider.
The spider was nimble as it tried to maneuver itself out of the way of the lethal attack, but Bob was too fast for it. The sword slashed a leg of the grotesque creature, and it let out an ear-piercing shriek. Not letting his opponent have an opportunity to regain the upper hand, he kicked the underbelly of the colossal spider, sending it flying toward the center of the plaza. Bob raced toward the beast, which had landed several feet away from the massive, shining abyss. The spider's legs flailed about as it tried to scramble away from the pit. It completed so just as Bob reached it, but it was too late for the knight. The spider was already near the Assembly vendor. It appeared that the battle would continue in hand-to-hand combat (despite all that was going through Bob's mind, the thought of describing a battle with a spider as "hand-to-hand combat" amused him).
As Bob chased the spider, he noticed that it was moving slower than before. He assumed this was due to several of its legs now being injured. This was to his advantage, for he was soon able to catch up, at which point he delivered another blow to the legs. This time, it collapsed altogether. But the battle was not over yet, since the spider still moved, trying desperately to get up. Bob raised his sword above his head, and after several moments of slight hesitation, brought it down on top of the spider – the final blow.
A few seconds past as Bob wondered whether this could have been the final battle – if now, Nimbus Station would be restored. If it wasn't, he didn't know how much more he could take. Despite having removed the sling his arm had been in, it still ached. Along with that, he had a wound in his leg from the spider battle, when the harpoon had impaled his ankle. Plus, he was still a bit weak from having been electrocuted. But this was a hero's life – a hero would sacrifice everything to provide others with their freedom. Bob didn't consider himself a hero yet – he had let his fears come in the way along his whole journey. He had been running when he should have had the courage to face whatever had filled his mind with such apprehension. He promised himself that during the rest of his adventure – no matter how much more he would have to face to complete it – he would have the bravery to do so.
He now stood there, bruises and all, waiting for his next battle. It came shortly after, glowing spots appearing in a circle around the chasm in the center of the plaza with several others near the stairs. The bright spheres shrunk down and Maelstrom was left in their places, as usual. This time, the enemies were mainly Ronin, which Bob had not yet faced in Nimbus Station. The rest consisted of Stromling Pirates, which he did not have much difficulty with (since Gnarled Forest, anyway).
The Dark Ronin bent backwards and stretched their arms before raising their katana and looking for the intruder. The one nearest to the Assembly vendor spotted Bob first, pointed with its sword, and the rest immediately locked onto their target. They sailed toward him at top speed as he raised his sword courageously.
The first Ronin that reached him was met with the tip of Bob's sword – the sword that had already sealed the fate of thousands of Maelstrom creatures. There was no variance in the rest of the battle. The Ronin fell, one by one, until only a few Stromling Pirates remained. They were no match for Bob, since they moved incredibly slowly and their only weapon was the double sword blade. This wave was over, and was perhaps the fastest one yet.
The next round was hardly any different – in fact, it was even easier for him since it was composed mainly of Pirates and a few Ronin. The next round was where it got difficult.
The spawning process of the Maelstrom began as usual. The glowing spots grew then shrunk. But what he saw when they had disappeared entirely was what frightened him – spiders, purple Admirals, and Horsemen. Bob had yet to even fight a Horseman, although he had heard tales about them on the Venture Explorer. Horsemen were said to be perhaps the hardest enemy you will ever face, excluding dragons. But Bob had faced a dragon and won with a bit of strategy, much farther back in his journey when he had even weaker gear. Horsemen should not be much of a problem, especially when he had a few tricks up his sleeve. After a few moments of thought, Bob found himself grinning mischievously when he ran to battle.
A few spiders were the first to spot Bob running into the horde of Maelstrom. They rushed forward, blocking his path. The middle spider fell first, after a few swipes of Bob's sword. He jumped over the body of the defeated creature and prepared himself for a battle with the first Horseman, which had just begun to turn around, hearing his pounding footsteps on the stone. As the great beast was turning around, he suddenly realized how monstrous it really was. It loomed over him like a mountain – a dark, twisted, purple mountain. A Dark Ronin holding a great spear that, unlike other spears, did not shine in the moonlight rode the black, skeletal horse. Instead, it emitted a purplish glow, despite the sky being black and the stars twinkling brightly.
Bob was flashed back to reality when he heard a loud whooshing sound in front of him. The Ronin had drawn back the spear, and was just beginning to thrust it forward. Bob lunged out of the way, landing in front of the remains of the Paradox vendor. Instead of the spear just swiping through the air, three purple spheres shot out of it and whizzed toward the mob of Maelstrom that had formed behind where Bob had stood a few seconds ago. The entire crowd collapsed, leaving only the most agile and quick-thinking enemies. The count was three Horsemen and two spiders – and they instantly gathered around one knight.
Bob's pulse was pounding in his ears. One wrong move at the hands of this crowd would seal his fate. Three purple spheres had taken down an entire mob of Maelstrom. One weakened knight would be no match for them.
A Horseman to the right of him had drawn back its spear. He needed to act fast – if he wanted to survive.
At the last possible moment, he lunged toward the Horseman that was attacking. Instead of slashing his sword, which would have been no use in such little time, he dove underneath the horse and rolled between its legs. He heard the sharp "whoosh" moments later, and out of the corner of his eye, he saw a Horseman fall onto its side after being hit. The Ronin atop the horse tumbled off his mount and crashed into the Paradox building.
The battle had just begun. The crowd turned and sped toward Bob at top speed.
He was fast, but not fast enough. He reached the Venture League area, but was cut short by the quickest Horseman before progressing any further. Instead of preparing the normal attack, the horse bucked wildly on its hind legs. As it did, a shockwave emerged from around its hooves and knocked the poor knight off his feet. He fell painfully onto the stone. Arching his back a bit, he looked at the spiders and horses behind him. A spider was about to launch a harpoon.
Tired as he was, he knew he had to move. Bob gathered his strength and rolled out of the way just as the spear pierced the ground. Bob then leapt to his feet. With a swipe of his sword, the chain connecting the harpoon to the launcher was snapped. From then on, it was complete chaos.
It was hard to believe that two spiders and two Horsemen – hooves galloping to and fro, caused it all spiders sending electricity at whatever they could find. Apparently, they had realized the true power of this one knight, and this knowledge had gotten to them. But this was the perfect opportunity for Bob. He ran to one of the spiders and kicked it powerfully towards the Paradox area. It collided with the building, and then tumbled down onto the fallen Horseman. He jumped toward it, and let one final blow slay the beast.
At this time, the few Maelstrom creatures had collected their wits and were charging toward their enemy. Before long, the one knight found himself dodging purple spheres and jumping around shockwaves, plus an occasional roll to avoid a harpoon or electricity burst. One by one, the rest of the enemies fell. Perhaps Bob's greatest challenge yet had been completed. His quick-wittedness had made his opponents defeat themselves – and it was with that same strategy that he completed the rest of his Nimbus Station battle.
That is, until his final challenge – and the ending of which was where the journey took a horrible turn for the worst.
Spawning began all around the outer loop of the plaza. This was not an abnormal amount of spawning areas, so Bob figured it would be a typical wave. He soon learned otherwise, when instead of Maelstrom appearing, statues suddenly materialized in front of his eyes. They were sculpted brilliantly in the shape of bucking horses. He approached one of them, near the hill to the Avant Gardens launchpad, and hit it with his sword. It broke into thousands of pieces. They scattered all around him. Strangely enough, his energy seemed to be recharged when he smashed it – one of the enchanting tricks of the First Builders of the Universe, he surmised.
Bob had lost track of how many "waves" he had gone through to get to where he was. Three of which, so far, had been a single enemy – bosses. There had always been some time for him to prepare for these battles without enemies there, but there had never been anything like the statues in these preparation-waves. It was apparent that the next battle would push his power to the extreme: the final battle. Bob went around the loop smashing the statues, and each time he seemed to grow stronger.
It took a while to smash all the statues. Nimbus Plaza was huge, and even that was an understatement in his mind. It was right as he finished that he noticed four monstrous, blinding globes around the gaping abyss. They quickly shrunk down into nothingness – and in their place were four purple Horsemen.
Even from 20 feet away, Bob could hear the heavy breathing of both the horses and the Ronin. It sent chills down his spine knowing that in a few seconds, four monstrous horses and their unmerciful riders could be inches away from him – and a single blow could easily knock him out.
He had outsmarted the other horsemen previously – but these felt different. This was his final challenge, he was sure of that. Whoever had been the mastermind behind all this was obviously no fool. He would certainly not let the final challenge of this whole affair be anything less than a brutal war. These four horses and these four Ronin had been chosen for a reason – and it was Bob's destiny to defeat them.
The horseman closest to him was the first to spot the knight. Both the Ronin and the horse snorted loudly, alerting the others. In an instant, they all stood in a line four abreast, like a towering wall looming over you, even from far away. Each pair of eyes pierced through the nighttime darkness right into Bob's, studying their opponent.
Then they charged.
What Bob did next even surprised himself – he leapt into the air, performed a quick flip in mid-air, and landed behind the Horsemen. As soon as he landed, the four Ronin atop their mounts were already swinging their spears around at thin air, believing they would be hitting the knight. The swiftest Ronin tugged on the reins of his dark, skeletal horse, and they he instantly spun around. As the horse emitted a blood curdling whiney, Bob leapt up and landed right on the third horse in the row.
The horse screamed wildly as it bucked, trying to throw off his rider's opponent. But he did not let go. With one slash of his sword, Bob knocked the Horseman from its mount.
The Ronin flew over the line of horsemen, and the now-rider less horse started bucking once again. This caused a tremendous amount of chaos – the Ronin flew into the shimmering abyss in the center of the plaza, and its horse started galloping around. Bob took advantage of this confusion and jumped onto the next horseman. He thrust his sword down at the Ronin. It pierced the dark being atop its equally ghastly mount. He now hit both the horse and the Ronin continuously with the sword until they both succumbed to the attacks, collapsing simultaneously.
As this happened, the horse running amuck in the plaza was nearing closer. Its eyes were now glowing red in anger. Soon, it would collide with Bob, and he would be crushed between the huge horse and the low wall near the Assembly vendor. He took off his helmet, and hurled it at the legs of the wild horse.
The helmet soared through the air and landed with a sharp "clank" on the ground. The horse can bolting toward it – and tripped. It tumbled onto the ground, legs dangling off the edge of the cliff. The horse struggled to get to its feet, but this was to no avail, and it fell from the perch.
Two horsemen remained. Bob swiped his sword across the front legs of another horse, just as the Ronin was drawing back the spear. The horse collapsed, giving him a chance to strike at its rider. The mount tried and tried to get back up, but it was not soon before they both gave in to the pain of the knight's blows – leaving only one horseman.
The remaining Ronin looked around, realizing how dire the situation was. He tugged on the reins of his mount, and the horse began bucking. The shockwave threw Bob off his feet, and he collapsed against the hard stone.
As soon as he was back up, Bob jumped into the air once again, sword drawn behind his head. While he landed, the lethal weapon hit its target perfectly. The knight's fierce opponent fell onto its side, horse whinnying and Ronin barking in its deep, gravely tone. Bob ran to the horseman and stabbed it with his sword. Before he could strike again, he heard a rustling sound behind him. He whipped around and saw the bushes behind the Venture League shaking a bit. It was a perfectly clear night – there was no wind. Was someone in the bushes, spying on him?
Bob forgot all about this when there was a jagged pain in his side. As he turned back around, he saw that the horseman was back on its feet and had stabbed him with the long spear. He clenched his wound in agony – he felt angry. He felt as he did during his battle with the huge spider earlier. Sheer rage pulsed through his veins. This anger was suddenly converted into power – his energy restored. His sword pierced through the air and struck the horse. It fell to the ground – defeated.
Bob stood above the fallen horsemen. He had triumphed in his grueling battle. His fear had been overcome.
Suddenly, Bob felt something sharp in his shoulder. He began to feel dizzy as he looked over at it. A dart was protruding from his shoulder – and that was all he saw before he blacked out.
"Bob... Bob... Bob..." A voice was whispering in his head. He tried desperately to open his eyes and regain his full consciousness, but he could not. Weak and tired as he was, he struggled to stand up, but it seemed that his wrists were secured to the chair.
"Bob!" The voice said harshly. Then it faded away.
After a few seconds, he detected a new voice. "How long has he been here?" It sounded faraway.
"Only a few hours. We found him in the machine after receiving a report of his whereabouts."
"Who filed it?" The voices were getting closer.
There was a moment of silence. "Looks like it was from a Daredevil named Blaze." Upon hearing the word 'Blaze', Bob jolted awake.
He now got a good look at his surroundings – he was in a long, elliptical room with dull gray walls adorned with weapons of all sorts. In front of him was a tall door with a padlock beside it. Looking down, he found that he was strapped into the chair with metal bands around his wrists.
"What about him?"
"Well, we had been tracking him down for years. Turns out we killed two birds with one stone today." He snickered.
There was a pause in the conversation.
"Where are you taking me?" A new voice asked.
"You'll see soon enough."
The voices now stopped altogether, and they were replaced by the sound of footsteps right outside the door. The footsteps got louder and louder, until the door in front of Bob suddenly shot open. Three minifigures walked in – a Mythran, a Nexus Force scout, and Commander Canax.
Bob instantly noticed that Canax was handcuffed, and the scout held his arm firmly. He was obviously a prisoner, as well. In the scout's other hand was Commander Canax's staff.
The Mythran's whole body was a solid blue color and emitted a white light. He had no face at all, yet somehow spoke clearly. The Nexus Force scout wore metallic gray armor and a matching helmet, much like Nexus Jay. The main differences were a few red markings on the armor, designating a Paradox scout.
"Well, well, well, Bob," The Mythran began. "We were quite impressed by the skills you showed at Nimbus Station. You're truly a worthy opponent. Canax, on the other hand, disappointed me. I thought he would have put up more of a fight."
Commander Canax didn't seem to pay any attention. He was looking around at the walls nervously, and would occasionally mutter something too faint to hear.
"Why are you keeping me here? I haven't done anything wrong," Bob said gruffly.
"Stop the act." The Mythran replied. "We know all about your traitorous acts against the Nexus Force. Despicable. You're hardly deserving of wearing our armor."
Bob decided that this might be his only chance to find out why he had been captured in the first place – his best option might be to play along. "How did you find me, anyway?"
"We first got a report from your own friend, Blaze, saying that you were in Gnarled Forest, most likely the Pirate Camp." The Mythran began. "We conducted a thorough search of the area, and found nothing. We thought the farthest you could get in such a short amount of time was Nimbus Station – so naturally, that was our next move. We sent our best agents to search all the nooks and crannies of the system. Eventually, we found you inside the time machine. We watched you the whole time and waited for the perfect moment to spring."
While he listened intently to the story, Bob's anger was brewing. He still had no idea how he had suddenly mutated into the Stromling in Gnarled Forest. The only hint pointed to the short visit from the Darkitecht directly before. Yet, he had been abducted for it.
"Quite a foolish move on your part, Bob." The Mythran continued. "You knew that as soon as your secret slipped out, you'd have the Nexus Force scouts on your trail. But yet you chose to go into the time machine? You obviously aren't as much as a mastermind as we originally thought."
This was what set Bob off. His pulse began to race. He suddenly felt an unbearable pain all throughout his body – then the metal cuffs around his wrists broke, and he transformed.
Bob looked down at his body. He was no longer that awful monster that he couldn't seem to control – he was Bob again. As relieved as he was, something seemed to be amiss. He turned around, and to his dismay, the portal was gone. He stood there for a moment, gazing at the plaza as if the portal might suddenly open back up, and he could save Canax from the horrible misconception they were now both a part of. But he knew better than to hope for a miracle.
Bob closed his eyes and thought about the dismal state of his journey. To the Nexus Force, he was now considered a criminal. His only true friends would hardly be of any help furthermore – Blaze had reported him to the Mythrans, the chances of meeting Darkrule again seemed slim to none, and Canax would soon be locked up probably the rest of his life. After all, Commander Canax was an outlaw – just like Bob. It was all too clear now that Bob had mistreated him back at Gnarled Forest. All he had done thus far was in order to save Bob. He felt ashamed to have not appreciated all the help earlier, but at the same time, he felt honored to be able to call Canax his friend.
As distraught as he was with his current situation, reflecting on his mistakes wouldn't do any good. Bob opened his eyes and looked all around him. Although by now it was well after midnight (around three a.m., he guessed), the light from the full moon above him illuminated the city. There was no one in sight. Even the vendors were empty, which seemed eerily abnormal. The area was completely silent, as well, except for the occasional whistling of the wind passing by. So, of course, under these circumstances, the last thing he expected was to turn around and be face-to-face with the Darkitecht.
But that's exactly what happened.
Upon seeing the Baron, Bob stumbled backwards onto the ground. With every step he took backwards, the Darkitecht took one forward, closing the gap between the two.
Something seemed different about the Baron. Straining his eyes to see in the early-morning darkness, Bob studied his face. It wore the same stern expression it always did. Looking closer, he saw it. There was a scar across the Baron's right eye. It was apparent that it had not yet begun to heal, indicating having been made very recently. What could have caused it?
Still, this new scar did not seem to be what was out of place. Bob stared into his eyes, hoping to find the answer. His blazing red eyes seemed to pierce through his very soul. Yet, he searched on.
On the surface, there was hatred – a genuine animosity for the knight that Baron Typhonus stood before. Bob looked deeper. It was there, hiding deep inside his eyes, that it all became clear. What he found staring blankly at him was something that everyone Bob had met on his journey possessed – hope.
The question was, what was there left to hope for?
"I'm surprised at you, Bob," The Baron said in his sly, questioning tone, "I thought for sure our last little meeting would have also been our last. Maybe I underestimated you."
At this point, he turned around and looked up at the moon.
"This whole time, you've hardly ever known where you were. And yet, you made it past everything," His voice became louder as he continued. "The Stromlings, the Spiders, the Ronin, the Horsemen, the Dragons, even the Riders!" At this point, there was an evident harshness present in his voice. "And here you are! Have you any idea how angry that makes me?" He sighed and returned to his normal tone. "I thought it would be easier. I never thought I would run into such pesky beings such as yourself. But I'm happy to say that I won't have to put up with you much more. Soon, very soon, I will be victorious."
Bob stood up and pulled his sword from its sheath.
"Did you really just draw your sword? How foolish. Welcome, Bob. Welcome to your doom."
The Baron raised his arms to the sky, and suddenly a massive figure loomed in front of him. Baron Typhonus turned around, gave Bob a cold stare, and instantly vanished into a cloud of purple fog. After a few seconds, the fog cleared, and it was glaringly obvious what this enormous creature was.
Standing in front of Bob was the largest spider he had ever beheld.
The Spider Queen.
The Spider Queen towered over Bob like a skyscraper. It was far bigger than any spider – any Maelstrom spawn – that he had ever seen. Its many red eyes scanned the area, taking in the surroundings, until they found Bob, who stood motionless. The Spider Queen gave a low hiss, and then pounced.
He had barely enough time to dive out of the way before one of the huge legs slammed the ground where he had stood moments ago, sending a weak shockwave in all directions. Quickly regaining his footing, Bob raised his sword high above his head, and then smashed it against one of the Spider Queen's legs. It ricocheted right out of his hands, landing in a topiary several feet away. He stood there for a moment, dumbfounded that his attack had been so futile, and then made a dash toward the shrubbery.
Due to the failed attack, the Spider Queen had found him again, and was preparing to pounce again. Bob dug around in the bush for a few seconds until finally he found his sword stuck into the ground. He ripped it out, and made another wild dive to dodge the Spider Queen's blow.
Bob collided squarely with the ground right as another long, bulky leg smashed the topiary directly behind him, sending branches and foliage flying in all directions. No sooner had he grabbed his sword and scrambled to his feet than the Spider Queen recoiled and turned to face him. It seemed like a sinister game of cat and mouse as the two opponents eyed each other suspiciously, waiting anxiously for the next move to be made. It seemed like hours (though only a few seconds in actuality) before the monstrous spider acted. It hissed menacingly and suddenly released a huge, adherent web at Bob.
Caught off guard, he was forced to make another frenzied lunge to avoid becoming completely entangled in the spider's web. Even so, he landed within inches of this untimely fate, immediately struggling his way up again. The Spider Queen rushed toward him at top speed, leaving Bob with only one option. He dropped to the ground, letting the arachnid pass right over him.
Getting back to his feet as quickly as he could, he now had a split second to make perhaps his most important decision yet. It seemed impossible to fight the Spider Queen, since its legs were completely impenetrable. The underbelly was obviously the weak spot, but how would he reach it? The feat seemed impossible to accomplish.
So it was decided. Bob took off on a mad dash toward the Nimbus Station Race Place.
In an instant, the nimble Spider Queen whipped around and continued to pursue Bob. He did not even need to look back to know this – it was blatantly obvious due to the heaviness and rapidity of the nearing footsteps. He bounded up the short flight of steps in one swift motion and propelled himself over the next with as much energy as he could find. He turned the corner and suddenly stopped in his tracks, thunderstruck.
The last time he had come to the Race Place, there had been a construction site off to the side, blocked by a tall barred fence. Now, the gate was open, and behind it was a long, winding ramp leading to a rocket launchpad. Far off in the horizon stood a vast tower with the symbol of the Nexus Force printed boldly on the side. This incredible sight made him completely forget that a monstrous spider – that is, was chasing him until something hit him squarely between the shoulders and sent him sprawling.
As he landed, Bob slammed his had roughly on the ground. He knew, of course, that this had been the Spider Queen's doings. As he struggled to get back up, he felt an excruciating pain in his forehead. Injured or not, he desperately needed to get away from the monster behind him. Not even giving himself time to recover from the heavy blow, Bob scrambled toward the long ramp.
The more he moved, the more his head ached. By the time he reached the foot of the ramp, it felt as if he would faint from the pain. The world around him was becoming a blur. He knew all too well that his legs would give out any moment. The few seconds before he reached the launchpad seemed like agonizing hours. With everything he had left, he slowly placed his rocket on the massive device.
As soon as he had flopped into the cockpit, he blacked out.
It was hours before Bob finally came to. He was faintly aware of a distant beeping inside his head. At first he assumed this must be the start of another hallucination – he had been suffering from grotesque visions throughout his unconsciousness. The most common was a horrible reminder of most recent events – being chased through Nimbus Station by the Spider Queen. It was almost as if someone was trying to tell him something. This awful nightmare would occur time after time until it ended abruptly, and Bob would finally believe they were over. Then, out of nowhere, they would start again. As hard as he tried, struggling desperately in his subconscious, it was impossible to shake this chilling memory. It seemed like a twist of cruel fate at first, but as he slowly came back to full consciousness, he was sure this was meant to be a sign. But what did it mean?
Bob fluttered his eyes back open. His rocket had stopped in its vertical landing position. He pressed a blinking button on the dashboard, ending the incessant beeping with an unspoken sigh of relief. The cockpit slid open and heaved out its weary passenger. As his he tried to stand for the first time in what seemed like days (though it had only been a number of hours), he collapsed altogether. Though several seconds of vigorous exertion he raised himself to his feet and gazed in awe at the sight in front of him. Yes, he knew at once, this was the fabled Nexus Tower.