She walked down the corridor of the Paradox research facility. She snickered to herself. She had just made the most important discovery in the history of the Nexus Force. A discovery that could destroy the Maelstrom once and for all. Yet instead of rushing to her leader with the news, she was not going to reveal her secret. For that secret could make her the most powerful being in the Universe. She thought back to the previous day. A young Daredevil had come to her with something he'd found buried amongst the Maelstrom ore of Crux Prime. Pure Maelstrom ore in a crystallized form. It gleamed with a dark, evil, violet tinted fire from deep within and had hypnotic effects over the creatures of Baron Typhonus. It could manifest pure Maelstrom energy, and output it in streams of purple light. This was a superweapon. One that could be used to overthrow the Darkitect and wipe out the Nexus Force. And she was the only one who knew of its power.
Zegon. The greatest swordsman the Universe may ever know. A born talent with any blade, be it cast by ordinary minifigures or shrouded with mystical energy. But merely being the best could not grant him power. The power that he deserved, the power he'd worked for, searched for, slaved for his entire life. This was the reason he turned to the powers of times past. To an old legend of two ancient weapons cast by mystical tribes amongst the First Builders. After years of painstaking, meticulous searching, he made his discovery. In a cavern deep beneath Avant Gardens, he found what he had been searching for; the Temple of Harmony. The secret chamber holding the objects of his desires. On opposite ends of this palace of pure rock, a weapon resembling a force blade was mounted on the wall, amongst hundred of tiny glyphs. To think he'd been thrown from the Nexus academy. They called him a crackpot, a powerhungry megalomaniac. He knew what they said was rubbish, but now he had proof, proof right before his eyes! Fruits of his tireless labor! His tickets to strength, revenge, and most importantly, power.
The lighter of the two blades, shining brighter and glowing with power, was the one Zegon approached first. He scanned the glyphs on the wall, looking for verification of the powerful object before him. He found a section that read: "Before you is the Blade of Light. Its power is immense, but greatest only when used in harmony with its sister weapon, the Blade of Darkness. Use this power wisely." The Blade of Darkness. The twin blade that would optimism his power. He grasped the Blade of Light and walked to the other side of the room, where a blade with a darker tint to it was hanging. Maybe his eyes were playing tricks on him, but he could see a thin aura of smoke dancing around the weapon. He grabbed it with his left hand and felt a surge of energy run through him. He twirled the swords in his hands, and sparks showered down around him. A rock the size of a minifigure lay on the ground. He brought the blades down heavily upon it, and it shattered before his eyes. He looked down at the smoking remains of the stone and cackled. His eyes were then caught by some ancient writings on the floor. Could it be? Was there an object of power greater still? The doubt soon fled from his mind as he read on. The writings told of a temple where the blades he had recovered would grant him a greater weapon. A weapon that Zegon knew he could not rest until he found; the Blade of Eternity.
She had to test this. See it's power before her own eyes. Wield it upon those idiots that had degraded her; made fun of her position as a mere scientist. Nothing "mere" anymore, she thought to herself. As powerful as she was, she needed someone to bidding. She would have the Maelstrom for that soon enough, but if she remained here, conducting her rampage from a lab, surrounded by other scientists without her desire for domination, she wouldn't get too far. She needed to get this crystal out of the lab; erase all knowledge of it from the databanks before anyone else found out about it. Of course, even the crystal might not go far enough. The Maelstrom was being smashed en masse by the Nexus Force, and so far, the Baron had not gained that much of an advantage over his opponents. But the Baron was a twisted creature of chaos, and she still had something he had lost when the Maelstrom was created: imagination. And she imagined that a lackey somewhere in between the light and the dark would give her a greater advantage. A creature blended with chaos, but with the power to think clearly. Twisted and evil, but smart enough to know when not to push its luck. A Maelstrom-minifig hybrid. And she figured that this crystal could help her with that.
Alphos and Exotus had been best friends since their first days of training together. They had farmed together, done missions together and after tireless effort, moved up ranks together. But something was about to change all that. Something dark and evil. When it happened, they were farming spiderlings together. They did not fight like the two Rank 3 warriors they actually were, but as a sole Rank 3 fighting machine. They battled the dark spiderlings in perfect harmony with each other; each time one was vulnerable the other covered him and sometimes fighting in perfect synchrony. It was then there came a rumble through the spider cave.
"Wha...?" Exotus said. He glanced over at Alphos, and saw him frozen in terror. He directed his vision to the subject of his friend's fear, only to see the one thing that he had never wanted to face. At least, not without a fully armed arsenal of Nexus Force tanks at his back. The most powerful Maelstrom creature in the Universe, with exception to the Baron only; the Spider Boss! The mighty beast seemed particularly agitated with these two heroes, who could both virtually smell the creature's hunger for destruction. This would be the ultimate test of their team fighting skills, this much was certain.
Exotus charged his Wormholer and lunged underneath the spider. He then aimed the weapon at the monster's belly and released a chaotic blast of projectiles. Alphos then followed suit with his Powerjouster and began to hack at the creature's legs. The spider boss shrieked loudly, then let out blasts of Maelstrom energy at its opponents. The two friends were thrown to the floor, moaning as the dark power coursed through their bodies. Exotus leaped to his feet to continue the fight, while Alphos remained on the ground having taken most of the hit. Blast after blast rained down around the young Space Marauder, each one as deadly as the next. Alphos struggled to stand so that he could help his friend, but he was too weak. Exotus knew he had to end the battle now if he were to save Alphos. He fired everything he had at the ceiling of the cave above the Spider Boss. Parts of the roof began to cave in. While Exotus was distracted, the Spider Boss fired a powerful blast at the hero. Alphos watched in horror as his friend crumpled to the ground, his body wreathed in a purple Maelstrom mist. A large rock fell upon the Spider Boss. It howled fiercely as more chunks of rock pelted down, forcing its retreat. They beat mercilessly upon Exotus, smashing his plastic body. His head rolled to towards Alphos.
"Run..." he rasped. The cave began to shake. Alphos had no choice. He ran into the battlefields of Avant Gardens. When he turned, he saw the smoldering remains of the spider cave. He fell to his knees and sobbed.
"Where the light comes from within, there you will unlock the powers of Eternity," read the glyphs on the temple floor.
"Why the riddle. WHY IS IT ALWAYS A RIDDLE?! Can't these ancient idiots ever be upfront about something?!" Zegon shrieked in a voice he was glad nobody could hear. He had been puzzling over the writing for an hour now, and was now tearing long strands of white hair from his head. He had previously thought that the power of the blades of Light and Darkness would satisfy him, but now that there was a greater power available, they were merely tools toward a greater goal. If any power was second best to another, it simply would not be enough for Zegon. The turmoil within his mind was then interrupted by a great tremor from within the rock ceiling above him. Zegon started to feel sick. He knew that if this place caved in, no enchanted weapons would save him. At least, not these ones. A crack formed in the wall beside him, and Zegon started to wonder if the stale air down here was affecting his mind; he could see a light inside! The cave entrance crumbled behind him. That glow better not be coming from a lava tube, he thought, as he dove towards the hole in the wall, mere seconds before the Temple of Harmony imploded behind him. It was a tight fit, but he continued towards the light; it wasn't like he could go back. The metallic grating sound of the blades slung on his belt rubbing against the rock gnawed at what little remained of his sanity. The end of this narrow tunnel was coming into view. He could see benches, tables and scientific equipment. It was then he realized he'd been wriggling up towards ground level. And he knew there was only one place in AG that looked like this: the Paradox Research Facility.
Exotus' eyes fluttered open as a surge of imagination ran through his scratched, battered head. His head was sitting on some kind of bench or table. His eyes panned across the room, taking in his surroundings he was in a lab, most likely in the Paradox Research Facility here in Avant Gardens. A scientist was working with something on the bench opposite him, her back turned.
"Hey! Where am I? Who are you? And why am I not... dead?" he said. He'd been so sure that he was toast, that now that he wasn't, he felt almost... disappointed. Almost.
"I'm saving your neck, or what's left of it," the scientist said. Exotus could see she was keeping something from him.
"What do you want with me...?" his voice trailed off, as he saw a large robotic body... with no head. The scientist then whipped out a long staff, to which had been mounted a glowing, purple crystal. "Who are you?" he demanded.
"Only your savior, commander and the most powerful being in the Universe," she smirked. "I'll let you in on a little secret. I coaxed the Spider Boss out of its cave. With this," she gestured to the staff with her free hand. "Firstly, to test its power, and secondly, to reap a minion. Can you guess who that will be?" she gave him an evil smile.
"You can't do this, I'll never join you! I'd rather my Creation Spark have fizzled out back in the cave than play lackey to some crackpot!" Exotus almost screamed the words, secretly hoping someone would hear.
"You don't have to join me," she picked up Exotus' head and placed it atop the robot body. "Because I'll be controlling you, Exotus. That's right, I know your name. Your little friend out there couldn't stop screaming for you." And at that moment, Exotus realized there was nothing he could have done to stop this twisted fool. If he'd left Alphos, she'd simply have taken him instead. "Test number two. Corruption capabilities," she said, as she tapped the crystal against Exotus' head. The change was almost instant. Pain surged through him, but he didn't have time to scream. A mere nanosecond passed, and while the intelligence of a minifigure remained, the evil of the Maelstrom dominated his mind. "At attention, Exodus 1," she said, a fierce gleam in her eyes betraying her delight at this little victory. It would be the first of many, she thought to herself.
Alphos turned to the only person he could. Axenya was a beautiful young girl and a brave warrior. She had flowing brown hair and spoke with a thick Russian-sounding accent. And she was deeply in love with Alphos. She was sitting in the AG launch area, enjoying this unusual solace from the stress of battle, when Alphos slowly approached her. She instantly saw the sadness in his eyes and ran to side.
"What is wrong, Alphos?" she said softly. "I...it's Exotus. He...," Alphos choked on the words. "gave his creation spark to save me."
"How did this happen?" she said, tears coming to her eyes.
"He was a good friend. Your best friend."
"The Spider Boss. It came out of it's cave and started attacking us. I got hurt and... and he saved me," he stammered.
"It's all my fault. He's dead. Because I couldn't pull myself to my feet and help him. Because I was a coward."
"And how were you hurt?"
"The Spider Boss shot at us. I took most of the blast."
"Of course, I..."
"You took most of the blast. You were trying to help him. In fact, I know you would've given your own spark if you could have, but you couldn't. You did everything you could," she said.
"I...I guess," Alphos said.
"So don't feel guilty. You didn't do anything wrong," Axenya said. And with that, Alphos knew. No-one could fill the gap Exotus had left, but he could live with it empty. Because he wasn't alone.
To protect herself from the minifig-corrupting power of the Maelstrom crystal, the scientist had donned what resembled a spacesuit.
"It'll also help keep my identity safe," she thought to herself. Her gloved hands wrapped tightly around her staff. Her ticket to power. She glanced over at her "creation". Exotus' new body was constructed from a dark black metal, refined from Maelstrom Ore. It was exceptionally tough, and yet lightweight. His cylindrical torso glowed with swirling Maelstrom energy from within. Twin blasters that fired streams of Maelstrom energy were mounted to his back, and a powerful anti-gravitron energy field underneath his back unit allowed him the power of flight. Two powerful metallic arms hung from the side of his brutally strong new body. He was a super soldier. Tough enough to brawl Brick Fury... and win. His mind reeled with the power from within. He was a corrupt Maelstrom creature, yet he was a sentient being... one bent on destruction.
"You are my creation. You were created to do my bidding and you will do it willingly. You will destroy operatives of the Nexus Force whenever I request. Understood?" she said.
"Understood," Exodus 1 replied.
Zegon crept silently through the corridors of Paradox Research Facility. He had to find a way out of this accursed goody-goody Nexus Force home for eggheads, even if it was the last thing he did. Suddenly he heard a voice coming from inside one of the many labs branching off from this corridor. He pressed his ear to the door of the room from which the voice was coming, in the hopes of hearing the conversation better.
"You are my creation. You were created to do my bidding and you will do it willingly. You will destroy operatives of the Nexus Force whenever I request. Understood?" a female voice said.
"Understood," an almost robotic voice replied. Could it be? Was he listening to some kind of revolutionaries?
"You will control Maelstrom armies under my command. Lethal force is always authorized unless otherwise specified. Understood?" said the female voice.
"Understood," said the robotic voice again. Control Maelstrom armies? An... entrepreneur such as Zegon couldn't walk two feet through this Universe without running into the Maelstrom. And with that threat always on his tail, who had time to find powerful ancient weapons? Unless one's ally could control this threat. At that moment Zegon slipped. The door he was leaning against crashed open and Zegon tumbled into the room. Inside her protective helmet, the scientist's vision panned across the room to the intruder.
"I'm afraid I can't let you live after what you've just heard," she said coldly, pointing her staff directly at Zegon. Zegon tensed, his hands surreptitiously creeping to the twin blades at his belt.
A blast of Maelstrom energy ripped through the air towards Zegon's crouching form. At the very last possible instant, Zegon sprung into the air, ripping the Blade of Darkness from his belt and expertly deflecting the blow. Violet sparks hissed, crackled and flew across the room. The scientist wasn't ready to give up yet though. With a mere gesture of her staff, glowing purple vines broke through the floor of the lab and started to entwine themselves around Zegon. Zegon reached for the Blade of Light and began to shred the infected plants with both weapons. Again the scientist fired upon him, mercilessly, relentlessly. Zegon flipped back and forth across the room, deflecting the occasional blast he couldn't dodge. He eventually came to rest in the middle of the room. The Maelstrom blasts stopped. The scientist's eyes locked with Zegon's. Neither one dared to make the next move, yet both were equally ready to fight if the other one was. They stood there for what seemed like hours, while in reality, only 30 seconds had passed. Zegon was the first to snap. He directed both blades at his opponent's chest armor. An instant later, powerful blasts of energy emerged from the weapons. The scientist returned fire. The opposing bursts of energy met in-between the warriors. Sparks shot throughout the lab. Zegon's grasp's on the handles of his weapons tensed as continuous beams of energy flowed from the blades. The scientist stood opposite him, stiff and adamant, constant power flowing from her staff as well. Zegon started to sweat. The collision point of the opposing blast crept closer to him. He couldn't continue. The blast struck him full in the chest, knocking him across the length of the lab. The scientist paced towards him, a mountain towering over a sniveling ant. Exodus 1 blinked behind his visor, awaiting his mistress' next move.
"Nexus Force weakling," she said. "Now you will die for your resistance."
"If you think I'm with the Nexus Force," Zegon replied, "you have me all wrong. From what I've heard, you're not so much of the loyalist yourself. Let me offer you a deal."
"You're not in much of a position to do so, but I'm listening."
"You can't deny the fact that I am powerful. And I think working together we can get something we both want: more power," Zegon said. "From the looks of things, you control Maelstrom. And I can't take two steps through this Universe without running into just that."
"Might I be so bold as to ask what is in it for me?" she said, a sarcastic tone dominating her voice.
"The weapon that I seek. It has power greater than that of these two," he gestured to the Blades of Light and Darkness, "combined. Allow me to join you in your cause, and we will defeat the Nexus Force once for all. No survivors except those we allow to survive. No warriors except those that fight for us. Deal?"
"Deal. From this point on..."
"Zegon, we are allies."
"Allies," he replied.
"Might I ask the name of this weapon you claim possesses such incredible power?" she asked.
"Arguably the most feared and fabled of all ancient weapons. The Blade of Eternity," Zegon said. The scientist drew in her breath. She too, had heard the name. She had heard of such a great weapon, but surely it was merely the stuff of myth?
"Surely it doesn't exist? What proof do you have?"
"The temple from which I recovered the Blades of Light and Darkness contained carvings that spoke of it. Apparently these two swords are the key to unlocking its power," a hungry look was evident in his eyes as he said the words. The scientist could tell that Zegon was by no means an ally of the Nexus Force; as far as that she knew he wasn't lying. She also knew that he had her same lust for power, and that he would double-cross her the second that she was no longer of use to him. Unless she beat him to it. And she intended to.
"Exodus 1," she said.
"Yes, commander," the corrupted Exotus replied.
"This is Zegon. He is an ally. Whilst you report solely to myself and myself alone, you are to be aware that he is working to further our cause. Understood?"
"Understood. May the end product of this partnership be profitable for us all," Exodus 1 said.
"And may the best girl win," the scientist muttered under her breath.
Duke Exeter was worried. He heard of the untimely downfall of a Paradox Space Marauder in Avant Gardens. But it wasn't just that it had happened that worried him; it was how he met with his end. It had been over a year since the Spider Boss had reared it's ugly head, but it seemed now that even that blessing was coming to an end. He called the other Nexus Force leaders to a meeting to discuss possible reasons for the terrible beast to have emerged from it's cave.
"Well I think the most likely reason is that the Baron summoned it from hiding," Dr. Overbuild said.
"Doc is right. What other reason could there be?" Vanda said.
"Think about this. As of recent, the Baron has been strengthening his forces on Crux Prime. The Spider Boss is a monstrous creature of chaos, one that would require a lot of energy for Typhonus to control. Why would he release now, when he has so many other things to handle?" Duke said.
"What be botherin' me is that it only seemed to care about fightin' those two young whippersnappers. It easily could have barreled past them and started wreaking havoc on a larger scale," Hael said pensively. "It's almost as if that beastie had a logical reason for fighting them. Almost as if it were thinkin' fer itself." That was a scary thought. A dumb Spider Boss is bad enough, but one that could think...
"If that is true, then maybe some other external force is controlling it," Overbuild said.
"Impossible. If there were some way to control the Maelstrom for one's own purpose, my scientists would know about it," Vanda defended.
"Either way, I think we can all agree that whatever is controlling this monster, even if that something is the thought process of the spider itself, it has to be stopped. Soon," Duke said. Ninety percent of the time the faction leaders bickered like schoolchildren. This time, however, they could all agree.
"Where do we start?" asked Hael.
"Vanda, call the AG research facility," Duke said. Vanda stood and walked over to the phone. Her hand went to the receiver. And then the phone rang.
Wisp Lee wandered along the corridors of the Paradox Research facility. He felt proud to be member of Paradox, proud to be have a part in the Avant Gardens Maelstrom Research Project. The facility had now completely recovered from the devastating Spiderling attack, and was operating at a greater rate of productivity than ever. He beamed with pride at every doorway, knowing the noble work that was being conducted within; studying the Maelstrom for any possible weakness. It was times like this that it seemed the war was on the verge of being won, that no force could possibly defeat the Nexus Force...
"AAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGHHHHH!!!" a cry rang out. More and more shrieks sounded through the air. KABOOM!!! A massive explosion shook the base. Pieces of debris rained down around Wisp Lee. He flung open the door of the nearest lab. Stromlings seemed to be growing from the Maelstrom-infected bricks, and they were attacking the scientists. Wisp whipped out a dagger and began to hack at the stromlings, smashing them to pieces.
"Thank you," a scientist said. The sound of energy blasts came from the corridor. Wisp Lee ran out. An evil looking man with long white hair and twin swords was attacking the other minifigs. When he saw Wisp, he targeted the Paradox scientist with blade and fired a blast at him.
"AGH!" Wisp said as he was flung to the ground. He staggered to his feet and ran to a phone on the wall. He dialed a number. "This is Wisp Lee of the Paradox Reseach Facility. We have a security breach. Repeat: We have a security breach. It is a Code 7 emergency: remotely detonate the complex. Repeat: a code..." An energy blast from the intruders sword cut the phone line at that moment. Wisp Lee dropped the receiver and ran.
Vanda answered the phone. "Darkflame speaking," Vanda said.
"This is Wisp Lee of the Paradox Reseach Facility. We have a security breach. Repeat: We have a security breach. It is a Code 7 emergency: remotely detonate the complex. Repeat: a code..." At that moment the line went dead.
"Who was that, Vanda?" Duke said. "There's been a code 7 breach at the AG facility," Vanda walked over to an intercom unit on the wall.
"Initiate remote detonation of Avant Gardens Research Facility," she said to the unit.
All over the research facility, the same message blared out of the loudspeakers: "Remote detonation initiated. Facility will explode in 60 seconds." From this point on, Wisp didn't care what would happen to him. He would be destroyed when the base exploded, along with everyone else in it. Others did share this feeling. When the message was first broadcast, the scientist immediately took action. "Exodus 1! Cut power to the main generator! Now!" she said. Exodus 1 acted immediately he ran down corridors, deeper underneath the ground. Two Paradox warriors were guarding the generator room. THWAP! ZAP! Exodus 1 fired Maelstrom blasts from the turrets on his back at the guards. They were down in seconds. He ran into a room occupied by a large machine glowing with imagination energy. Cords and wires ran from it, supplying power to the rest of the base. Supplying power to the facility detonation system. Exodus 1 fired at all of them. Vital power cords were sliced like ribbons. And yet the countdown continued. There were only 10 seconds left. More cords were fried. 9 seconds. Half a dozen more. 8 seconds, 7 seconds, 6 seconds, 5 seconds, 3 seconds.... Wisp Lee exhaled and waited for the fatal blast. 2 seconds, 1 second.... Zegon cringed. But there was no explosion. And every light in the base went out. Exodus 1 lighted his own way with lights mounted to his helmet. He ran back to where he had seen his mistress last.
"Commander, I did it. The self destruct sequence has been disabled," he said. The scientist face was also illuminated by the glow of her staff.
"Good work. But next time, try not to cut it so close," she said. She didn't want to admit the fact that she had stricken with fear. "Come. We must continue." Zegon got to his feet. The glow from his blades was enough to light his way. He began blasting all Paradox scientists he could see. Wisp Lee knew he had to escape. He got to his his feet, and ran through the darkened corridor.
"Creatures of the Maelstrom, I summon you! Follow me to victory!" the scientist screamed, waving her staff in the air. Immediately, Maelstrom monsters began to emerge from the labs and amass behind her. "Stop the enemies from escaping. Lethal force is authorized. The rest of you, follow me to the surface!" she said.
Wisp Lee staggered to an exit. His body was still reeling from Zegon's blast. Every part of him seemed to hurting. He recognized this area of the base. A left here, a right there, and he would be out. He kept walking. Daylight shone before him. He had escaped. The scientist marched through the darkened corridors without a single care. The Maelstrom troops followed her obediently and without question, smashing anyone or anything that stood in their way. They emerged from the complex into brightly lit battlefields of Avant Gardens. Low level players shrieked when they saw the evil party coming out of the research facility. Stromlings started spawning from the ground faster and in greater numbers than usual.
Commander Beck Strongheart knew something was wrong. Maelstrom creature were spawning more frequently than usual. An abundance of Dark Spiderling started to emerge from their cave. Mechs began marching towards the Sentinel Encampment, "Guards!" Beck shouted, "Prepare for battle!" He unsheathed his sword as he said the words. The snipers that stand at the Sentinel gate were having a hard time holding back the enemy forces, and eventually they were overrun. Beck and his men fought like true warriors, but they were losing their position. "Fight, men! If we cannot stop them here, they may conquer all of Avant Gardens!" Beck said. He sliced through stromling after stromling, but it was the mechs that were starting to dominate the battle. Sentinel guards were smashed by energy orbs, or simply trodden underfoot by the armies of stromlings. They couldn't keep it up. The Sentinel Encampment was taken.
Alphos and Axenya were sitting together on a picnic blanket in the AG launch area, talking about the meaning of it all. The fight for imagination, defending against the Maelstrom, the was as a whole. Was it worth losing everything important to you, for something you might not even live to see the result of?
"I can't believe Exotus is dead. He's... gone. Not coming back," Alphos sighed.
"At least we're together," Axenya said.
"Yeah. At least we're together," Alphos said, leaning closer to Axenya. A lone cry broke out.
"Help! They're coming! They can't be stopped! They've already overrun the Sentinel encampment, they'll be here soon!" a minifigure screamed.
"Who?" Alphos asked.
"The Maelstrom! A hundred mechs, maybe a thousand stromlings! They'll take the Monument soon!" Alphos stood.
"You coming?" Alphos asked Axenya.
"I wouldn't miss it," she replied. They ran up the path towards the Monument, and saw a terrible sight. Stromlings were jumping across the ditch where the quickbuild bridge would have been. A handful of brave minifigs, led by Commander Beck, were desperately trying to push back the Maelstrom forces. But they were losing ground. By now, Rusty Steel had joined the fray, but the Nexus Force was still losing the battle, badly.
"C'mon! Let's go help!" Alphos said, about to jump down.
"No! Go down there, and you'll end up stromling fodder!" Axenya shrieked. "There has to be better way!" Alphos gazed across the horizon. He noticed some loose boulders above the ditch. He equipped his Rank 3 Knight Shield, took a few steps back, and ran towards the end of the path.
"No!" Axenya cried. When he reached the end of the path Alphos jumped. For what seemed like an eternity he flew through the air... and activated his Shield Slam. Alphos smacked into the cliff with crushing force. As he fell to the ground, he could hear boulders moving above him. They tumbled the ditch, crushing all the stromlings beneath it and sealing off the Monument from the rest of Avant Gardens.
The stromlings that remaining on the Launch area side of the blockage were quickly overwhelmed by Beck, Rusty and their men. Alphos stood, and approached the tired party.
"Good job young man. You saved us," Beck said. "There is a problem though. In sealing off the rest Avant Gardens, some of our men have been trapped on the other side. And I don't know how long that rock wall will last against those stroms."
"I'm sorry, I...."
"Don't apologize, son. You saw an opportunity to act, and you acted. It was what any good warrior would do," Beck said. Axenya had now jumped down to join them.
"Don't ever scare me like that again," she said to Alphos.
"You don't know how I felt when I saw you jumping down there."
"He did the right thing. You should be proud of him," Beck said.
"I am, it's just..."
"It's ok honey. I'm sorry," Alphos said.
"Good job. We have successfully taken this area of Avant Gardens," the scientist said.
"I hear that the Nexus Force has managed to block the path to the Monument," Exotus said.
"If we are to conquer this world, we must clear this blockage."
"I'm sure I can easily wipe some pathetic wall from our path," Zegon said.
"We will have this world soon-"
"Wait. First I have some business to take care of," the scientist said. She turned to some captured Sentinel guards and Paradox scientists. Normally, she would simply kill them, but after seeing the success of Exodus 1, she had bigger plans for them. She aimed her staff at them. Flowing beams of Maelstrom energy encapsulated them, using the power of her own corrupt imagination to mutate their bodies into Exodus 1's form.
"You are my creations. You will fight and die for my cause without question. When dealing with members of the Nexus Force, lethal force is always authorized, unless otherwise specified. Understood?" she said.
"Understood," Exodus units 2 through 20 replied. One man had not been captured by the Maelstrom forces. He had escaped. And he was watching the evil scene before him. Wisp Lee.
"I have just received word. The AG facility was not destroyed as planned," Vanda said worriedly.
"That can't be good," Duke replied. "If control of that facility falls into the wrong hands, all of Avant Gardens could be conquered."
"And if that happens, many new recruits could get destroyed... or corrupted," Overbuild said.
"We'll soon know," Duke said. "I have more than just good looks on my side. I've planted a camera at the Sentinel Encampment." Duke picked up a television remote and fiddled with the buttons. An image became clear on the television screen at the end of the room.
"Who do ye think THAT is?" Hael asked, gesturing to a minifig dressed in a spacesuit. "And what has it got in its hands?" The minifig held a glowing purple staff, crowned with some sort of Maelstrom crystal. Strange robotic foot soldiers were walking around the perimeter of the encampment.
"Duke, can you give us a look at the Research Facility from here?" Vanda asked.
"Let's see," Duke said, as he panned across the bleak scene. Just beyond the gate, past a field of smashed minifigs, was the Paradox Research Facility, perfectly intact.
"Avant Gardens HAS been conquered," Hael said. "What are we going to do?"
"No chance of taking it back on-foot. Whoever has done this appears to have the Maelstrom on their side," Doc said.
"Then we won't take it back on foot. We'll take it by ship. Ever since the capture of the Venture Explorer, I've had a few things in the works. Follow me," Duke said. He led the other Faction leaders to a massive hangar deep beneath the Nexus Tower. "Meet our new attack vessels. The Sentinel Avenger, the Assembly Creation, the Paradox Intrigue and the Venture New Frontier. Er... you can change the names if you like," he said.
"Names work," said Doc.
"Fine by me," said Vanda.
"Whoa," said Hael. "With these ships we can retake Avant Gardens. Easy access, so we can send out troops quickly. Each ship armed with four full laser batteries. Plus missiles, electro beams..."
"Whoa," said Hael again.
"Can you hear that?" Beck said, "It sounds like more approaching troops. We should get out of here, before they knock down that wall."
"I agree," Alphos said. The remaining minifigs raced up the monument. They had barely reached they broken skyway when, BANG! The wall came crashing down.
"I think we are relatively safe here. There's no way up the monument without imagination, and stromlings don't have any imagination," Axenya said.
"But then there's whoever's leading them," Alphos said. Almost to prove him right, a wicked looking minifig with twin blades walked through pass. He spied the small party up on the skyway before they could avoid his line of sight.
"Up there!" he said pointing. He fired with one of his blades a blast that surely would have smashed Alphos, had Commander Beck not pulled him back in time. Another non-corrupted minifig then emerged through the pass. It was wearing a full spacesuit, but the group could tell she was looking over at where the other minifig had been pointing.
"Exodus units, go soften up those Nexus Force losers," the minifig said. At that, a group of robotic creatures walked forward. A yellowish glow came from their backpack units, and they rocketed upwards.
"I count 20 Sir!" a daredevil shouted, "We can't take them all!"
"He's right," Beck said. "Fall back to the Launch area! We must stop them from reaching Nimbus Station!" They ran. Blaster fire of pure Maelstrom energy rained down around them. A summoner was hit and instantly smashed on impact. They ran on. A sorcerer fired back, but they kept coming. The enemy stopped flying and started chasing after them on foot.
"This is it!" Beck yelled when they reached the Launch area, "Here we must fight, or die in the process!" Sky Lane had seen the group of heroes approaching. She ran to their side when she saw their enemy. She drew her weapons, ready to fight. The robot creatures opened fire on them. They were staying at a distance so as to be out of the range of the enemy, but close enough to do damage themselves. The heroic group began to thin out as more minifigures fell. Knowing that they didn't stand a chance at this range, Alphos ran at them.
"Alphos!" Axenya screamed.
"I'm starting to think that boy is too brave for his own good!" Beck said, "But he's right. We're not hitting them from here. Follow me!" The remaining minifigs ran towards Alphos, who was by now slashing and hacking everything in sight. He dodged the incoming blasts easily, and felled the enemy without a single regard for his own life. Beck, Rusty, Sky, Axenya and the rest of the heroes quickly joined him. From behind the enemy cyborgs, the two minifigs from the monument came, followed by an army of chainsaw stromlings! Sky Lane was the first to see them coming.
"How'd they get those stroms past the monument?" she shouted over the din of battle.
"We're dealing with an unfamiliar enemy!" he replied, "Anything is possible!" While Alphos was smashing as many cyborgs as he could, when Axenya let out a cry of pain. He rushed to her side, defending her from further blows. Slash, hack, BANG! Alphos' sword flew from his hand and he tumbled to the ground. A cyborg stood over him, poised so that he might blast Alphos into oblivion at a moments notice. Their eyes locked. Yet for some reason, the cyborg didn't shoot. A moment's hesitation was all Alphos needed. He rolled across the ground and retrieved his weapon. Having missed his chance, the cyborg moved on to his next target. The Chainsaw Stromlings began to attack. Fearfully outnumbered, the heroes had to fall back. "We've taken most of the ranged enemies! Fall back! We must protect the Nimbus launchpad!" Beck shouted. Only Beck, Sky, Rusty, Vector Longview, Alphos, Axenya and a lone Buccaneer remained. They huddled back to back around the launchpad, hoping for a miracle. Or at least that their deaths would be short.
Wisp Lee crept through the shadows so as to avoid the detection of the Stromling troops marching all around. "What a time to be unarmed," he muttered to himself. Then he stopped dead. Something was following him. It'd been many years since he'd practiced his marshal arts, but it would have to do now. He waited for his pursuer to make a move. On second thought, if he waited for that, it might be too late. He retraced his steps to some bushes, the leaves of which were rustling quite obviously. He dove into the foliage, wildly karate chopping at whoever was in there. Laser blast shot through the bush, along with some cries of pain that were a little too loud for Wisp's current taste. He wrapped his arm around his opponent's neck.
"Will you please let go of me?" it said in a hoarse whisper. At that moment Wisp realized who he'd just been fighting.
"Epsilon! You're alright!" he replied quietly.
"I was before you pounced on me," he said gruffly.
"Let's call it a case of mistaken identity," Wisp said, "We need to find a better hiding place. A talking bush looks a tad suspicious."
"Don't worry. Those stromlings are dumber than pirates the morning after a party. We're safe here."
"Clearly not!" Wisp said, as a hammer stromling brought it's mighty appendage down on the bush. Epsilon jumped to his feet, firing a barrage of shots at the creature, felling it almost instantly.
"Time for plan B!" he said.
"Yep! Run!" Wisp shouted. Mechs, Spiderlings and stromlings by the dozen pursued them. They ran until their legs ached. Occasionally Epsilon shot back at them, but he couldn't thin out their ranks at all.
"Grab my hands!" Epsilon shouted, "Grab them now!" Wisp obeyed. Immediately Epsilon's jetpack roared to life, rocketing the both of them into the air, safe from the stromlings below. "Why didn't you do this sooner?" Wisp shouted over the roar of the jetpack.
"I wasn't sure it would hold the both of us!" Epsilon replied.
"Are you sure now?" Wisp said nervously. They had now reached quite a height. Any fall could easily kill them. And if that didn't kill them, the Maelstrom creatures would.
"'Fraid not," Epsilon said. Almost as if to confirm Wisp's fears, the jetpack at that moment sputtered. And coughed. And then they fell.
A stromling flew through the air and was caught neatly in the chest by one of Sky Lane's blaster shots. It smashed, its parts scattering among the remains of other stromlings and minifigures. It didn't matter how many they smashed though, more always took their place. It seemed that there was nothing that could save them now. Those moments as they stood there fighting the Maelstrom seemed to them to be the longest moments of their lives. Rusty Steele whipped around his giant wrench, smashing 5 stromlings at once. More came. A few quick moves of his sword, and Beck smashed another 5. More came. Axenya dropped a personal fortress. It smashed dozens of stromlings at once, but they were only replaced by more of them. Alphos slammed them with his shield and diced them into pieces. Again. And again. And again. But more came. A cry erupted from the crowd. The Buccaneer had been felled by a blast of Maelstrom energy. He tumbled off the cliff face into the water below. A silent tear of sympathy crept down Axenya face as he fell. He had fought as valiantly as the rest of them, and now... At that moment Axenya knew how hopeless their situation really was. That feeling was mutual through the crowd, but they kept fighting anyway. At that second 10 chainsaw stromlings mobbed Commander Beck. The vicious weapons on their arms ripped through his armor. He was done for...
"Stop!" a commanding female voice called out. The stromlings retreated from Beck, and he fell to the ground, his head head spinning with the pain. All the stromlings and cyborgs back away from their opponents. How someone could boss the Maelstrom around like that was incredible, and Alphos didn't like it one bit. "You have fought like true warriors. For that, I will not take your lives," the voice said. The crowd of stromlings parted, revealing a minifigure in some kind of spacesuit. It leveled its glowing staff at Sky Lane. Power built within the weapon. Sky Lane felt herself growing cold with fear. She knew that at any second the Maelstrom energy would leap from the weapon, corrupting her entire being. But the minifigure didn't fire. For at that moment a roar rippled through Avant Gardens. The roar of rocket engines. Minifigures and stromlings gazed up into the sky. Four attack cruisers were coming into view. And the symbols emblazoned on their sides made it obvious whose side they were on.
Epsilon and Wisp tumbled down through the wild blue yonder. Wisp would have liked to say some kind last words to his friend, but all he could bring himself to say was: "You idiot! Why couldn't you have bought a decent jetpack?!" He didn't mean the words; it was mainly fear talking and he immediately regretted them. "I'm sorry Epsilon. Maybe it'll still work for one of us. Drop me," Wisp said.
"Not how it works, and, it's ok," Epsilon replied, "Actually, maybe there is something! Lean left!" Wisp obeyed, and the falling friends seemed to straighten out mid-air and then turn sharply to the left. "Ok! Now straighten out!" Epsilon cried. Wisp could now see what he was doing. They were gliding in for a landing. However, a fat lot of good a smooth landing was going to do with all those Maelstrom creatures on the ground waiting to smash them to bits. They were gliding much lower now. Wisp gulped as he saw stromlings looking up and pointing at them. Epsilon didn't seem to notice. He was trying to land them in the safest place he could think of right now; the roof of the Research Facility. He smiled to himself. At this rate they were going to land bang in the middle of it. Well, hopefully not BANG in the middle of it.... Just then an explosion went off behind him. The stromlings had scored a hit, and now the two friends were falling... again. There was no hope of a smooth landing now. Epsilon and Wisp squeezed their eyes shut and braced themselves for impact. They crashed down with smashing force. Wisp tumbled out of Epsilon's grasp as they made contact, bouncing along the ground and rolling to a halt. Epsilon groaned and stood up. They had made it onto the roof: barely. Even up here though, they could be discovered quickly. They had to keep moving. He staggered over to Wisp.
"Come on, buddy. Don't leave me now," he said.
"I'm not that easy to get rid of," Wisp mumbled. The sound of a creaking echoed eerily over the silent rooftop. Thunderous footfall could be heard approaching their position. Stromlings were coming. Epsilon dragged Wisp to his feet.
"C'mon," Epsilon whispered, "We have to get out of here." Fortunately, Epsilon still had his blaster, but that wouldn't do much good against what sounded like a full patrol of stromlings coming their way. He pulled Wisp behind one of the chimneys adorning the rooftop of the Facility. He peeked past it, and saw 20, no 30, maybe even 50, stromlings searching for their crash site. "Playing cat and mouse with stromlings used to seem more enjoyable than this," Epsilon whispered.
"Of course, all those other times, you weren't the mouse," Wisp replied.
At first, Melodie Foxtrot had tried fighting. That may have worked fine with ordinary Stromlings, but these ones seemed to operate with military precision. After being pummeled by Maelstrom creatures within an inch of her life, she retreated further into the Spider cave. The Spiderlings within seemed smarter now too; three of them were guarding the entrance to the secondary cave, while others were walking the perimeter of the cave. The Stromlings behind her were in greater numbers though, so she pushed forwards, deciding to take her chances with the spiders. She dove down into the cave and rolled behind some rocks. That seemed to have lost the Stromlings, and the Spiderlings hadn't seen her. At least, she figured if the Spiderlings had seen her she would probably be a pile of bricks by now. She kept moving, diving behind crates and rocks alike, so as to avoid detection. She finally made her way to an area elevated above the rest of the cave. A launchpad leading to the domain of the feared Spider Queen crowned the small mezzanine. To her right, there were large pieces of machinery no doubt attached to the Paradox Research Facility. At that moment she realized how much pain she was in; she had taken quite a bashing from the stromlings that attacked her. She crawled behind one of the big machines, out of sight of the Spiderlings and Stromling patrols. She whipped out her first aid kit and started to nurse her wounds. Her right shoulder had been ripped at by Chainsaw Stromlings, so she tended to that first. She wrapped it up as best she could with only her left hand. She handled her more minor cuts and bruises next. After playing nurse, her position still seemed undiscovered. She smiled to herself. Someone may have put them through boot camp, but once a stupid stromling, always a stupid stromling. She had a few small energy bars with her. She considered eating one, to keep her strength up, but this siege could go on for days. She needed to conserve what supplies she had. All of a sudden, a wave of weariness crept over her. She wanted to stay alert, ready to defend herself, but her strength was waning. Almost involuntarily, she lay down behind the Paradox machinery and fell into a deep sleep.
The minifigure fired a blast of corruption towards Sky Lane, so powerful, so rich with Maelstrom energy that it would corrupt the purest minifigure in seconds. But the beam didn't hit Sky Lane. It didn't hit anyone. Because in a flash of bright light the heroes disappeared from the Launch Area. It took Alphos a few seconds to realize what had happened. They were inside a large room, in what appeared to be some kind of space vessel. It clicked. They'd been beamed onto one of the ships. Half a dozen Nexus Force guards walked towards the intrepid band of minifigures.
"Come with us to the bridge. Duke Exeter wants to speak with you," one of them said.
"Commander Strongheart needs medical help!" Alphos said.
"Understood. The rest of you, come with us," the guard replied. The bridge was massive, like the rest of the ship. An average, it would have taken 8 Venture Explorers to fill its interior. But that wasn't even nearly as amazing as the warrior that stood in the bridge, commanding the majestic ship.
"Greetings, fellow warriors," Duke Exeter said, saluting the group, "and welcome to the Sentinel Avenger, one of 4 newly built Nexus Force warships."
"What did you wish to speak with us about, Sir?" Alphos said.
"I presume you're Alphos. I'm sorry about what happened to your friend. Anyway, I wanted to speak to you about this enemy. Who better for me to ask than those who have just been battling this foe?" Duke said.
"These guys appear to have some kind of control over the Maelstrom. We were no match for the forces they managed to gather. Most of us were destroyed battling them. And they have these cyborgs that fire pure Maelstrom energy."
"Hmm… I see. We think we know how the Maelstrom is being controlled. Where is Commander Strongheart?" Duke asked.
"He's in the infirmary, Sir. He got bashed up pretty good down there," a guard said.
"Not good," Duke said, "Send out troops! We need to retake Avant Gardens!" He turned to Alphos and the others. "As for the rest of you, you can stay here and watch our new warships in action."
From this distance, it seemed that a flock of birds was emerging from each of the warships. The scientist cringed behind her visor as she realized what they were: fighters. Nexus Force troops with jetpacks were flying towards the Maelstrom armada as well. To top it off, giant cylindrical vehicles were slowly making their way to the ground. Upon landing, one of them opened its doors, revealing yet more Nexus Force troops, armed for battle. "Attack!" the scientist screamed. Immediately Maelstrom creatures raced towards their foes, slashing and hacking at everything in their way. Exodus units attacked the troops from a safe distance, and Zegon jumped into the fray, spinning his blades wildly. Any armor these soldiers wore was redundant when Zegon's blasts hit it. A number of troops aimed the weapons at his chest. Zegon swiped his blades through the air, creating an energy wave that sliced the troops in half. Incoming fighters rained laser blasts around Zegon. He directed the Blade of Light at one of the fighters. An energy blast lashed out from his weapon, destroying the fighter in a ball of flame. Hammer Stromlings started attacking the Nexus Force troops. The elite band of soldiers normally could have handled these opponents, but the stromlings had them outnumbered 5 to 1. Troops started to fall. Seeing that he was no longer needed there, Zegon fell back to direct his attention on the fighters. BOOM! KABLAM! Fighter after fighter was annihilated by Zegon's blasts. The jetpack troops, however, were too small for Zegon to target. They attacked the Maelstrom armies from above, but still couldn't take out enough of them at once. More fighters began their attack. Now there were too many for Zegon to destroy. Their blasts took out whole mobs of Maelstrom creatures at once. The tide of battle had quickly turned; the Maelstrom attackers were losing. The scientist knew that something had to be done. She channeled her willpower through the staff, controlling Maelstrom energy in deep space.
"This isn't good," Duke Exeter said, "Our fighters are holding their own for the moment, but they keep getting shot down. We don't have infinite resources. Or pilots, for that matter." He turned to the crowd before him. "I cannot order any more pilots to what could very well be their deaths. I ask, if you are willing, to report to the fighter bay for battle. If not, you still have my respect." Immediately several minifigures stepped forward.
"I'll go, Sir," Alphos said.
"Then I'm coming too," Axenya said. After several "I'll go"s, Duke's eyesight became a little clouded. Here were warriors brave and bold enough to fight the tough fight, and die doing it. In his opinion it was enough to warm anyone's heart.
"Ok," he said, saluting the volunteers, "And good luck out there."
The fighter bay was bustling with activity when the group of volunteers arrived. The fighters they were to pilot were being fueled for takeoff. A Nexus Force lieutenant stood on a crate in the middle of the bay and began to address the new pilots.
"Remember to take out as many mobs as you can. We want to make it easier for out ground troops. No projectile weaponry shall be used at the risk of harming our troops. Understood?" the guard said.
"Understood," replied the volunteers.
"These are stock-standard Nexus Force fighters. Most of it is self-explanatory, but the rest was in your basic training as Nexus Force recruits. You won't be alone out there either. You'll have squadrons from the other ships to back you up. Strap in now. You will receive clearance to leave momentarily," said the guard. Alphos clambered into his fighter, the guard had been right; the controls were self-explanatory. Piloting this thing should be a breeze. It was the enemy he had to watch out for. He glanced over at Axenya's fighters. He waved, and she returned the gesture. Somehow he wasn't afraid, for himself, or Axenya. He had already lost Exotus; how could anyone possibly be cruel enough to take anything else from him as well? A green light turned on in the hanger bay and a voice crackled over the fighters' comm units: "All fighter units, you are cleared for launch. Good luck." And with that, Alphos' engine roared to life, propelling his fighter into the blue skies of Avant Gardens.
"You wouldn't happen to have some kind of inflatable jetpack with you, by any chance?" Wisp Lee whispered.
"If I did, would we be here now?" Epsilon replied.
"Good point" Wisp said. The two friends were stealthily creeping around the machinery crowning the rooftop of the Paradox Research Facility. They evaded the patrols up to this point, and they weren't going to stop now. Stromlings were everywhere; the friends would dive behind some pipes just before a mob of Stromlings walked past. Even with constant hiding, they had to keep moving. The rooftop wasn't THAT big, so even a staying put for minute could get them discovered.
"We should go back down into the Facility. There will be more places to hide there, and anyone still there might need our help," Wisp said. His plan was valid, but he really just wanted a chance to make sure his fellow scientists were ok.
"Right now, I think we're the one's that need our help. But you're right. We can't avoid these guys forever up here. Let's go," Epsilon whispered. At that moment, they heard a chorus of grunts from behind them. They whipped around to see a Stromling patrol coming their way.
"Run!" Wisp said.
"You don't have to tell me twice!" Epsilon replied. They dashed across the rooftop, but their pursuers could not be shaken. In fact, they were closing in. The doorway leading back down into the facility was in sight. They ran for everything they were worth. Another pack of Stromlings ran across the doorway, blocking it. Rather than turn back, Epsilon and Wisp jumped. Over the Stromlings' heads. They tumbled down the stairwell. When they reached the bottom, they could hear heavy footfall coming from behind them. So they picked their battered bodies up and kept running. When Wisp had left the last time, there had been no power. All of the lights were out. Now, however, the Facility was dimly lit by the regular lighting fixtures. Only now, they had a purple luminescence to them.
"That can't be good," he whispered to Epsilon.
"It's light. At least we're not flying blind," Epsilon replied.
"If only we were. At least we'd be flying," Wisp said.
"Will you pipe down about the jetpack?" Epsilon asked.
"Yes. Sorry," Wisp said, "Hey, some of these labs look like the perfect spot to set up camp."
"You're right. We can set up base operations here. Overturn some tables, find some other means to defend ourselves, et cetera, et cetera," Epsilon said. So they did. They made a small fort with the tables. The barricaded the lab door. They found some sharp objects they could throw at attackers. Plus, they even found a hidden store of tinned food, to keep up their strengths.
"Do you think anyone will be able to find us down here?" Wisp asked.
"Better question: Will they be able to find us in time?" Epsilon replied.
The guard had been right when he said that they wouldn't be alone. More squadrons were emerging from the other ships to join them. Among the group from the Sentinel Avenger was Alphos, Axenya, Sky Lane, two Space Rangers, a Samurai and a Knight. Alphos could feel the G-forces pushing his body into the seat as he threw his fighter downward, towards the AG Launch Area. The fighters dove down towards the battlefield, firing at the Stromlings. At the last second they would pull up, so they could turn around and come in for another run. Alphos smiled to himself. Flying was a joy. He hadn't felt this at ease since before... but he didn't want to think about that. On the ground, the crowd of Stromlings was thinning. The Nexus Force troops on the ground was starting to overwhelm their enemy. The jetpack troops were starting to gun down the Exodus units from above. Yet among all this chaos, the scientist remained calm. She remained focused.
"Are you crazy?!" Zegon exclaimed, "We're losing, and you're meditating!"
"Silence! I need peace," she replied.
"We'll be resting in peace if we don't get out of here!" Zegon shouted.
"WHAT do you think I am doing, baking a cake?! Be quiet and buy me some more time!" the scientist shrieked.
"Of course, your highness," Zegon said, his voice oozing sarcasm. He jumped back into the fray, blasting approaching Nexus Force troops with his swords. He targeted a group of fighters swooping in for another attack. Sky Lane was leading the fighter attack from the Avenger.
"Come on pilots! We've almost beaten them! We gotta keep this up though!" she said over the intercom. Alphos smiled again. Sky Lane was so eager to inspire them. To her, fighting the good fight was a matter of pride, and infinitely satisfying. Which is why Alphos' eyes widened in horror when one of the fighters leading him exploded in a ball of flame. Alphos didn't have time to do anything but take evasive action in fear of another attack. He didn't know who had been hit as he and the remaining fighters pulled out of their dive. He wouldn't have time to worry about it either. Because at that moment another ship dropped out of hyperspace. A Venture League symbol decorated its Maelstrom corrupted hull. He recognized it instantly. The Venture Explorer.
Sky Lane's voice crackled over the comm unit. "We lost a Space Ranger. Follow me. We've got a big one, incoming," she said. Alphos felt guilty to have felt relieved, however his main concern now was the safety of Axenya. He'd been mercilessly ripped from the place of calm and faith he had been in only minutes before. This was war. Nothing was certain. No-one would decide how much you would lose based on what you had already lost. It was do or die. Duke was on the bridge when the Venture Explorer dropped out of hyperspace.
"It can't be! It's impossible! How can that ship be here!?" he said. He pressed a button on his wrist. "Vanda, Doc, Hael, do you see what I see?"
"It be the Venture Explorer, of all things!" Hael said.
"I've done a scan. There are no signs of any imagination-based creatures aboard. We can fire at will," Vanda said.
"Good. All hands, open fire!" Duke said.
"This could be some kind of trick, Duke. Be careful," said Doc. Laser fire rained onto the Venture Explorer's hull. Yet for some reason, it didn't seem to be taking any damage. Vanda's voice crackled over the intercom.
"It's some kind of Maelstrom force field. It's absorbing all the energy we put into it," she said.
"Let's see them absorb this then!" Hael said, "Fire 1! Fire 2!" Twin missiles kicked out of the New Frontier's hull and rocketed towards the Venture Explorer. Twin blasts of Maelstrom energy came to meet them. Followed by a twin KABOOM! And once again the Venture Explorer was unscathed.
"Maybe we're not doing enough good from this range. We should call in the fighters. They're faster and can get closer," Doc said.
"Good plan," Duke said, "All fighter units, pull back and be ready to engage Venture Explorer. Repeat. Pull back and be ready to engage Venture Explorer."
"Be ready to engage?" Hael asked.
"It hasn't done anything yet except defend itself. I'm not starting a full out attack on an empty starship," Duke replied. He spoke with such certainty, but in reality, he really hoped this decision wouldn't backfire.
"Zegon! Get us aboard the Venture Explorer!" said the scientist, gesturing upward. Zegon's eyes followed her gesture and then widened in shock.
"ARE YOU CRAZY?! You want me to get us aboard a floating rustbucket which is currently surrounded for 4 warships several times its size?!" Zegon shrieked.
"I've got it covered! Now get us aboard, you craven little coward!" she replied.
"Fine. But don't come crying to me if we end up as space dust!" Zegon said as he twirled his blades in his hands. He brought them together with a loud CLANG! and immediately a dome of swirling energy spread out from the point of contact. Unaware of its purpose, the Nexus Force troops tried to outrun it, but to no avail. Eventually, the dome reached a maximum size and contracted back down to a spark that instantly disappeared, taking the scientist, Zegon, the remaining Exodus units 1, 5 and 14 and the remaining Maelstrom creatures with it. The Nexus Force warriors groaned and after being toppled by the energy wave. A Captain activated a comm link on his wrist.
"The enemy has escaped, Sir," he said.
Aboard the Venture Explorer, the scientist's head was spinning. She glared at Zegon through her visor. Almost as if he could see her glare, Zegon replied. "Now, don't tell me this airline doesn't offer sick bags! What is this industry coming to?" he said, flashing her a sickly smile that simply embodied sarcasm. For fear of distracting herself from the task at hand, the scientist ignored his comment and stored away her current fury to be used against him at a later date. "Seriously, how do expect we're going to get out of here?!" Zegon shouted, "If we make a single move we'll be blasted to pieces!" The scientist wasn't listening. She was once again focused on her staff. She was using a combination of her own imagination and the Maelstrom energy of the staff to modify the ship, just as she had done to create the Exodus units. Gun batteries started morphing out the side of the Venture Explorer. New panels and machinery sprouted out of the floor. Then she slumped and relaxed, her task complete.
"Man weapons," she said to the stromlings. "WEAPONS?! ARE YOU INSANE!? You can get yourself blown up as much as you like, but you're not taking me with you!" Zegon shouted.
"You're staying right where you are, chicken man," she said to Zegon, "Fire at will." On her word, blasts of Maelstrom energy erupted from the new cannons and was hurled at the Nexus Force warships, which immediately returned fire. It was on.
The Sentinel Avenger shook with Maelstrom energy fired from the Venture Explorer's cannons. "Shields full forward! Engage!" Duke said. The Avenger immediately began returning fire, and the other three warships then followed suit. Vanda voice crackled over the microphone.
"I've done a complete scan of their shield and I've managed to find a weak spot," she said.
"Some kind of thermal exhaust port?" Hael said cheekily.
"No, the shields taper off behind the ship, leaving their engine completely exposed. The fighters should be able to target it," Vanda replied.
"Send your fighters in then. Mine will follow," Duke said, "All fighter units! Engage Venture Explorer and target rear engines!"
Alphos heard the message and obeyed, but now he was worried. Axenya and himself had barely escaped destruction a few seconds ago, and now they had to attack a starship. He opened a private comm channel.
"Axenya, you ready for this honey?" he said.
"I can manage," she replied.
"Be careful," they both said in unison.
"Ok, break it up lover boy!" Sky Lane said. Alphos cringed. He'd opened a public channel instead of a private one. He could now hear the chuckles of the other pilots coming over the comm unit. As they approached the Venture Explorer, the newly "refurbished" starship opened fire on the fighters. Blasts of energy began streaking towards the small attack vessels. "Remember! We have an advantage here! They don't have fighters, so any attack they throw at us, we can outrun. Use that advantage!" Sky Lane said. But no sooner had she finished speaking had a more powerful blast ripped towards one of the fighters, hitting one point blank. Instead of exploding, the fighter slowly started turning a purplish color. "What's going on?" Sky Lane said to the pilot.
"I... don't... AGH!" the pilot said. Sky Lane knew what had happened.
"Take evasive action!" she said to the other pilots. They had good reason to. Because at that moment the now infected fighter started shooting at them.
"HOW are we not dead?" Zegon asked, "Are you even listening?!" The scientist was currently standing stock-still on the bridge of the Venture Explorer, meditating on her staff and completely ignoring Zegon.
"I might have underestimated you," Zegon said, "I never expected you to be this powerful."
"And I never expected you to be this much of a pain in the neck!" the scientist replied, "Exodus 1, come babysit Zegon for me!"
"BABYSIT?!" Zegon shrieked, "You cheeky worm!"
"I know you are, but what am I?" she said. At that moment the ship rocked with a blast. Without her concentration, the Venture Explorer's defenses had been weakened.
"NOW do you understand why I need to focus?" the scientist asked. A sudden wave of mortality washed over Zegon. His face turned pale.
"Y..yes," he stammered. He gazed out at the battling unfolding before him. Several of the Nexus Force fighters had now been infected, and were attacked their former allies. Zegon's eyes widened in awe. He had never seen the likes of such a battle, and it was breathtaking. Zegon smiled to himself. The shield seemed to provide them invincibility against the enemy warships. He started making stupid faces at the enemy warships, mocking them any way he could. A fighter came screaming past the viewport, and Zegon flinched. That fighter had startled him out of his childishness. He walked back to the main control systems, pretending he hadn't acted like a four-year-old.
"You don't actually expect us to beat them, do you?" he asked, "Surely we're going to retreat?"
"Yes, but we might as well do as much damage as we can before doing so. Agreed?" the scientist replied.
"Agreed," Zegon said. The Venture Explorer shook again with another blast, only this time it was much bigger. The scientist glanced down at the control panel.
"It's the fighters. They've targeted our engines," she said.
"Then cover them with the shield!" Zegon said.
"We can't. That would mean exposing our front half," she replied.
"DESIGN FLAW MUCH?! Or are you just not powerful enough?" Zegon said.
"Design flaw. That's the way the ship's shields were designed. Don't ask me why," she said.
"Well do something!" Zegon shouted.
"Taking evasive action!" the scientist said.
"Taking wha...?" Zegon said. The ship suddenly lurched as it was thrown into a barrel roll, hurtling Zegon across the bridge.
"What's wrong? No sick bags?" the scientist said. The Venture Explorer was much faster than the warships, but not the fighters. She boosted engine power, so as to blind the fighters with the Venture Explorer's glowing exhaust. "If you liked your lunch, hold on!" the scientist said, "Because this is gonna be a bumpy ride!"
The Venture Explorer rocketed in-between the New Frontier and the Intrigue. The two warships immediately opened fire, and ended up shooting at each other.
"They're running. We know what that means," Doc said.
"We found their Achilles," Duke replied with a smile, "We need to keep up the fighter attack. It's working, clearly." More fighters spewed forth from the warships, targeting the Venture Explorer and the infected fighters. For seemingly no reason at all, the wrecked remains of fighters started floating up from the battlefields of AG and out of the ocean and began assembling in mid-air. They became welded together with Maelstrom energy, forming two new attack vessels that immediately rocketed into battle. Two infected fighters were homing in on Sky Lane.
"I've got two on my tail! Cover me!" she said. A shinobi swooped down behind the fighters and opened fire. The two fighters exploded in a ball of eerie purple flame. However his success was to be short lived, for at that moment the two new attack ships rose up and blasted him to pieces. He didn't even have time to scream. Alphos' face set into a grim frown. Sky Lane was occupied with the fighters, as was everyone else. Alphos had to make the attack on the engines himself. He swooped down into position. He targeted the engines in his crosshairs. The Venture Explorer swayed back and forth, and Alphos followed it like he was bound to the ship. He fired. An explosion burst forth from the Venture Explorer's hull. He fired again, but this time, the larger ship rolled out of range. Alphos was about to follow, when more infected fighters rocketed towards him, energy cannons blazing with Maelstrom fire. Alphos pulled his fighter straight up. The infected fighters followed him. Alphos cut a path directly to the nearest warship, in this case, the Creation. He was virtually ripping the joystick out of the console as he threw the ship down towards the Creation and flew less than 2 feet from the hull. The infected fighters followed him in, only to be obliterated by the Creation's laser cannons.
"Yes!" Alphos said to himself, rejoicing in his little victory. Best he enjoy himself now. The worst was yet to come.
The two Maelstrom attack vessels swooped up behind Alphos and opened fire. Alphos threw his body onto the joystick and plunged his fighter downwards, out of the way of the lethal energy blasts. The vessels tailed him. The Creation had opened fire on them, but apparently the shields of the fighters from which they were constructed had been adapted to protect the vessels.
"I need some help over here!" Alphos said over the comm channel.
"Coming!" Sky Lane replied. Her fighter quickly rocketed towards Alphos and opened fire on his opponents. When she saw her blasts weren't doing damage, she passed them, using her fighter to prevent them from hitting Alphos.
"Go! I'll keep 'em busy!" Sky Lane said. Alphos pulled his fighter away from the three vessels and made a beeline for the Venture Explorer. More fighters had shaken their infected opponents and were now swarming the starship. Axenya was one of those swarmers.
"Come on, Alphos! Blow this thing and go home!" she said.
"Best order I've had all day," Alphos replied. He immediately blushed when his comment was met with a chorus of chuckles and smooching sounds. He quickly shook the embarrassment from his head though. He had a job to do. He brought his fighter into an attack position and lined up the Venture Explorer's engines with his targeting systems. He fired, and a blast erupted from the Venture Explorer's hull. The starship shook with the blow. It quickly recovered, however, and returned fire with a powerful beam capable of infecting Alphos' fighter – and Alphos inside it. Seeing his predicament, Sky Lane, still with the attack vessels on her tail, swooped down and literally pushed Alphos aside. The beam struck her fighter in full. The fighter rocked and shuddered, wrestling with the beam. Finally it broke free, but by now its hull was tainted with glowing Maelstrom energy. Its engines then returned to full and it opened fire on the other fighters. "NO!" Alphos shouted, "She didn't! She couldn't! Not... for me." His fighter was still spinning out of control from when Sky Lane had pushed it. Her sacrifice only reminded him more of Exotus' sacrifice. Too many had given their Creation Sparks for him. Not another would die to save Alphos. He quickly regained control of his fighter and swooped back up to the Venture Explorer. As the battle had progressed, the altitude of the ships had increased; the battle was currently going just above Avant Gardens atmosphere. Alphos felt the air resistance shake his fighter as he traveled upwards through the thinning layers of air. This was no longer just any battle. This was personal.
"You know, this is just like the time my uncle was trapped in Studburst Pass," Epsilon said.
"Did he survive?" Wisp asked.
"Sure. He managed alright," Epsilon replied.
"How?" Wisp queried.
"He had a... hm, maybe that's a bit of sore point right now," Epsilon replied. Wisp rolled his eyes. At this rate, they'd be stuck in that lab for keeps. "More tuna, Wisp?" Epsilon said, passing around a tin of food.
"Maybe later," Wisp answered, "I can't eat much when I'm entombed."
"Don't be so glum, pal. It'll be fine. You'll see," Epsilon said. At that moment, a scream rang out from another lab, followed by a series of "Help!"s. Epsilon jumped at the sudden racket. "What was that?!" he cried.
"It sounded like my assistant!" Wisp said. He jumped to his feet and leaped over the barricade to the door.
"Wisp, no! They'll smash you!" Epsilon said.
"I can't just leave her!" Wisp said, as he flew the door open. Stromlings were flooding into the lab opposite theirs. Wisp could see his assistant standing up on a bench, throwing random scientific equipment at her attackers. Wisp had grabbed a can of the rather nasty tuna, and now used to throw at his assistant's attackers. It flew through the air and caught a stromling squarely on the head, smashing it into bricks.
"Hey uglies! Over here!" Wisp yelled. The stromlings turned to face this new threat. They charged at Wisp, and he retreated back into the lab and dove behind the barricade.
"Open fire!" Epsilon cried. Immediately a multitude of intriguing (and most likely expensive) scientific equipment began hurtling through the air towards the stromlings. The ones that were hit were smashed instantly, while Epsilon blasted those that came too close. A surge of adrenalin raced through Wisp's body. This was exhilarating! The thrill of battle was incomparable. He could why Epsilon has chosen to become a warrior. Wisp was ripped from his reverie when an energy blast nearly scorched his head. Mechs had arrived, and things were starting to get ugly. "We're running out of ammo, and my blaster is gonna need a recharge soon!" Epsilon shouted.
"Then we fight. To the end," Wisp replied.
"Why don't you just make the jump to hyperspace?!" Zegon yelled.
"One very good reason: the fighters that are swarming us are either going to follow us in, or result in the sudden closure of the hyperspace window. Neither one sounds like a very appealing prospect to me," the scientist replied.
"You should have gone when you had the chance!" Zegon shrieked, losing his temper.
"You know when you yell like that, you sound like a dragon with a sore throat?" the scientist said smarmily.
"How would you know that, genius?" Zegon said in an equally obnoxious tone.
"I get around," she replied. Zegon grumbled something under his breath. He wished he could vaporize that overbearing maniac where she stood, but then realized that her power was the only thing keeping them both in one piece. That just made him madder. He had never felt so powerless in his whole life. He had always been in charge of his own destiny. Now some nerd was to him the difference between life and death. He swallowed the anger that was boiling up within and walked to one of the windows. The Nexus Force fighters were literally running ring around the Venture Explorer, preventing it from escaping. Another blow to the engines rocked the ship, and he lost his "charming" composure.
"CAN'T YOU DO ANYTHING TO GET US OUT OF HERE?!?!?!" he bellowed.
"WHAT in the Universe do YOU think I'm doing?!" the scientist shrieked, "I too, have better things to do with my life than becoming stardust!"
"Nothing, clearly, or we'd be OUT OF HERE!!!" Zegon shrieked back.
"SAY THAT AGAIN!"
"Why, you..." The scientist's outburst of temper was interrupted by another sudden blow to the engines.
"All fighters! Target the vessel blasting the Venture Explorer's engines! And hurry!" she said. All of the infected vessels immediately responded and made a run at the specified fighter. They made a run... at Alphos.
Alphos returned to his attack position as quickly as he had left it. Only now, vengeance fueled his actions. He soon targeted the exposed area of the Venture Explorer's hull and fired. A direct hit shook the entire vessel. He smiled, only when he did it, it felt sinister. He wanted this enemy dead, and he would stop at nothing until he did so. Realizing the dark path he was headed down, he snapped himself back to reality. He should focus on the mission. This enemy had to be destroyed, but emotion should by no means be involved in this battle. It served only as a quick route to fatal errors. He targeted the engines again, achieving another direct hit. If he kept this up, the Venture Explorer's engines would overload, or just plain explode. Either way, it was a win for the Nexus Force. Axenya's voice crackled over the comm unit once again.
"Alphos! You have enemy fighters coming your way! Take evasive action!" she said. Like lethal Maelstrom spears, energy blasts from the fighter flew towards Alphos. He threw his fighter into a tight roll, dodging all the blasts in the process. The blasts instead ripped towards the Venture Explorer… and the fighters swarming it. Alphos felt he knew what would happen before the energy beams even found their mark.
"NO!" he cried, as several of the Nexus Force fighters swarming the Venture Explorer exploded in balls of flame.
"I'm hit!" Axenya cried, her fighter spinning out of control and knocking the other surviving fighters out of formation around the infected starship. Her damage had fortunately been minor, and Alphos had never been so glad as he was when he heard her voice over the comm unit at that moment.
"Get out of here then! I can handle this!" Alphos cried. He swerved his fighter as the enemy vessels behind him continued shooting at him. All of a sudden, explosions ripped through the space behind him; the infected fighters had been destroyed. Another infected fighter flew past Alphos, only something was wrong; the infected attack vessels were attacking it. There was no time to worry about that though. He continued his attack, at the same time making sure that Axenya returned to safety. He watched her fighter zip into the Creation's hanger bay, and he breathed a sigh of relief. He didn't have long to feel glad though. Not 30 seconds afterwards, a massive explosion engulfed the Creation's hanger bay. Alphos slapped the controls in horror. "NO!!! AXENYA!" he screamed as his fighter plunged into a dive. More explosions broke out on the Creation's hull. The massive warship began to drop through Avant Gardens' atmosphere. Once it was through, it fell like a stone. Seeing it's chance, the Venture Explorer opened a hyperspace window and shot away to safety. The enemy had escaped.
Deep within the Paradox Research Facility, Wisp and Epsilon were fighting for their lives. They were running out of ammo, and getting desperate.
"Nice knowing you Wisp!" Epsilon shouted over the battle.
"Ditto," Wisp replied. The Stromlings were attacking like a well oiled machine, working with military precision. When all of a sudden... they stopped. They just stood there like, well, zombies. Seizing the moment, Wisp and Epsilon raced past the confused Stromlings and out of the Lab, taking Wisp's assistant with them. In the Maelstrom Mines, Melodie Foxtrot awoke to the sound of footsteps. The occasional grunt told her that the heavy footfall belonged to a group of Stromlings, and they were looking for her. She remembered what had happened the first time she tried to stand up to them, and shuddered. She was trapped. Sooner or later, they would find her. She heard the footsteps marching closer, closer... and then stopping altogether. A chorus of confused grunts rang out. She peeked her head out of her hiding place. The Stromlings had stopped their military march and were now standing there like... Stromlings.
Alphos was sobbing uncontrollably. His fighter was spiraling out of control, but he didn't bother to steady it. What was the point? Everything had been mercilessly ripped from him. As his fighter spun, tilting left, right, suddenly shooting up and then plummeting back down, he saw the Creation hit Avant Garden's ocean and sink to the bottom. His fighter plunged. He didn't stop it from joining the Assembly warship's watery grave. As he plunged towards the water, Alphos saw something roundish and gray surface. More of them soon appeared. At first he thought at was just debris from the wreckage, but then he saw tiny lights flickering on and off on them. Through a burst of static, a voice came over the radio.
"HELLO, can anyone hear me? This is Doctor Overbuild speaking. Repeat, this is Doctor Overbuild speaking. Requesting immediate pickup at..." His voice was cut short by another anxious one.
"Alphos, can you hear me?" Alphos almost squealed with joy at the sound of Axenya's voice. Realizing he was still hurtling towards his doom, he yanked on the fighter controls as hard as he could, pulling his fighter out of the dive and skimming the water with his wings.
"Yes, I can hear you!" Alphos replied happily. He then switched his comm channel. "This is pilot Alphos to Sentinel Avenger. Creation survivors requiring pickup. Repeat Creation survivors requiring pickup. Dr. Overbuild is among them," Alphos said.
"Reading you loud and clear, pilot," a relieved voice said. It was Duke. "We acknowledge and are moving in for pickup," he said.
"We need to count our losses from this battle. Find out who was smashed... or corrupted," Duke said. Alphos realized that some of the infected fighters had disappeared into hyperspace with the Venture Explorer. He shuddered to think that these pilots were now lost to the Maelstrom.
"Sky Lane was in one of those infected fighters, Sir," Alphos said glumly. Hael, who had joined them on the Avenger, sniffed quietly. At that moment, one of the minifigs sitting at the controls perked up.
"Sir, we've got a distress channel coming through, but it's from one of the infected fighters," he said.
"Put it through," Duke replied.
"He....o....an.....one...ear....e?" a voice said. The channel was surging with Maelstrom energy, and this made it harder for them to get a good signal.
"Boost the frequency," Duke said. The minifig obeyed, and the message soon became clearer.
"Hello, can anyone hear me?" an all to familiar voice said.
"Sky Lane! You're alright, lass!" Hael exclaimed.
"You didn't think I'd be that easy to get rid of, did you? I managed to get my fighter away from the beam before I was corrupted myself. Managed to get control back and help out, but I got bashed up pretty good," she said.
"Get her aboard!" Duke said.
"Yes, Sir!" the minifig replied. Dr. Overbuild and Axenya walked onto the bridge. Alphos ran to Axenya and hugged her.
"You ok?" he said.
"Yes, I got a little knocked around, but I'm fine," she said.
"How did you escape?" Alphos said.
"I think I can explain that a little better," Overbuild said, "I decided to join the battle in my fighter. I was walking into the hangar bay when this damaged fighter came racing in and smashed against the back wall. Knowing the pilot didn't stand a chance if I didn't do anything, I raced over and grabbed her out of the cockpit. I managed to get everyone out of the hangar and we sealed the blast doors shut before the fighter blew."
"Thank you," Alphos said gratefully.
"We were lucky this time, people!" Duke said, "And while this enemy has run, this is far from a victory. They managed to control the Maelstrom of Avant Gardens. What if next they do the same in Forbidden Valley? Or Crux? I have received reports from Epsilon Starcracker that soon after the Venture Explorer launched into hyperspace, Stromling behavioral patterns return to normal." Vanda walked onto the bridge.
"While this means that their control is ranged and limited, this enemy still poses a formidable threat," she said, "I'm informing all members of the Nexus Force to keep their eyes out for these kinds of behavioral patterns among the Maelstrom creatures and alert us of it immediately."
"Next time," Duke said, "We'll be ready."
Swirling Maelstrom clouds were spread out in all directions, as far as the eye can see. Purple lightning struck the ground, charring the Maelstrom rich ground. A sinister looking man stared deep into a swirling whirlpool of Maelstrom energy. Images, images of times and events far from this dark place swirled through it. The man cackled gleefully.
"Impulsive fool! Could she possibly think she can control the Maelstrom? She thinks she has found her ticket to power, when really, she serves no purpose but to aid me in my battle against the Nexus Force!" Baron Typhonus said. He stared at images of the Creation in flames as it fell to the waters below.
"All the same, she uses her power well. If she can battle Nexus Force to the point where they wipe each other out, or at least weaken each other, I can launch a full attack on the Nexus Force, and win this war once, and for all! The irony of it; she has no idea that I can revoke her power any time I choose," he said, cackling evilly to himself. He now looked at images of the scientist standing aboard the Venture Explorer as it rocketed through hyperspace. She paced up and down the bridge. She had been meditating, channeling her thoughts through Maelstrom, and what she saw brought to her to what would be her next move.
"We must destroy that boy Alphos," she said.
"Who?" Zegon asked.
"That pain in the... neck of a fool Sentinel Knight," she replied, "He was the one shooting our engines, not to mention the one who sealed off the Monument. He has to go." She glanced over at Exodus 1. "If he ever realizes what really happened to his friend, he'll be back. With a vengeance," she said.
"Then I will blast him to ash, my dear," Zegon said snidely, though he meant the words.
"And if we get attacked by those cruisers again? If he finds out enough, he may piece together my identity. And with that the Nexus Force may find an answer to beating us. He must die BEFORE he poses a greater threat," she said.
"Fine, fine, might I ask how?" Zegon asked. Again the scientist stared into her crystal, meditating on its power.
"He is in Gnarled Forest. We must go there, and annihilate him," she said. The Baron stepped away from his swirling whirlpool.
"Then I will ensure that there is plenty of Maelstrom there for you to control, my dear," Typhonus said. He cackled again, and the evil laugh rang through the hideous landscape like a chorus of death.
"You know, it's really nice to just kick back and relax sometimes," Alphos said. He and Axenya were having a picnic behind the waterfall in Elephant Escarpment, and after all Alphos had been through, life was starting to seem good again. Or a least not half bad.
"You were very brave at the Battle of AG. Duke said to me you were a born warrior, the kind the Nexus Force needs more of," Axenya said. Alphos smiled. It never ceased to amaze him how everyone couldn't seem to help but see him as brave and heroic, when all he felt he was doing was duty. And he felt he'd been doing it incompetently. He blinked back tears as memories of Exotus' shattered body flashed back to him.
"I don't know about that. I just did... what any other decent pilot or warrior would have done," he said, "I'm certainly not the best warrior in the Universe." Alphos again tried to refrain from sobbing there and then, but this time Axenya saw through it.
"This is about Exotus isn't it," she said, "You did your best. You both fought for your lives together. Exotus and you both knew that every time you step into a battle it could be your last."
"But... but... there HAD to be something I could have done!" Alphos replied, now in full meltdown mode, "I was weak, and he died because of that! He died... because of me." Axenya sighed. She really wanted nothing more than for Alphos to be happy, and she wouldn't stop until that was the case. She was just about to try a new approach when the roar of spaceship engines disrupted her train of thought. They both ran out of the small cave and gazed up into the sky. The same, familiar Maelstrom infected starship was crossing the skies of Gnarled Forest. And that meant trouble. They suddenly heard the booming explosions of cannon fire, and realized that the pirates were aware of the enemy's arrival as well. Alphos and Axenya knew all too well how the pirates would fare against the crew of the Venture Explorer. They ran off in the direction of Brig Rock, hoping they wouldn't be too late too avoid the destruction of Pirate Camp. They ran through the battlefield that was Brig Rock, paying no mind to the Stromling Admirals swinging their deadly grappling hooks at them. They ran up the dilapidated staircase two stairs at a time. They could hear unearthly shrieks of terror from Pirate Camp. They ran on, past the Stromling Ape and onto the bouncer. As they were flung up onto the elevated ground, they saw the devastation that had hit Pirate Camp. Huts had been flattened, and the debris was covered with glowing Maelstrom slime. Pirates were lying on the sand, either smashed or infected. The Venture Explorer was hovering above the scene, and Maelstrom troops were beginning to be beamed onto the golden sands. One non-infected pirate was still moving. Not much, but enough for Alphos to know he was still alive. Alphos squinted to get a better idea of who it was. He suddenly realized the pirate's identity, and drew in a short breath. Cap'n Jack Knife.
"We have to save him!" Alphos said in a hoarse whisper as they crouched behind a bush, "They haven't realized that he's still alive yet. There's still a chance."
"I've got a plan," Axenya said, "I'll build my personal fortress to grab their attention, while you get him to safety."
"It's too dangerous! What if they catch you?" Alphos said.
"If you're quick, we'll be able to get away before my fortress runs down," she replied, "In any case, we need to act now."
"Ok. On three. One, two, three!" Alphos said. Axenya dove into action. In a flurry of bricks her personal fortress was built, and began rapidly firing at the Maelstrom creatures. Alphos sneaked down past the bushes to the right of the camp and rolled across the sand. He dove behind a small hut in a kind of open sided cave that had survived the onslaught. He glanced over at Axenya's fortress. It wouldn't last much longer. He took his chance and dove across the sand to where the mighty pirate captain lay. Alphos grabbed him under the arms and dragged him back behind the hut. The plan was so far successful; the enemy had not noticed him. He looked back at Axenya. At that moment, her fortress smashed. Alphos flung Cap'n Jack over his shoulder and ran towards her position. He would have been moving a lot faster if the pirate wasn't so heavy. He saw Axenya drop a turret, but he knew that wouldn't hold the monsters back for long. As Alphos approached, Axenya beckoned for him to come. Panic was written on her face, and Alphos could see why; the turret had just smashed, and the stromlings were coming. An Exodus unit took a dive at Alphos, who kicked sand up in the units face, temporarily blinding it. Alphos and Axenya ran. They slipped down over the ridge, falling behind the unknowing Ape. The Maelstrom creatures flew over the short cliff, landing quite a way in front of the Ape and wondering where their targets had gone. Alphos and Axenya crouched behind the Ape remaining as quiet as possible. The dumb Ape had no idea they were even there. He already wasted enough of his precious time looking for enemies coming towards him; he didn't have the time or attention span to worry about those behind him. And besides that, he had a rock wall behind him. The confused Maelstrom creatures, realizing their targets must have continued deeper into Gnarled Forest, soon moved on. Axenya then dropped another turret, Alphos whipped out his sword and the pair smashed the ape in seconds. They directed their attention to the fallen pirate. He needed help, and it wouldn't be long before more Maelstrom troops arrived. First checking to make sure no one was watching, the two heroes dragged the captain into a clump of trees and began to plan their next move.
Alphos had been overwhelmed with paranoia after Exotus' death, and now carried a first aid kit with him at all times. He whipped out some medical supplies and began to patch up Cap'n Jack Knife. The pirate groaned and sat up.
"Where be I? What happened? Who arrrr ye?" he said.
"Just the people that saved you from an untimely death," Axenya said.
"Where be me crew?" he asked.
"I'm afraid all the other pirates we saw at the beach were either smashed or infected. I'm sorry," Alphos said, "I'm sure you fought like a warrior to defend them." Axenya's eyes widened in frustration and nudged Alphos in a sort of "Apply that sort of confidence to yourself" manner. Not catching her meaning, Alphos continued to speak to the pirate.
"Could you tell us what happened?" Alphos asked.
"Well, it were a day like any other. Not too hot, not too cold. The sort of day when life felt like it would party on forever…"
"Can we hear about the attack?" Alphos interrupted.
"I was gettin' to that! What's a pirate without his yarns?" the Captain said, "So anyways, this spaceship came outta nowhere and opened fire on us! Seein' this as a deliberate act of war, I ordered me men to return fire, but our cannons were all but useless against them shields. They blitzed the camp, smashin' everyone in sight. I tried to save me men, but…"
"I understand," Alphos said, "Go on."
"Well this blast hit the sand next to me and flew me through the air. I don't remember anything after that," Cap'n Jack said. Axenya suddenly hushed them. Alphos soon realized why. More troops were approaching, and two minifigures could be heard speaking. He quickly recognized the voices as belonging to those two evildoers from the Battle of Avant Gardens.
"This is only the beginning," the female voice said, "Once we're finished here, we can use our extraordinary powers to conquer Nimbus Station. There's too many civilians there for the Nexus Force to launch a full scale attack on us. And I have some plans for Crux Prime…"
"Yes, and after we smash the Knight with a toothpick, we can chuck his severed noggin at his wittle girlfriend," the other voice said, "Let's not get ahead of ourselves, shall we?"
"That's probably the most intelligent thing you've said since I met you," the female voice replied.
"WHAT is that supposed to mea.." the voice waned as the speaker walked further away. But Alphos and Axenya had heard all they had needed to hear. Axenya turned pale. "They're after us," Alphos said.
Renee Tombcrusher had been minding her own business, just standing around the Maelstrom Trench smashing Stromling Pirates, when she noticed that the Maelstrom creatures suddenly seemed to be in an abnormal abundance. At first she figured she must be imagining things, but upon further examination, she realized it couldn't be. In fact, there were WAY more pirates and admirals there than usual. She watched as a Rank 2 Shinobi run out of the caves coming from the Ravine. The Shinobi instantly jumped into battle, slashing and hacking at his enemies, but there were too many. It wasn't five seconds before the courageous warrior was reduced to shattered bricks. Renee was horrified. Pirates weren't usually that strong, not even in mobs. She looked up at the sky over the Trench. It seemed darker than usual; richer with Maelstrom energy. Her horror soon turned to fear, however, when the mob began walking towards her. Normally, Stromling Pirates couldn't see past the end of their noses; if you weren't within a radius of 10 studs from them, they didn't care about you. Now they were looking for a fight, one they might win if Renee didn't do something about it. Deciding it could very well be in her best interest to run, she dove to the ground and rolled out of reach of the Pirates' Maelstrom-infected talons. Having avoided the first swipes, she jumped to her feet and began to run for her life. The pirates and admirals followed, swinging their hooks and blades like madmen. The roar of starship engines resounded through and beyond the forest, but there was no time to think about that now. Renee glanced down at a small device on her wrist. Apes in Gnarled Forest were a constant danger, but they always seemed to appear in the same places each time. Additionally, they were never all present at once. Therefore, if one was present in a certain location, then there was no Ape in some other location. Having noticed this, some Venture League scouts had set up a network to help those who weren't ready for an encounter avoid the mighty beasts. Good, she thought. Her wrist device showed that a Maelstrom Ape sighting had been made in a more distant area. Which was why she was even more shocked to see an Ape standing right in the middle of the path, blocking her escape. The fearsome creature roared as the Stromling Pirates and Admirals following Renee moved in for the kill.
"Why would those scurvy dogs be goin' to all th' trouble of huntin' down you two youngsters?" Cap'n Jack Knife said.
"We fought in the Battle of Avant Gardens. They must for some reason see us as a threat," Alphos said.
"Maybe because you actually are as good as everyone says you are, Alphos," Axenya said. Alphos blushed and tried to forget the comment.
"If you need a place to hide, than go see Swifty McGurk. If you're right, I'll be fine where I am," the pirate said. Axenya looked over at Alphos. He nodded.
"Ok. Thank you very much," Alphos said as he began to lead Axenya out of the foliage.
"And don't forget to tell 'im Jack sent ye!" Cap'n Jack Knife said. Alphos had decided that it would be in their best interest to stay out of sight as they made their way to the Gnarled Forest Race Place, so for the moment they sneaked through the forest rather than take the well beaten track. Breaks in the foliage allowed them to see the Maelstrom troops searching for them around the path, and Alphos felt his heart stop more than once when he thought one of them was looking their way. As they approached Brig Rock, they knew they would have no choice but to run out into the open. Alphos but a nervous hand on Axenya's shoulder; for some reason he felt he had to hold her back, or maybe it felt more like he was trying to protect her.
"On the count of three, follow me. One, two three!" Alphos whispered as the pair dove out of the bushes and rolled behind a broken chunk of what was once a staircase. Alphos peeked around the side of it. Good, he thought. They hadn't been spotted.
"I assume that was the easy part?" Axenya whispered nervously. Alphos replied with a shaky nod. Again Alphos waited for the right time to move. On the count of three, they hauled each other up onto the stair block and jumped to the next hunk of crumbling remains. A symphony of grunts spewed forth from behind them; the Stromling Pirates had seen them. Alphos whipped out his Overcharged Blaster and laid the Pirates to dust, but he knew that now that they'd been spotted there would be plenty more Maelstrom nasties on their tail. Alphos and Axenya ran up the stairs two at a time, stumbling over jagged pieces of rock as they went. They came to a flat platform and jumped off the other side. They continued in this fashion until they came to a rough rock platform with a quickbuild on it. All of a sudden, an energy blast blazed past them, missing them by inches and striking the cliff face above their heads. Alphos shoved Axenya to the back of the ledge and looked over the edge. Alphos immediately recognized the shooter as the swordsman from Avant Gardens, and he looked mad. Two more blasts intended for the heroes struck the cliffs.
"Stay back!" Alphos said to Axenya. He quickly started building a tall wooden tower with a rope attached to it. "Grab on!" Alphos shouted as he equipped his pirate hook and swung the both of them to the ledge above. More blasts hit the rock faces around Alphos and Axenya. They could see Exodus units charging up their backpacks, ready to follow them. The heroes quickly turned and ran deeper into the caves.
Renee Tombcrusher waited for the fatal blow. But it never happened. She looked at the Pirates and Admirals. They suddenly seemed to be standing up straighter and seemed more alert. She looked up at the Maelstrom Ape standing over her. It snarled under its breath and roughly pushed her to the side. The band of fiendish creatures then marched off further into the forest, leaving Renee alone on the ground.
The caves Alphos and Axenya ran through soon opened up into the brighter areas of the Gnarled Forest Race Place. Swifty McGurk stood in front of the track entrance, looking desperately bored. He perked up though when he saw the panicked run of the two heroes running towards him.
"What be up with you two scallywags?" he asked.
"Th.. they're after us. We c... came here to hide. J...Jack sent us," Alphos panted.
"By all means then, get inside!" Swifty said, ushering the pair onto the racetrack, "Don't worry, it's been a slow day. No one's gonna run over ye." Alphos gave a thankful look to the pirate and ran inside. The pirate had been right when he had said it was a slow day; the track was devoid of all life. Of course, this made it an even better hiding place. A half-hidden metal shed was just to the right of track. Alphos pushed open a creaky old door, revealing the shed's darkened interior. In the dim light Alphos could make out two old racecars. There appeared to be drive in doors at both ends of the shed, so Alphos assumed this was some kind of old, unused, undercover pit lane. He shut the creaky old door behind him as quietly as he could, and the shed was plunged into darkness. Axenya shivered.
"You okay?" Alphos said.
"I'm fine," Axenya replied, "It's just that this place gives me the creeps. I don't like just sitting here and waiting to be discovered."
"We won't be found here, don't worry. And Swifty McGurk will tell us when it's safe for us to come out," Alphos said. He meant to comfort Axenya with the words, but they only made him feel more uncertain. Question after question swirled through his head. Would they just leave Swifty McGurk alone after they realized that Axenya and himself weren't there? Would they find this hiding place? And perhaps the most intriguing, why did these evildoers want with them? All was quiet within the dark little shed. It was the perfect place to think. Alphos started humming to himself to break up the lack of noise.
Swifty McGurk soon found out who the young heroes were running from. At that moment, scores of Pirates, Admirals and Exotus units flooded into the Gnarled Forest Race Place, led by two sinister looking minifigs that seemed to be controlling them. Swifty stood up straight and prepared to "act natural".
"Have you seen a boy and a girl run through here?" the female minifigure said.
"Why, yes I did. They went that way," Swifty said, gesturing at the Lion statue. The female minifigure stared into her glowing staff. In it she saw a patrol standing at that end of the Race Place.
"Liar! Do you honestly think it is wise to lie to me?" she said.
"Seriously, I'm not lying! They must be hiding among them bushes!" Swifty replied. The minifigure snarled in his face and then turned back towards the small army.
"Search the terrain! FIND THEM!" she screamed, "And bring them to me!" She turned back to Swifty McGurk.
"You had better not be lying, or else thing could get awfully unpleasant for you," she said.
"You know, I feel there's still something he isn't telling us," the other minifigure said evilly. He pointed the Blade of Light at Swifty head and fired a beam at his skull. Swifty fell to the ground and began writhing in pain.
"What are you doing?! Don't kill him! We need him!" the first minifigure said.
"I'm probing his mind, stupid," he replied, "And I believe I have found what we are looking for." He stopped firing the beam at Swifty's skull. Swifty continued to roll on the ground moaning.
"Leave him to suffer," the first minifigure said.
"They're in here," the second minifigure said. The group marched into the Race Place in search of their quarry. Within the darkened shed, Alphos and Axenya could hear them approaching. Axenya's heart was beating so fast that she was certain that they would hear it and find Alphos and herself hiding. Alphos looked over at an old racecar that was standing in the corner.
"I have a plan," Alphos whispered, "Give me a hand with these doors." Alphos and Axenya ran over to a larger pair of doors that led out onto the racetrack. "Quietly now," Alphos said. They gently pulled open the doors. They creaked in such a loud, sickening fashion, both Alphos and Axenya were sire that it would be heard over the cries of Gnarled Forest's myriad of birds. Soon the doors were opened all the way. Fortunately, they opened towards the inside, or else their position would have been compromised. "Hop in that car," Alphos said, "We'll go on my signal." Alphos peeked his head out of the large open doors and poked it around the corner. He could see their enemies approaching. Not just enemies, but predators. And Alphos and Axenya were their prey.
The small door of the shed burst open without warning.
"I've found them!" Zegon cried. Alphos gestured for Axenya to start driving.
"GO!" he shouted. The car engined roared to life and was propelled towards the gaping exit as a blast from Zegon's swords whizzed through the space where Axenya's torso had been split-seconds before. As the car sped onto the racetrack, Alphos dove in and squeezed into the seat beside Axenya. He took the controls and drove for all he was worth. The scientist raced into the shed when she heard Zegon's cry.
"We have to follow them!" she screamed. Zegon and the scientist both hopped into cars of their own, and took up the chase.
"I think we've lost them!" Alphos said as he sped under a waterfall. Almost if some higher being wished to contradict him, a Maelstrom blast zapped over their heads. Alphos, distracted from the road, had to swerve to avoid the glowing Maelstrom crates that seemed more abundant than usual.
"Nice call on that!" Axenya said. She meant it sarcastically, but her voice shook with fear so much that that angle of her comment was lost. The car soared over a jump and roughly landed in some caves below. Enemy blasts at the car were more frequent. Zegon and the Scientist were catching up. It was all Alphos could do to avoid hitting the rock pillars in the middle of the track. This distraction prevented Alphos from putting more ground between his attackers, and in fact the opposite was happening. Daylight loomed ahead, and the Scientist was only two car length behind, Zegon not much further than that. Alphos shot the car over the next jump. Axenya could no longer watch.
"I don't think I was ever much of a one for racing," she said nervously. The car landed on a sort of metal bridge with two rectangular openings in it. The Scientist's car landed beside it. As they approached the first opening, she took the opposite line. From the other side of the opening, she fired a blast at Alphos' head. Alphos ducked pulling Axenya down with him. The other opening came. Alphos and the scientist crisscrossed in between the two openings, again taking opposite lines. Again the scientist fired. The blast struck the cliff face just in front of Alphos' car, forcing him to swerve in front of the Scientist.
"Foul," Alphos said, a determined look set on his face. The two cars shot onto a sort of boardwalk area, with Zegon not far behind. Entering into the boardwalk was a relatively sharp turn. Alphos waited until the last possible second before pulling down hard on the steering wheel and drifting simultaneously. Left with nowhere to go, the scientist flew off the boardwalk onto the sand below. Successful as it was, Alphos' maneuver had cost him some ground, and Zegon had caught up to him. The Scientist was speeding up on the sand below, and the beach intersected the track again just a little further ahead. She was going way too fast, and would certainly end up in front. Alphos looked at his rear view mirror and saw that Zegon had dropped into position behind him. Alphos then understood what they were going to do. They would sandwich his car between theirs, and blast him to pieces while he was trapped. There was no way in the world Alphos would let that happen. He floored the accelerator and hoped for the best.
The Scientist's car was pushing for the lead. If she came out in front of Alphos, Alphos would be trapped. If she came out at the same time as Alphos they would collide. Alphos' and Axenya's only chance for survival was for Alphos to beat the Scientist out onto the track. The point where the track met the beach drew nearer. Alphos pushed for one last tiny burst of speed. The cars hurtled towards each other. Axenya opened her eyes, not expecting what she was about to see. She cringed and waited for the fatal explosion. But it never happened. She looked at the track. Alphos was in the lead, having missed the Scientist's car by about half a stud. However, Axenya soon had to cover her eyes again when Alphos began zipping around rock pillars sprouting straight from the sand they were driving on. Alphos dodged them with ease, and drove the car over a jump, with Zegon and the Scientist still close behind. Blasts of Maelstrom energy rocketed over Alphos' and Axenya's heads. Another boardwalk section loomed ahead; this time, a massive banked turn. Alphos skidded into an outside line, giving Zegon and the Scientist a chance to catch up on the inside. A clump of gnarly-looking trees was in the track ahead. Again, Zegon and the Scientist fired blasts at Alphos from the track beside him. The three cars shot into the dense forest of trees. Zegon found a faster route and rocketed ahead. Alphos and Axenya emerged with the Scientist roaring up behind them. They had almost done a complete lap, and could see the finish line ahead. The problem was, Zegon was standing in the middle of it, poised to strike. It was at that moment that Axenya again chose to open her eyes. She screamed. At the last possible second before Zegon could blast them to ash, Alphos threw the car into a handbrake turn. The wheels skidded across the asphalt, and propelled the car off the track and back into the rest of Gnarled Forest. The Scientist followed suit, and Zegon hopped back into his car to keep up the chase with her. Swifty McGurk, who had now almost recovered from the mind probing, was shocked to see the three racecars shoot out of the doors leading off the track. The tires slipped and slid all over the grass, and it was all Alphos could do to keep the car under control. The three cars raced past the Lion Statue, and over short cliff. Seeing the need for escape, Alphos drove the car into Elephant Escarpment, being careful to avoid the giant pachyderms. The Scientist and Zegon were right on his tail when Alphos pulled another handbrake turn and shot his car straight off the cliff. Feeling the sudden loss of gravity, Axenya opened her eyes again and saw the perilous plunge they had taken.
"ALPHOS!" she screamed. "Grab on!" Alphos said, as he dove from the falling vehicle. Axenya gripped his shoulders with all her might as Alphos reached for a hanging vine amongst the cluttered treetops. He found one, and they swung to a halt as the ill-fated racecar crashed to the ground in a ball of flame.
"There's no way in this Universe they could have survived an explosion like that! Mission accomplished!" Zegon said, starting to walk away.
"Not so fast," the Scientist said, grabbing Zegon by the shoulder and holding him back, "They might have jumped out before it crashed. Why else would that brat have willingly driven off a cliff?"
"Family honor, perhaps?" Zegon said. "Very funny. Either way, we can't leave until we're sure that he's gone for good," the Scientist replied.
"Either way, we need to get out of here soon! Don't these worlds have scheduled Nexus Force check-ins?At the moment, we have control, but once the check-in has passed and no one makes the call, the Nexus Force will be right on top of us with their big shiny cruisers!" Zegon half whispered, clearly worried over their current situation.
"I already checked that, stupid. The next check-in isn't for three hours. That's plenty of time to find the boy, smash him, and beat it before the Nexus Force arrives," the Scientist said, "And quit being such a coward. There are worse ways to go then getting gunned down with Nexus Force lasers!" She gestured to her staff as she said the words, and Zegon gulped. One on one, he would was almost certain he would win... despite previous experience. With so much Maelstrom about though... he shuddered.
"Get us down there. We need to have a look around," the Scientist said. Zegon did as he was told. He crashed his blades together, and a wave of energy swept up both the Scientist and himself. They disappeared from Elephant Escarpment, and rematerialized in the think jungle below. The crash site was now about 30 studs north of their current position. If it had been any further away than that, the think foliage would have hidden the smoking remains completely. The Scientist gazed into her staff. She shook her head. "There is no infection down here. I can't see what happened unless some Maelstrom creature saw it too," the Scientist said, "but there may be another way to tell."
"There are no minifig parts lying about," Zegon said, "Doesn't that mean something?"
"It means that they could have jumped, been throw out of the car, or vaporized when it blew. So basically, it doesn't help us at all," she replied in an obviously irritated tone. She waved her staff over the wreckage of the racecar, infecting it in the process. After about two full minutes of doing this, she turned to Zegon and shook her head. "They weren't in the car when it blew. The Maelstrom would have grown stronger upon encountering any lingering life essence, but it didn't," the Scientist said, "They're still out there." High above their heads, Alphos and Axenya were hanging from their vine. They heard the Scientist utter the words, and knew they had to escape before the evil pair smashed them for good.
Alphos and Axenya barely dared to breathe. If Zegon or the Scientist looked up, the foliage may conceal them, but nothing was certain. Axenya was starting to slip off the vine. She flashed Alphos a panicked look, who responded as quickly as he could by letting go of the vine with one hand a grabbing Axenya's right arm. The act, while effective, created a din in the treetops that sent their hearts straight into their mouths. Their fears of being heard were confirmed when Zegon spoke.
"What was that? That rustling in the trees?" he said.
"Probably a bird. This is a forest," the Scientist said, "If I'm lucky, it's a predatory feline that likes to eat crazed swordsmen. Come on. They must have moved on. With the injuries they must have sustained, they can't have gotten far." At that, the Scientist walked off with Zegon following, who was still looking over his shoulder for hungry jungle cats. After a few minutes of silence, Alphos spoke.
"They'll be well and truly out of earshot by now," he said, "We need to get down from here. I'll swing you over to those branches." Axenya nodded in acknowledgment, and Alphos began swinging them back and forth on the vine. Axenya reached with her free hand on the first swing, but fell short of grabbing on. The second swing was also to no avail. On the third one, however, she managed to wrao her free arm around the branch.
"I'm on," she said, letting Alphos know that he could release her other arm. She grabbed on with her other hand, and hoisted herself up onto the branch. Alphos began swinging solo, and managed to grab hold on the second try. He climbed up onto the branch with Axenya. He smiled. First challenge down and only about a hundred more to go, he thought. Axenya seemed to read these thoughts from his face and shrugged back. They looked down at the ground, at least 50 horizontal studs' worth below. There seemed to be plenty of branches and vines for them to grab onto on the way down, but it would still be tough going. Alphos gulped.
"You been working out lately?" he asked. Axenya gave a subtle shake of her head in reply.
"Me neither," Alphos said, "But I guess there's no time like the present. I'll start." Alphos spied what appeared to be a sturdy limb about 9 vertical studs' worth below him. He slid off his current branch, landing gracefully on this new foothold. It turned out that appearances weren't deceiving; the branch was stable.
"It's safe!" he whispered, "Come down!" Despite Alphos' words of reassurance, Axenya still trembled with fear. It wasn't that she didn't trust Alphos, she knew he would never lie about something like that. She was just afraid of falling, which was a perfectly rational fear. Now it was Alphos' turn to read a face.
"Don't worry! I'll guide you down!" he said. Still trembling, Axenya extended her legs off the branch. Alphos grabbed onto them, and Axenya was soon standing on the branch beside him.
"Try not to look down," Alphos said. He wasn't just saying it to spare Axenya fears, it was also because they still had such a long way to go. But Alphos knew that they would never get down if they succumbed to discouragement. He found another branch and swung down.
"I don't like this place," Zegon said.
"What now, Zegon?" the Scientist replied.
"Hear that?" he said.
"Exactly. No birds," Zegon said, feeling satisfaction in what he had deemed a "win" over his ally.
"You're right. Because they wouldn't have all been scared away by the exploding car," she replied sarcastically. Zegon's shoulders slumped. That imagination-forsaken minifig always seemed one step ahead of him, outsmarting him at every turn. Zegon longed for the time that he would ultimately outsmart her. He pictured her in his mind, grovelling at his feet, begging for mercy. He pictured himself refusing, and smashing her into a pile of lifeless bricks. His evil mind smiled at that thought. Unfortunately, the Scientist saw that smile, and immediately chipped him about it.
"What are you so happy about? Don't tell me you've found the boy?" she said. Zegon just snarled in reply. He had thought it before, but he was fully convinced that she was a tyrant. An oppressor. A party crasher. Nothing more. Suddenly she let out a cry.
"JAGUAR!" she shouted. Zegon nearly jumped out of his skin. He instinctively whirled around and fired a blast off into the forest. It struck a tree trunk, felling the behemoth plant.
"Might want to control your nerves a little more," she said smugly. Zegon was humiliated. His temper flared up.
"IF YOU THINK YOU CAN TREAT ME THIS WAY, THEN YOU'VE GOT ANOTHER THING COMING!!!" he shouted, "You never would have made it even this far if it wasn't for me!"
"The feeling is mutual, smartie," the Scientist replied, "You'd better close your fat trap too, or the birds won't be the only things getting scared away." Zegon was about to verbally assault her again, then realized it was pointless. He internalized his anger. Yes, he would save it for later, for when he could unleash his fury and destroy this disrespectful little whelp for good. He mustered up the guts for a fake apology. He promised himself that it would be fake, or else he never would have said it.
"I...I'm sorry. You're right. Can't make too much noise, or those brats'll know we're here," he said. "Name one time I've been wrong," the Scientist said.
"Fine. You're...," Zegon said, crossing his fingers, "....perfect. I never would have made it this far without you."
"Good," she replied, "Nice to know we're on the same page." Zegon muttered something ugly under his breath. Someday. Someday, he would teach her a lesson. And it would be the last lesson she ever learned.
Renee Tombcrusher was in a state of shock. She had been so sure that she was toast, and then the Maelstrom creatures just leave. She couldn't wrap her head around it. Why had they just wandered off when she was such an easy target? She thought back to when they were standing over her. Her fear had blurred the memory, but she could still picture them standing erect and walking away. Yes..... she recalled hearing that somewhere. She raced through her mind, searching for the answer. Within a few seconds she got it. It was the same way those Maelstrom creatures had behaved at the Battle of Avant Gardens!
"They're here?!" she said, then realized she had been a little too loud and slapped her hand over her mouth. She looked off in the direction the creatures had went; down the path to Brig Rock. She cautiously stepped forwards in that direction. As she walked towards the small rock face that marked the entrance to the Gnarled Forest Race Place, she noticed a jumble of skid marks in the dirt. Her eyes traced their path, and saw that they led into Elephant Escarpment. She followed them, and soon saw a car parked next to the cliff, and a pair of skid marks that led right off the cliff! She gasped in horror. There was no way anyone could have survived a fall like that, and whoever was in this car probably drove them off! Speaking of, where was the driver? She lay flat on her stomach and looked over the edge of the cliff. It looked climbable. Maybe the driver of the parked car had climbed down to make sure they had finished the "job". Well if there was any doubt in the drivers mind, then there was a chance that whoever had driven off the cliff was still alive. And she considered it her responsibility to find that person, and warn them that they were still being hunted down. She still had her grapple gun with her, so she secured the hook in some rocks, and began to abseil down the cliff. It was slow going. It was that it was difficult, to do, so much as there was a long way to go. Twice she looked down, and twice she regretted it. She pushed her fears aside and kept going. After what seemed like and hour (which was in reality 10 minutes), she landed safely on the ground. She pressed a button on her grapple gun to release the rope. She left it hanging there to use on the way back. She pulled her last grappling hook and attached rope off her belt and fed it into her gun. She never knew. She could need it at a moment's notice.
"Ok, careful now. There's a slippery bit of moss around here," Alphos said. Axenya could barely keep her eyes open as they were going down, which made Alphos job that much harder. She was by no means a cowards in any sense, but if there were two things that scared her out of her mind, they were heights, and Alphos' reckless driving. But Alphos didn't mind having to help her down that extra bit more. In fact, he kinda liked it. He guided Axenya gently onto the next branch.
"Ok, hold on now," Alphos said, "I'll go find the next one." They had come about halfway down the tree and Alphos was happy with the progress they were making. He felt a sudden (and extremely unexpected) burst of joy. He felt like everything was going right again. They'd be out of this tree soon, then they'd go call for help and get the fight handled for them. Everything would be alright. It was at that moment when Alphos foot touched something soft and furry. His first instinct was to pull away, but then the fluffy mass pulled back. He took a good look at what his foot was touching. He nearly swallowed his tongue when he realized that his foot was being held prisoner by a sleeping jaguar! He smiled to himself. He even chortled softly. Just when everything seems to be going right... It was all he could do not to burst into laughter at his own naivete.
"Is something wrong Alphos?" Axenya said worriedly. This time Alphos laughed audibly. He was wheezing with laughter so much that there were tears in his eyes.
"My foot...," he said, still wheezing with laughter, "A jaguar has it."
"What?!" Axenya said, horrified at the statement.
"A jaguar has my foot!" Alphos barely spat out the words before he started laughing again. The jaguar was starting to stir, disturbed by the din Alphos was causing. Axenya saw things getting dire, so she muscled past her fears and reached down to pull Alphos up. She grabbed his hands and started to drag him up. He came up with relative ease, but the second his foot parted with the jaguar, the mighty beast awoke. It snarled.
"Uhhhhh," Axenya said, "I don't want to hurt you, but if you leave me no choice...."
"Jump!" Alphos said. He grabbed Axenya around the torso with one hand and jumped off the branch. The jaguar leaped after them. As Alphos and Axenya fell, Alphos grabbed a vine with his free hand. Part of the vine seemed to be just holding onto a tree by means of some moss, so when Alphos grabbed on, it slipped off the tree. They were still falling. The jaguar was flying after them. They were only about 15 horizontal studs worth above the forest floor when the vine reached its full length, and the pair began to swing.
"TREE!" Axenya cried. Alphos cringed as they smacked right into the trunk of a tree. At that, they let go of the vine a tumbled into a pool of mud on the forest floor. The jaguar had tumbled out of the air into a patch if rather prickly bushes, and ran off to lick his wounds.
"Well that went well," Axenya said jokingly. Alphos burst into laughter again. After all this time Alphos had finally realized that it didn't matter whether or not he was causing trouble; trouble followed him no matter where he went.
"We're never going to catch them like this!" Zegon said, a tad too loudly.
"Well what would you suggest then, Mr Genius?" the Scientist asked.
"Back at the Nexus Force Academy, there were only two things I excelled at," Zegon said, "One was swordfighting. The other was setting traps."
"Ah, yes. Because we have time to waste," she replied. Zegon's face began to turn purple with rage. Mock, mock, mock. It was all she ever did. Well that spoiled brat wasn't going to stop him from doing things the way HE wanted to.
"These Blades enhance my creative abilities," Zegon said through gritted teeth, "I will be able to construct a lethal obstacle course for the obstinate little whelp in no time."
"The way I see it, they have come through here. The jungle on either side of this 'path' is too dense to walk through," he said, "So this is where we will set the traps."
"What kind of traps are we talking?"
"I say we start with a Brickese Tiger Trap," Zegon said.
"Excellent idea! If the boy was a Brickese Tiger," the scientist said. "And you call me corny? Anyway, I doubt that will catch him, but it will slow him down long enough for us to ambush him. If he tries to split, we'll have more traps along there," he said, gesturing down the path.
"Ok, do it," the Scientist said. Zegon nodded, a fierce look of enjoyment in his eye for what he was about to do. He raised his twin blades, channeling his imagination through them. Branched were ripped off trees and sharpened to point. Vines were firmly secured to overhead branches. Soil was displaced, leaving a large pit in its absence. Rocks were moved, leaves shifted. And all this happened within a couple of seconds. Zegon lowered his blades. "Done," he said. He wandered over to the pit, which was now filled with spikes and hidden with leaves. He dragged an extra palm frond over for good measure. "I should have my name verbed for this," Zegon said, his ego shining out of his eyes.
"You watch too much television," the Scientist said, rolling her eyes, "But I can't argue with results. There will be good results, yes?"
"I have set many, many traps in my lifetime. Only one person has ever survived them," Zegon said.
"Duke Exeter," Zegon said softly, but anger was evident in his voice, "Over here. We'll wait for them in the bushes." The Scientist, for once, did not argue. She didn't care if she was letting Zegon tell her her what to do. She just wanted the job done.
Since Alphos' close encounter with the jaguar, he had been having a brush with insanity. He really wasn't that worried anymore. He couldn't possible avoid his fate, so his might as well quit fretting and embrace it. Axenya, however, wasn't feeling so relaxed. Her entire form felt jumpy. She was antsy. And her mind raced at the rate of 100 thoughts every second.
"I don't like it here, Alphos," she said, "I feel like we're being watched."
"Relax! No one's here! Those guys must be MILES away. We'll be fine," he replied.
"I don't know....," she murmured to herself. Alphos may have been perfectly calm, but a sense of dread was quickly growing within Axenya. Every bush held a mystery, every treetop a potential attacker. She felt as though glowing eyes were staring at her from within the foliage in an almost sneering manner. As these things accumulated into a feeling of discomfort that seemed to be lodged in her stomach. Her mind drifted off. She wondered how it would feel to be smashed. Would it be slow and painful? Or would it be so quick that she would hardly feel a thing? Either way, it felt as though her inevitable demise loomed closer and closer with every step she took, as though the metaphoric path of her life would end abruptly and that end being soon. She was so consumed with these thoughts that she didn't notice a rather suspicious looking pile of leaves just ahead of her. All of a sudden, the ground seemed to fall out from underneath her. She was falling. I was right, she thought to herself, but all she could do was scream. In the split second after she started falling, her mind raced with all the people she would never see again, all the things she would never do, and Alphos... His friend's scream startled the sanity back into Alphos as if it were a cold bucket of water over his head. He dove towards the side of the hole and grabbed onto Axenya's hands, mere nanoseconds before she was impaled on some lethal-looking spikes in the bottom of the pit. He slowly dragged her out, breathing heavily from the shock of Axenya's close brush with death. Axenya was too horrified to say a word as Alphos heaved her up onto the ground. Not a second had passed from Axenya's return to solid ground when an energy blast emerged from the thick jungle surrounding them. And it missed Alphos' head by a few hairs.
That same, evil looking swordsman half-rolled, half-tumbled out of the bushes and stood in an aggressive stance in front of the two heroes. The Wielder followed him out. Alphos looked Axenya deep in the eyes, and then raised his hands above his head. Axenya understood, and copied his gesture of surrender. They stood, ans saw a sick and twisted grin creep across the swordsman's face that gave them a queasy feeling deep down inside.
"RUN!" Alphos blurted as he immediately began to dart down the path. Axenya ran after him, followed by a symphony of various Maelstrom and energy blasts. The whole forest seemed a blur to Alphos as he slipped into survival mode. He ran faster than he ever had in his life, as did Axenya. As the sprinted through the jungle, Alphos felt a noose tighten around his left foot. He was suddenly hurled up into the air, towards what looked some more of those dastardly spikes that had been placed up in the treetops. Alphos whipped out his sword and slashed behind his back, slicing through the vine that was catapulting him to certain death. He tumbled towards the ground, grabbing a few vines along the way to slow his fall, and neatly landed with a few somersaults along the ground. He flung himself to his feet and kept running with Axenya who was close behind, and apparently startled to see him tumble out of the treetops ahead of her.
"COME ON!" he shouted. At that moment he must have stepped on some kind of tripwire, because two large tree trunks, suspended by vines, came swinging across the path ahead of them. Alphos reached behind him for Axenya's hand, found it, and flung her past the heavy wooden grim reapers. He himself dove head first over the first one and rolled along the ground just barely underneath the second. He and Axenya quickly sprung to his feet. Axenya was about to start walking again, when Alphos put a hand on her shoulder. Axenya followed Alphos eyes down to the ground. She was standing on another tripwire. She tried not to move, but shifted her weight just the slightest bit despite her efforts to keep still. Snap.
An arrow hurtled out of the bushes. Alphos ripped his Knight shield from where he had mounted it on his back and caught it neatly. He whipped around and deflected another. And another. He spun in a circle as a flurry of the things shot out of the foliage at them. And then they stopped as suddenly as they had started. Alphos turned pale as he heard branches cracking above him.
"DOWN!" he shouted, pushing Axenya to the ground in front of him and diving after her. No sooner had they hit the ground when half a dozen boulders crashed down where they had been standing split-seconds before. Axenya started to stand as Alphos glanced around at the ground that seemed to be mined with little lumps....
"Dive!" he screamed to Axenya, who jumped into the bushes at his cry. Alphos rolled up on his side and stayed stock-still as more spikes ripped out of the ground around him, scraping his back as they shot skyward and were still. Axenya screamed, certain that the evil weapons had claimed Alphos' life. Her fears put to rest though when Alphos raised his hand to his lips and hushed her. He hauled himself to his feet, being careful to avoid the forest of spikes surrounding him. He crept over to the bushes where Axenya was hiding, who gasped when she saw the deep gashes that the spikes had put in his back.
"It'll be fine," he said, trying to mask the grimace on his face. They soon heard approaching footsteps.
"You hear that?" a male voice, probably the swordsman's said, "I think we got him."
"Well if your traps actually worked, and they did smash him, I guess I owe you an apology," another voice said.
"Really?!" the first voice said, in an evidently shocked tone.
"Nope." The first voice muttered something nasty as the footsteps crept closer. Alphos tapped Axenya on the shoulder and beckoned her further into the dense jungle where they could disappear from sight.
Renee Tombcrusher wandered further into the thick jungle. She glanced around at glory of nature surrounding her. She really loved this place, and although she wasn't supposed to leave the critical areas of Gnarled Forest where she was needed, she sneaked down here whenever she could. Soon something odd became evident to her; she could not hear a single bird. She looked down at the ground. Footsteps were embedded into the soft soil. The tracks looked fresh, and figures they couldn't be more than an hour old. As she ventured further in, a smoking object began to take shape in front of her. As she got closer, she saw what is was; the remains of a racecar. She thought back to where she had seen the other racecar in Elephant Escarpment, and remembered the skid marks leading right off the cliff. She shuddered. So this was what became of the car, but what of the driver, she thought. She breathed a sigh of relief. There was no body in sight. Maybe the driver had been thrown clear. If that were the case, they could be hurt and dying. A determined expression made its way straight to her face. Not in my forest, she thought. She had to find the driver and make sure they were ok. It was her duty as a member of the Nexus Force, and her responsibility as anyone with any even remote sense of conscience. With these thoughts in her head, she marched off, deeper into the jungle.
Cap'n Jack Knife groaned. He sat down beneath treetops, amongst the foliage sheltering him from the eyes of the Maelstrom creatures patrolling the pathway. He peeked out from behind the bushes. Stromling Admirals and Pirates marched through the forest, seeking out any Nexus Force members that may complicate their mistresses goal. The Captain shuddered. To think that all these forces were after those two nice minifigures that had saved him. Surely they didn't stand a chance against this opposition. Surely they would be smashed to pieces once they were found. And with this number of attackers combing the jungle for them, they would surely be found soon. He had to do something about this. A pirate doesn't let the minifigs that saved his life meet an untimely death at the hands of some monstrous foe. At least, this pirate doesn't, he thought to himself. He watched as the Maelstrom troops walked further away, their backs turned to the hidden captain. He glanced down at his wounds. He would just have to deal with the pain. He rolled out of his hiding place of the bushes and out into the open. He drew his sword and ran towards the Stromling Admiral at the rear of the pack. A few quick slashes with his gleaming cutlass, and the Admiral fell, but not without alerting the rest of the creatures present. The Pirates commenced their slow, zombie-like walk towards him. Slash, hack, more three pirates fell. A few neat slices felled another four, but now more Admirals were running towards him. Cap'n Jack dove to the ground and rolled out of reach of the lethal cannon fire from the Admirals' left arms. He waited for them to stop firing, and them dove towards them, flailing his sword for dear life. In a matter of seconds, the Admirals fell to the ground. No more Pirates or Admirals approached him. He began to breathe easier, until he heard the thunderous approach of a Stromling Ape racing towards him. Cap'n Jack Knife dove towards the mighty beast, and thrust his trusty cutlass through the dark beasts heart. He then dove to the side to avoid being crushed as the giant beast collapsed to the ground. He fell to his knees, breathing heavily from the reopening of his wounds in the fight. He stood. He wouldn't crumble. He would muscle through the pain. And he would rid Gnarled Forest of this evil that had come. Pirate's honor.
"You know what Zegon?" the scientist said, "I'm not angry that your traps failed. I'm not angry because I'm not SURPRISED." "But.... but, I don't understand why it didn't work! These traps should have had at least ONE of them smashed on the forest floor. Why... he'd have to have reflexes faster than me to avoid those traps!" Zegon cried. "Then I would assume that you don't have the reflexes necessary to target the Venture Explorer's engines from inside my Maelstrom shield," she replied, "Because HE did that, and he also survived your traps." "All the more reason why he must not live another day," Zegon said. "For once, I agree with you Zegon," the Scientist replied, "We find him, we smash him, and we leave before the Nexus Force realizes we're here." Zegon nodded in agreement. His traps were a failed attempt, nothing more. He had to stay focused if they were going to get the job done. As they trudged through forest, searching for their target, Zegon looked around at his surroundings. More light seemed to be pouring through the treetops, which now were thinning out. He looked down. The ground was all of a sudden becoming harder and more dense, as if it were a well beaten track. In fact, they seemed to be on what was actually a real path at some stage. Zegon wondered where it led to, and why it was there. Did some natives leave it there? Were they walking straight into a camp of some sort? While Zegon was lost in these thoughts, he heard an exclamation from the Scientist. Zegon snapped back to reality so as to see the reason for her cry. Smack in the middle of the path was some kind of massive temple. The front wall was covered in inscriptions. "Can you translate these?" the Scientist said. "Hmm… it appears to be some kind of ancient dialect… First builders, perhaps," Zegon replied. "Can. You, Trans…" "Yes, I can translate it!" Zegon snapped, "It says: ‘Within these walls lie the keys to unlocking Eternity. Enter at your own risk.'" "Well go ahead, enter," said the Scientist. "You don't understand. All this time I was seeking the Blade of Eternity, and once I found it, I might not have been able to use it! We need to go in here, or the Power will never be mine!" "Ahem" "Ours. Never be OURS," Zegon said. "Then by all means," the Scientist replied, "Let's go in."
Alphos walked through the jungle at Axenya's side, the wounds on his back causing him excruciating pain. He winced with every step, despite his efforts to keep his anguish off his face. It would only worry Axenya, he thought. Of course, Alphos' pain was the least of their worries; they were now hopelessly lost. Every tree looked the same, every "path" identical. And even IF they found their way back to the cliff at Elephant Escarpment, how would they climb back up? Alphos thought about the pain running through his body, but knew there was only one thing he could do to save them. "Stop here," he said to Axenya. "Why?" she asked. "I'm gonna climb a tree so we can get a better idea of where we are," Alphos said. "But... but you're wounded!" "I'm a good climber. I'll manage." "If you say so..." "I'll be fine," Alphos said, "Trust me." And with that, he threw his excess weaponry to the ground and started to clamber onto some tree roots that were sticking out of the ground. He turned back to Axenya. "Remember. If you hear them coming, whistle," Alphos said, referring to their pursuers. Axenya nodded nervously, and Alphos got back to his task. He grabbed at the closest branch and hauled himself up. He looked back down at the ground below him and saw Axenya's eyes still locked onto him, a worried frown upon her face, and Alphos' shoulders relaxed. She's so concerned about me he thought. He would do this, do it for her. With a determined expression upon his face, he continued to climb upwards. Up and up. Branch after branch. Vine after vine. Until finally, he reached the canopy. He whipped out a pair of binoculars and gazed off into the distance. He turned until he saw the cliff rising out of the jungle that was crowned with Elephant Escarpment. It was a long way off. He adjusted the focus to get a better look. Their pursuers' car was still sitting there, only now the entire area was flooded with Maelstrom troops. There was no way they would be able to climb up without immediate capture. What happened next was worse. For those same troops were now tossing ropes over the edge of the cliff in an attempt to climb down. He knew the strength of his opponent. The Maelstrom troops quickly would cut through the jungle and overwhelm them. He turned around in the canopy, searching for another option. He soon came across some kind of large stone building standing in the middle of a sort of clearing. At least it would provide them shelter. And they may be able to better defend themselves. Anyway, it didn't seem as if they had many other options. So he wrapped his arms around the tree trunk and commenced sliding down.
The moment Alphos' feet touched the ground, Axenya ran to his side. "What happened? What did you see?" she asked, her voice trembling in anticipation of whatever was causing the nervous look on Alphos' face. "We're cut off from the way we came," he said, "More Maelstrom forces are coming into the forest." "What will we do?" Axenya said, starting to panic. If there was one thing she couldn't stand, it was feeling trapped. "There is some sort of stone temple in that direction," Alphos said, gesturing, "We can shelter there, and hopefully defend ourselves better from inside." "If you say so....," Axenya replied. "I'm sure. It's about a 20 minute walk from here. And we'll have to hurry. The enemy is closing fast," Alphos said, walking away, and gesturing for Axenya to follow. The jungle was think, and despite the fact that it was the middle of the day, the sky was becoming dark with leaden rainclouds. The abundant foliage above the two minifigures only served to obscure any remaining sunlight further. As they trudged through the forest, rain began to bucket down onto the tree canopy above them, and the atmosphere went from hopeless to downright miserable. All of the trees looked the same, and Axenya felt like they had been going around in circles. Her spirits sank. "There's no point! They're going to find us anyway!" she whispered tearfully. "Oh, no, that's not..." "But it is true Alphos! Once they find us, we're as good as smashed!" "No, Axenya," Alphos said, a new sternness coming into his voice, "Not so long ago, I felt exactly the way you do now. Like there is no hope. No point in trying. And you told me to keep moving. To not give up. To keep trying! I listened to you. Now listen me." At his words, Axenya's eyes seemed to clear. "It's going to be alright," Alphos said. "I promise." "I... I believe you," Axenya said, gazing deep into Alphos' eyes. Alphos gazed back. Their heads moved closer together. All of a sudden, a loud cracking came from the bushes behind them. They sound couldn't be coming from very far off. Axenya's gaze turned to one of fear. "They've found us," Alphos whispered.
Moss and mildew, shrubs and vines, covered the stone walls of the temple. The stench of decaying plant matter hung in the air. At least, Zegon HOPED it was plant matter. But there was no way in the world he was going to turn back. If he was ever to claim the Power of Eternity, he would have find whatever was hidden here. "Well genius, what have you found?" the Scientist remarked. Zegon rolled his eyes. "WAIT!" he yelled, grabbing the Scientist by the arm, "Are you INSANE!? Are you TRYING to get us smashed?!" "What do YOU want?" the Scientist said. "Only to save your life...." Zegon whipped out an Energy Bar and tossed it onto the floor in front of them. Almost immediately, arrows flew from the walls and spears fell from the ceiling. The Energy Bar had been run through. The Scientist gulped. "Ok..........," she said. "These traps have gone off now. It's safe to walk past them," Zegon said. They crept through the sea of spears and arrows until they had once again reached a clear stretch of corridor. The Scientist picked up a stone and chucked it in. More traps activated. They continued this process. They heard rain begin to beat down upon the hard rock walls of the temple. Eventually the corridors finished, and opened into a huge, high roofed chamber. There was a massive crevasse that opened up against the wall opposite the corridors. Twin pedestals jutted out of the wall above the crevasse, and two staircases ran up to along opposite sides of the room. Atop each pedestal stood a metallic looking torch. "I'm guessing those are it," the Scientist said. "Yep," Zegon replied. They each ran towards a staircase. "Last one there is a loser," the Scientist said. Zegon grumbled under his breath and ran.
Cap'n Jack Knife heard the approach of another patrol, a dove behind the crumbling staircase leading up to the prison cells of Brig Rock to hide. As the patrol passed, he stuck his head out of his hiding place to see the enemies he was up against. A few Stromling Pirates and Admirals were being led by a strange sort of cyborg creature. Before the pirate could hide again, he heard the approach of another patrol from further behind. This one would CERTAINLY find him. He forced himself to leap from his hiding place towards the troops ahead of him. A few quick slashes felled the Pirates, a few more and the Admirals were gone. By now the cyborg was well and truly aware of his presence, and was shooting blasts of Maelstrom energy from the cannons mounted on its back. A few swift motions dodged the blasts, so the cyborg took to the air and flew at him. His menacing metallic hands were stretched towards the Captain, as if the creature intended to scratch his face off with them. Cap'n Jack countered this maneuver with a well placed high kick to its torso. The cyborg crashed into the rock wall atop the cliff leading down into Brig Rock. It quickly scrambled to its feet. Before the cyborg could make another move, Cap'n Jack Knife propelled his sword through the monster's cylindrical torso. The cyborg let out sort of half robotic groan as purplish sparks flew from its body. Cap'n Jack Knife quickly pushed it over the rock wall, and no sooner had it reached the bottom then did it exploded into a thousand pieces. "Attention, pirate!" another robotic voice suddenly said. Cap'n Jack whirled around to see another cyborg walking towards him, surrounded by a cluster of Maelstrom Admirals. "I am Exodus 1," the cyborg said, leveling his cannons at the pirate, "and you are about to die."
Stairs, Zegon thought to himself as he ran towards his goal, Why can't these places ever have an elevator? He knew the answer, of course, but it soothed his obnoxious mind to think it. His halfway up the first flight of stairs when a bunch up spears shot out of the wall at him. He leaped forward, the deadly weapons barely missing him. He gulped. "I th…. I think the stairs are booby trapped," Zegon stammered. "You don't say?" said the Scientist, who had just had a nasty experience of her own, "Just try to watch your own back. I can handle myself." "I'll manage," Zegon said. He started up the stairs again, this time all the warier of hidden surprises. Every crack in the wall made him nervous, every uneven step triggered his suspicion. He breathed a sigh of relief after making his way up the first flight unscathed. He began the second flight with the same caution, but was soon surprised when a portion of the staircase crumbled beneath him. He let out a cry, and lunged for the step in front of him. He barely managed to cling on with his plastic hands. A bead of sweat crept down his forehead as he realised how close that had been. He looked over to the opposite side of the room to see his ally in exactly the same predicament. After what seemed an appropriate amount of time, they both hauled themselves onto their next step in what almost seemed like perfect unison. They glanced at each other, both shaken from the experience. But before they could resume their ascent, a loud rumbling resounded through the temple. The stairs they were standing once again began to crumble beneath them.
"RUN!" Zegon shrieked, bolting forward. Every step he trod on disintegrated underneath him. He was barely keeping his balance as he ran from certain doom. He reached the end of the second flight of stairs and dashed up the third which also started to crumble. At the end of this staircase was a small platform on which the pedestal stood. It seemed to him that a lifetime had passed before he dove off the final step and onto the platform. He collapsed onto it in relief when he realised that it was sturdy. He glanced over at the Scientist and saw that she had reached hers too.
"Now what?" she said, staring at the torch before her, "Do we swap it out with a bag of sand or something?"
"NOW who's been watching too much TV?" Zegon snickered, "We passed the traps. Now we take what is ours."
Zegon nodded nervously as he reached towards the torch. He considered how many hideous ways he could die if this too would trigger a trap. Before he could he think himself out of doing it, he ripped the torch from its stand. He cringed, but nothing happened.
"It's safe!" he said, his voice trembling with relief, and the Scientist removed her torch as well. She glanced around the room, her mind wandering. And she concocted a plan.
"Do not smash any more minifigures you come across!" she said, focusing into her staff, "Take them prisoner instead. Things are about to get….. interesting."
Exodus 1 signaled for the Admirals to act, who immediately ran forward, planted their hooks, and began firing on the Captain. Cap'n Jack Knife leapt into action, diving over the wall of purple fire created by the Admirals' cannons and tumbling onto the ground on the other side. He jumped back onto his feet and slashed the Admirals from behind. The confused Maelstrom creatures didn't know what hit them, and soon fell to the ground in pieces.
"If yer gonna kell me," Cap'n Jack Knife said, "Then do it like a man. One on one."
"So be it," Exodus 1 said, firing his cannons. Of the 2 blasts that shot out at the Captain, he dodged one and deflected the other with his sword. He then ran towards the cyborg and swiped at him viciously, a move which the Exodus unit countered with a swipe of his arm which knocked his opponents hand away. He then activated his jetpack and flew at the pirate, pushing him back with his metal hands. He thrust the pirate off the cliff, who then tumbled down onto the top off the staircase leading up from Brig Rock. Exodus 1 then landed in front of the pirate, and the vicious battle began anew. Cap'n Jack thrust, Exodus 1 parried with his arm. Exodus 1 reached for the pirate's face, Cap'n Jack caught the blow neatly on his sword. Again and again Exodus 1 fired his cannons upon the pirate, again and again the Captain deflected or dodged the blasts. As the fight wore on, the mighty pirate began to tire. In a final desperate strike, he swiped his sword at the cyborgs torso, knowing how well it had worked on his previous mechanical opponent. Seeing the oncoming attack, Exodus 1 swiped his arm to the side, knocking the Captain clean off the staircase and sending him tumbling over the edge. Cap'n Jack Knife was just holding on to the decrepit stone bricks, knowing that he was too weak to survive the fall to the ground. Exodus 1 reached out to the pirate, putting his metallic claws over Cap'n Jack's hands. He looked deep into the pirate's eyes. Cap'n Jack Knife felt certain that this was the end, when Exodus 1 tilted his head up to the sky in a sort of trance. He soon turned back to the pirate captain dangling below him.
"Change of plans," the cyborg said, "You are now my prisoner."
For a moment, Alphos was frozen stiff. Then he acted.
"RUN!" he said, grabbing Axenya by the arm and thrusting his body along the path. The sound of cracking branches and foliage got closer. Footfall was now audible. The clanking sound of Stromling Pirate chains could be heard resonating through the forest. And all the time they ran. As the enemy troops gained on them, the footfall sounded as though it some kind of malevolent thunder roaring through the jungle, intent only on destruction. Branches dangled down over the path obstructing view. Alphos whipped out a sword and commenced hacking at them as he struggled through the foliage. Axenya dropped into panic mode. She couldn't focus anymore. Eventually, the stress, fear and fatigue overwhelmed her. Before Alphos could even realize what was happening, Axenya collapsed into the bushes. She fell in so entirely that as the Maelstrom troops ran after Alphos, they did not see the unconscious girl hidden amongst the foliage.
Alphos continued to run. He dove over tree roots, tumbled under low branches. He fought the jungle itself as if it were his enemy. He hacked at its obstacles, dodged its attacks. And all the time the Maelstrom warriors ran closer. Closer. Closer still. Alphos knew he had to act quickly. He leaped through the air towards a low vine. He threw the full weight of his body forward as he clutched it. As if he had wings on his back, he swung up towards some overhanging branches. As he approached this target, he wrapped his legs around them. He hauled himself to safety on his new perch, and breathed a sigh of relief.
"That was a pretty close one, wasn't it?" he said, directing his conversation to Axenya. It was then he realized his mistake. Axenya WASN'T THERE. He looked down at the jungle floor cluttered with confused Maelstrom troops. His face went pale. "They won't kill her," Alphos breathed to himself, "Not as long as I'm alive."
"Wake up......," said the words drifting through Axenya barely conscious mind, "Wake UP........"
Axenya's eyes fluttered open. A young woman was standing over her. Her hair was a few shades darker than Axenya's, and was adorned with a brightly colored feather. In one hand she held what looked a large gun with a grappling hook on the end. Suddenly Axenya's mind cleared. It was Renee Tombcrusher.
"You're awake," she said kindly, "Are you hurt?"
Axenya thought of all the bumps and bruises she had acquired since she had arrived in Gnarled forest, but since there was nothing major to worry about, she answered no.
"What happened?" Renee asked.
"We were running from the Maelstrom troops," Axenya replied, "I must have fainted and he kept going. He probably didn't even realize what happened until....."
"Who is 'he'?" Renee said.
"Alphos," Axenya said, "And these people are after US. That's why they came here."
"If that's the case," Renee said, "Then we have to find him soon. Were you headed in any spefic direction?"
"There's some kind of stone building to the north," Axenya replied, "If we head that way, we should run into him"
"Or the Maelstrom," Renee said grimly, recalling the effects of the seemingly turbocharged pirates. "No more time to waste. Let's go." Axenya nodded in agreement, and Renee helped her to her feet.
"I can't believe I fainted," she thought to her self, "I NEVER faint." But these thoughts were pushed aside in favor of worry for what had become of Alphos. As they marched deeper into the jungle, there was still no sign of him. Eventually the foliage became more sparse, and the ground was harder, indicating a well worn path. Soon the jungle cleared, and a massive temple stood in their view. Tears were welling in Axenya's eyes. Surely Alphos hadn't gone in without her? Surely he knew she was gone and was trying to find her?
"Maybe he went inside," Renee said. Axenya nodded again, blinking back the tears. But us they crossed the mighty threshold, they failed to see the glowing red eyes staring back to them. They failed to notice that the disturbed moss on the floor meant someone had been here recently. And they had no idea whatsoever that they were walking into a trap.
Alphos slashed through the tangled overgrowth wildly with his sword. Only one thought was running trough his mind: he HAD to find Axenya. For all he knew, for all he cared, every obstruction in his path might as well have been a stromling. And a stromling he quickly and heartlessly disposed of at that. How could he have been so foolish? He could he had left her behind. In his mind, he dealt himself a dozen vicious beatings for his mistake. Axenya had to be alive. She was all he had left. He traced back his hurried journey though the jungle. Where was the last place he saw her? The jungle all looked the same to him. As his panicked eyes darted about, they spotted a torn piece of clothing hooked on a branch belonging to a half-crushed bush. All at once, relief and even more panic washed over Alphos; the cloth came from Axenya's vest. He gulped. Where was she? He tried to clear his mind. Maybe she went on to the building. Yeah, he thought, I'll check there. So he marched off into the rainforest, all the time longing to find Axenya, but dreading what he might find on the way. Eventually the forest floor became more hard packed. Alphos looked around. Up ahead was a clearing, and inside it sat a massive temple, majestic, yet when compared to the jungle, an insignificant beige blob in the middle of a sea of green. Alphos crept towards the clearing, but as he got closer, he heard something. It was that familiar clanking of chains that meant only one thing: stromling pirates. What if they had Axenya? He shuddered. As the sound got louder, he saw the pirates walk into the clearing from another direction and march into the temple. Now only one thing was certain to Alphos: if Axenya was inside, she was in big trouble.
Deep inside the temple, the Scientist heard a noise.
"What was that?!" she exclaimed, as softly as she could.
"I don't know," Zegon said with a smirk.
"Then go investigate."
"Why don't you?"
Zegon saw the maelstrom crystal atop the Scientist's staff glow brighter. He gulped.
"Fine," he said, "I'll go check."
"Don't let the wild beasts get you," the Scientist snickered. Instinctively, Zegon tensed and glanced around quickly. He soon realized he had, ONCE AGAIN, been made a fool of.
"Very funny," he growled through gritted teeth, "Try not to laugh to hard, or you'll choke on your enormous sense of humor." Delighted at angering Zegon, the Scientist raised her hand and mockingly shooed him away. Zegon walked towards the chamber entrance, grumbling under his breath.
"It's was probably just a bat," he thought to himself. Though as he walked down the corridors filled with all the booby traps he disabled, he began to think otherwise. Every now and then, he could have sworn he heard voices. His hands went to his swords. In other few moments, he was certain.
"Strange," Zegon heard a voice say, "Temples like these were built by primitive clans of the First Builders thousands of years ago. They were usually laden with traps, but so far....."
"PLEASE don't talk like that," another voice with a soft foreign sounding accent said, "It's like your inviting trouble."
At that point, Zegon's sick sense of humor took over. Why not prove the trespasser right? A twisted grin crept across his face as he jumped into the next corridor.
"Trouble just arrived, ladies!" he shouted. The two intruders gasped. Before either of them had a chance to act, Zegon's swords glowed and twin blasts arced out of the blade at them, sending them both crashing to the ground.
"Why if it isn't the famous Renee Tombcrusher," he said evilly, as he stood over the two unconscious forms at his feet, "and the wittle friend of that pain in the neck that brought us here."
Pain shot through every nerve of Axenya's body. She groaned. What had happened? She slowly opened her eyes. At first, the world around her was a blur, but the swirling blobs of color around her eventually started to take shape. She looked down. A thick, rope-like vine was wound tightly around her waist, and she seemed to be floating over a large hole in the ground that seemed to go down into the core of the planet chunk. She gulped and looked up. The vine that was suspending her appeared to be hooked up above her. It followed along the ceiling for a bit, then dropped down to another hanging prisoner, Renee Tombcrusher. Walking along the ground in front of the pit was their captor.
"Like the death trap, girls?" he said, gesturing to the pit, "I made it myself." He looked down at his gleaming weapons with an evil grin.
"Why did you bring us here?" Axenya demanded.
"If you think the Nexus Force will give you anything for us, you're sadly mistaken," Renee continued.
"Maybe not," Zegon replied, "But I know someone who WILL. And when he arrives, he gets a choice."
Axenya's heart sank. It was a trap for Alphos. And she knew he would do anything to save her. Renee tried to grope around for something on her belt.
"Looking for your stuff?" an evil sounding female voice said, "It's in a safe place." She smiled as she gestured over to a pile of weapons belonging to the prisoners. Renee muttered something under her breath.
"The Wielder. Naturally YOU are behind all of this. What did you come to Gnarled forest for? We have nothing to offer you, not even the strongest Maelstrom infection!" Renee snarled. The Wielder snickered.
"It isn't about control this time," she said mockingly, "It's about revenge, and finishing the job I started."
"Don't you dare hurt Alphos!" Axenya screamed, "Or I'll....."
"OR YOU'LL WHAT?" the Wielder shouted back, "Smash me? With what? I hold all the cards here, weakling!"
And at that moment, a brightly colored blur dove for the pile of weapons.
Alphos swiftly and silently pursued the pirates into the temple entrance. He took them entirely by surprise, jumping on them in a fury and silencing them all at once. He stood over the bodies of the smashed pirates, his face set in a look of grim determination. He WOULD find Axenya, and he would save her. He didn't notice that all of the temple traps had been disabled. He didn't even notice that there had been traps. His mind reeled with swirling emotions; fear, pain, loss, anguish. His memory took him back to that fateful day in Avant Gardens, the day he had watched his best friend get smashed before his eyes. He struggled to blink back tears as he ran along. He couldn't have the same thing happen with Axenya. He'd have nothing then. So he ran on, hoping for and yet dreading the sight of her again, should he be to late to save her.
Eventually, the corridor he was in opened into a massive room; wall to wall it was bigger than Nimbus Plaza, and the ceiling was almost five stories above him. As he lingered in the shadows of the corridor, he heard voices coming from inside.
"The Wielder. Naturally YOU are behind all of this. What did you come to Gnarled forest for? We have nothing to offer you, not even the strongest Maelstrom infection!" said a voice that Alphos recognized as Renee Tombcrusher's. He looked up the ceiling. Dangling from some vines were two prisoners. He dove behind what looked like a collapsed stairway to shelter him from view. As he peeked out of his new hiding place, he recognized the prisoners as Renee Tombcrusher and Axenya. He could barely stop from crying out. Sure Axenya was a prisoner, but she looked unharmed for the moment. Now he just had to save her. His eyes slid down to the massive pit they were hanging over. He racked his brains for some sort of a plan. Then he noticed the stack of weapons. It was a well known fact the Renee Tombcrusher's signature weapon could launch a razor sharp grappling hook. He heard the Wielder speak again.
"OR YOU'LL WHAT? Smash me? With what? I hold all the cards here, weakling!" she said. Alphos knew there was no time to waste. Praying to the First Builders that his plan would work, he dove for the pile of weapons.
In the middle of Brig Rock, Exodus 1 looked down at a digital watch embedded into his arm.
"15 minutes until the deadline," he said. He turned to a pirate prisoner gagged and bound in front of him; Cap'n Jack Knife.
"What is the access code to disable the emergency beacon?" Exodus 1 said to the pirate.
"I don't know what you're talking about....," Jack replied. Exodus 1 belted him across the face with the back of his arm.
"LIES!" he shouted. All the Maelstrom creature halting movement at his exclamation, all the prisoners jumped in terror.
"WHAT IS THE CODE? THE ONE USED SO THAT THE NEXUS FORCE WILL NOT BE ALERTED TO OUR PRESENCE! ANSWER ME!" he bellowed. Cap'n Jack Knife leaned in closer to his captor.
"I would sooner die," he said, "than give up the last chance evvy'ne here has for survival."
Exodus 1 growled and belted him again. Then he chuckled.
"Fool," he said, "You know I could very well destroy you now, yet you still resist me. You place no value on your own life,"
"And YOU," Cap'n Jack spat, "place no value on anyone's!"
"That's where you're wrong, pirate," Exodus 1 replied, "And that's why you still breathe. You're still valuable to me."
"Maelstrom scum," the pirate muttered, then raised his voice, "I'll never give you what ye want. And when the Nexus Force arrives, ye'll wish ye'd never set foot in Gnarled Forest."
Exodus 1 turned away from the pirate with a sneer.
"We shall see, pirate," he said, "we shall see."
For a few endless moments, Alphos soared through the air. Axenya gasped as she saw her rescuer. Zegon turned to attention. He raised his weapons and fired lethal blasts mercilessly at the diving Alphos. Alphos writhed in midair to avoid certain death. He tumbled to the ground next to the weapons. Acting quickly, he jumped to his feet and grabbed Renee Tombcrusher grapple gun off the floor. A deep purple blast shot towards his head. He dove towards the side of the pit, missing the blast by studs. Again he rolled to his feet. Taking the best aim he could, he shot the weapon at the vine suspending the prisoners. The razor sharp grappling hook sliced through the vine like butter, embedding itself in the ceiling above. He then threw the grapple gun, still attached to the ceiling, into the seemingly bottomless pit. Instantly, Renee and Axenya began to fall. Without another thought for his own life, Alphos dove over the pit towards the falling Axenya. For those few seconds he was airborne, all weapons ceased to fire in the room. As he shot towards Axenya, if he had seen the faces of his enemies, he would have seen expressions of pure shock and disbelief. He collided with his tumbling target in midair, shoving the both of them towards the other side of the pit. Alphos' left arm wrapped tightly around Axenya as he drew his weapon with his right. They weren't going to land on solid ground; they were headed straight for the wall of the pit. Nanoseconds before they hit certain doom, Alphos propelled his sword into the floor of the temple just above their heads. Using every shred of strength in his body, Alphos used the blade of his weapon to haul Axenya and himself out of the pit, like a pole vaulter jumping over a bar. They rolled to a halt on the cold stone floor. And the rope of the grappling gun went taut. 10 seconds had elapsed. The rope began swinging wildly. All of a sudden, Renee Tombcrusher was yanked out of the pit by the retracting grapple. She nimbly swung out over solid ground and dealt Zegon a fierce kick to the jaw from midair. As the stunned Zegon staggered backwards, Alphos held up his sword in front of him. His body tensed, locking into a fighting stance. Axenya, though still rather shaken, stood. The Scientist raised her staff. The battle had begun.
The Scientist directed her weapon to the ground and used a powerful blast to rocket her over the abyss towards Alphos. As she bore down upon him with the gleaming crystal, Alphos raised his sword, barely meeting its blade with the glowing staff in time to avoid the crushing blow. She swung her weapon viciously at Alphos' head. Alphos dove to the ground and swiped at the Scientist's legs. She jumped over Alphos' back to avoid the attack, who then jumped to his feet, raised his sword in the air, and forced its blade down towards his opponent. The Scientist whipped her staff through the air, deflecting the potentially fatal attack. Flinging her legs in the air, she jumped back onto her feet and thrust the gleaming crystal at Alphos' chest. Alphos stumbled backwards away from the attack, and tripped over the broken remains of a stone staircase. As he fell backwards, his hands went over his head, and he completed the fall in a backwards somersault back onto his feet. This however had given the Scientist to launch another attack. She fired a vicious round of blasts at Alphos. This time however, Alphos was ready. He pulled his sword up in front of his face, neatly deflecting the blows into the wall with his shining blade. Alphos then launched into offensive mode; he ran towards the Scientist and thrust his blade at her. The Scientist quickly parried, catching Alphos' blade in the jagged edges of the crystal. Alphos pushed his blade further forward, and the Scientist pushed back. Their weapons locked together. Eventually, the Scientist flung off Alphos' sword. Thrown from his position, Alphos tumbled to the ground with his weapon. Again the Scientist fired her staff at him, and again Alphos deflected the blasts. Only this time, one of the runaway blasts ripped into the rock wall beside him. The dust and debris from the resulting explosion temporarily blinded him. He blinked back the natural tears. Out of the clouded air in front of him, the Scientist appeared. She raised her weapon over her head, the crystalline tip pointed straight at Alphos' gut.
Renee Tombcrusher had tossed aside her grapple gun and had begun to face off Zegon hand to hand. Axenya noticed the battle and ran over to the remaining weapons. She picked up her Elite Long Sword and Renee's twin daggers. Just as Zegon was bringing his weapons down towards Renee's head, Axenya slid the daggers across the floor and thrust her weapon at Zegon. Taking advantage of this distraction, Renee snatched up her weapons and used them to parry a new attack from Zegon. Now facing off against two opponents, Zegon began to smile. Finally, he thought to himself, a challenge. Not a big challenge, but.....
His train of thought was derailed by a fierce attack from Axenya. In her anger, she swiped her sword viciously at his head.
"AAAGH!!" Zegon cried out, at blood began to pour from resulting would on his forehead. Rather than weaken him though, the pain fueled him more. He struck back with twice as much force, charging his blades as he parried attacks from both opponents. Energy shot up the arms of both Renee and Axenya. They flew back through the air and tumbled to the ground. Renee jumped up first. She wouldn't let the happen again. She dove at Zegon with her daggers. The Blade of Darkness arced through the air in reply to Renee's attack, grazing her left hand in the process. She gripped her hand in pain, dropping one of her daggers in the process. Zegon was about to deal her the final blow when Axenya ran back at him, sword raised. Another brutal clashing of weapons ensued. Zegon swiped his blades at Axenya's legs. Axenya back flipped out of the way, kicking Zegon in the chest in the process. By now Renee had wiped the blood from her hand and was racing back into battle. She plunged her dagger towards Zegon, who quickly met the blow with the Blade of Darkness. In an outburst of rage, Zegon lashed out at Axenya with the Blade of Light. The flat side of the sword hit her squarely in the head, knocking her to the ground. Once again, Renee tried to stab Zegon, and once again she failed. Axenya slowly rose. Renee was being quickly pushed backwards by the swordsman's brutal blows to her smaller weapons. She ran at Zegon. Hearing her footfall, Zegon kicked Renee away from him and charged his blades. Twin blasts of lethal energy shot straight towards Axenya's head.
Seeing certain doom rocketing towards her, Axenya raised her sword in front of her face. The blasts hit the flat side of her blade with almost enough force to knock it from her hand. The blows ricocheted of her gleaming weapon and shot over to the other side of the room.
Just as the Scientist's deadly weapon began to descend towards Alphos, an explosion ripped into the wall above her head, knocking her off her feet. Alphos took the opportunity to grab his sword and leap back into the battle. The Scientist only took a few seconds to recover and, enraged that her opportunity had been wasted, lunged furiously at Alphos. Alphos quickly parried her attack, knocking her weapon downwards. She pulled her weapon back under control and spun it like a baton in her hand. The whole staff began to glow evilly, and Alphos could no longer tell which end the crystal was mounted upon. The Scientist flipped through the air while continuing to spin her weapon wildly. She landed in front of Alphos and swung it at his head. Thinking quickly, Alphos plunged his sword into the purplish blur, stopping the assault. The Scientist raised her staff again and swung it at Alphos' head. Alphos quickly caught the weapon on his blade. Alphos thrust, the Scientist parried. The Scientist fired a blast, Alphos dodged it.
Meanwhile, Axenya and Renee Tombcrusher continued their vicious swordfight against Zegon. Zegon sliced outwards with his swords as he meant to, and most likely did mean to, cut off the legs of his opponents. Axenya and Renee back flipped through the air, both losing half a studs length hair the Zegon's weapons in the process. As they somersaulted to a halt, Zegon again charged his blades. Again the girls raised their weapons defensively. The blasts shot away from Zegon so violently that the swordsman was launched backwards as they were propelled away from him. Tensing every muscle in their bodies, Axenya and Renee held their blades up to meet the blasts. Light erupted from the gleaming weapons on contacted as the blasts were reflected across the room. The sound of crumbling stone could be heard form the ceiling. Zegon muttered under his breath. The temple was coming down on top of them.
A mass of rubble fell from the ceiling, blocking the only corridor out. Alphos mind raced across the room. He saw Renee's grapple gun, still dangling into the pit from the rope attached to the ceiling. About halfway down the pit, he noticed a small, reasonably sheltered ledge.
"JUMP!!!" Alphos yelled, as he ran towards the side of the pit. Axenya and Renee couldn't believe what they were hearing, but soon realized what Alphos' plan was. They too ran towards the pit.
Alphos leaped over the edge of the pit, followed by a few desperately fired blasts of Maelstrom energy.
Axenya and Renee followed suit. Big chunks of rock and debris tumbled down past them into the abyss. The rope got closer. Alphos reached out his hand. Closer. Axenya and Renee grabbed onto Alphos' legs. Immediately, Alphos felt himself being dragged down. At the last possible moment, Alphos' hands wrapped around the rope. The momentum of the jump immediately set the rope swinging over to the ledge...... below them.
"We're not going to make it!" Axenya shrieked. Alphos squeezed his eyes shut and waited for the solid rock to smack him in the face.
"DO SOMETHING!!" the Scientist screamed as the rubble started blocking all other possible escape routes. Just as the final pieces came tumbling down to crush them, Zegon charged his blades and threw up an energy dome around them. The rock fell harmlessly on top of the dome, although burying it in the process. Zegon expanded the dome, tossing the rocks aside as if they were a child's playthings, then put his blades to rest.
"That was close," the Scientist said.
"No kidding," Zegon replied. He was shocked though. He had been responsible for he collapse of the temple, and the Scientist had not said anything about it. Not even her usual cutting jibe. Maybe I'm starting to get a little respect around here, he thought to himself.
"Oh, and next time you want to blow up a temple, do it from a safe distance," the Scientist commented. Zegon fumed.
At that moment a small beeping alarm came out of Zegon's watch. His face turned pale.
"We missed the check-in," he groaned, "The Nexus Force is coming."
"Ugh," Alphos muttered. His head ached. He looked around. Daylight shone into the pit from where the ceiling of the temple had been. They had landed on the ledge after all. The grapple gun lay next to him. It seemed no worse for wear. He tried to pull the other end out of the pit. Suddenly the rope went slack.
"It must have been shredded by the rocks," Alphos said to himself. Axenya and Renee had landed on the ledge beside him, both unconscious. Alphos put 2 and 2 together. They must have hit the side of the pit just as the ceiling supporting the rope collapsed. The collision knocked them unconscious and they miraculously landed safely on the ledge. He then noticed a small cave heading back into the wall of the pit.
"Fingers crossed," he said. But before exploring it further, he leaned over Axenya and gently shook her by the shoulder.
"Wake up," he coaxed, "wake up."
Axenya groaned. Her eyes snapped open.
"What happened?" she said.
"Ceiling gave and we fell down here," he responded, "There's a cave back there. It might lead back to the surface."
"Renee?" she asked.
"Still out. I'll wake her now."
Alphos knelt beside Renee. He coaxed her as he had with Axenya, and she soon responded. He told her his plan.
"So what are we waiting for?" Renee said cheerily, "Onwards and inwards."
Alphos forced a grim smile. He wished he could share the explorer's optimism, but he dreaded what might lurk within the darkened catacombs.
In a communications facility within Nexus Tower, an alarm went off. Instantly, the officer present jumped to attention. An amber warning light was flashing rapidly. Beneath it was a label that said "Gnarled Forest".
"Oh no....," the officer said, "I need to report this right away!"
Paying no regard to the tower-wide speaker system he had access to, he ran out of the little room and into the labyrinthine corridors of Nexus Tower's upper levels.
"Must.... get.... help!" he panted as he ran along. Completely forgetting that such a thing as elevators existed, the officer tumbled head over heels down the stairwell. He soon reached the central floor of Nexus Tower. He made a beeline for the faction leader controlling defense. But as he ran into the Sentinel room, he saw that Duke Exeter wasn't there. He started to panic.
"Wh...where's DUKE EXETER?!" he gasped. The Sentinel guard Bullet Mullet turned around.
"Exeter just went into a meeting with the other faction leaders," the warrior growled.
"I... I ..I NEEDA SSEEEIM NOWW!!!" the officer stammered.
"Well I reckon he doesn't want to be disturbed, but if it's that important, meeting is two floors down, room 3," Bullet Mullet replied.
"THANK YOU!" the officer exclaimed. Again he ran for the stairwell. He tumbled down two more floors and burst into the conference room like a madman.
"GNARLED FOREST IS UNDER ATTACK!!!!!!" he screamed.
"Wha?" Hael gaped.
"They missed their scheduled check-in by 15 minutes," he said, "That can only mean they're in serious trouble."
Duke Exeter's expression darkened. The check-in system had been implemented after the Battle of Avant Gardens so as to prevent such a situation from repeating itself. All Nexus Force member knew that the scheduled check-in was vital. Nobody could have just forgotten to do it.
"Alright," Duke said, "We'll take the Avenger, Intrigue, and New Frontier and secure Gnarled Forest."
The other faction leaders nodded.
"Then let's go," Duke said.
As Alphos stepped into the cave, an intense darkness began to descend all over him. As he ventured deeper in, it seemed to swallow him whole. As if this wasn't bad enough, he could swear he heard noises further inside. Alphos was by no means afraid of the dark, but this was just creepy.
"Need a light?" Renee Tombcrusher said as she snapped on a torch off her belt.
"Better," Alphos replied. He could now see that the cave was roughly tube-like, and continued a long way ahead of them. They trekked on. Soon they came to a fork.
"I've seen this too many times for this to end well," Axenya said nervously.
"We go left," Renee said, "That'll take us back towards the populated regions of Gnarled Forest."
"Left it is," Alphos said. Again they marched on, again they came to a fork, again they went left. And all the way along, Alphos kept hearing noises.
"Ok, this is ridiculous," he said, "Don't tell me you can't hear those noises."
"What noises?" Axenya said. A desperate, twisted expression crossed Alphos' face, as if he feared he was going insane.
"Soft, dripping noises, the sound of distant footsteps, stuff like that!" he said, starting to chuckle to himself.
"Relax, Alphos," Renee said, "I hear them too. Dripping water, echoes, et cetera.... it's normal."
At that moment, a hideous growl sounded off from a nearby tunnel. Alphos face turned the color of ash.
"Is THAT normal?" he asked.
All of a sudden, Renee was sharing Alphos' fear.
"I th..think I know where we are," she stammered.
"Do elaborate," Axenya whispered.
"A few years ago, 3 Venture League scouts decided to explore the cave systems of Gnarled Forest. But they were followed."
"By who?" Alphos asked.
"By the biggest silverback gorilla this world has ever seen. And this was no gentle giant. The scouts had gone straight through his territory."
"Yes?" Alphos said. He wished she would just get to the point.
"The scouts discovered a massive underground lake of pure liquid Maelstrom. The gorilla jumped at the scouts, and fell in. He was infected almost instantly. Before the scouts had time to react, the infected monster jumped out of the lake and mauled two of the scouts. No one knows what happened to the third, just that he was never seen again," Renee said, "Fortunately they were performing a live audio log of their journey, or we wouldn't know any of this."
"And if all the Maelstrom here is being controlled.....," Axenya said, shuddering.
"Then we're its primary target," Alphos groaned. Why was it always something? Why could nothing ever be SIMPLE?
"Come on," he said, "It's the only way out anyway."
With this image of horror in their minds, they continued on through the caves. After about a minute of walking, they reached a massive underground pit. It wasn't as deep as it was wide, but the really terrifying thing was that it contained a bubbling lake of liquid Maelstrom. There appeared to be a series of rock ledges going around the edge of the pit to the other side.
"Ladies first," Alphos said, but he spoke in jest. He jumped onto the first ledge. From there, he took a running start and leaped onto the second ledge. They rock seemed sturdy enough.
"Come!" he said, but chuckled at the irony of his next words, "It's safe!"
At that moment, he saw a massive silhouette loom up behind Axenya and Renee, but that wasn't what frightened him. It glowed purple.
"RUN!!" he screamed.
The hideous monster stood up on its hind legs and let out a massive bellow. Axenya and Renee dove for the series of ledges. The ape brought its fist down onto the spot where the two minifigures had just been. The cave shook violently. Axenya and Renee jumped onto the second ledge with Alphos, the beast now in pursuit. As it jumped onto the first ledge, Alphos thought he saw the rock beneath his feet start to crack under his weight. As the ape prepared to jump again, Alphos beckoned violently for them to move. In unison, the three minifigure jumped onto the third ledge. The ape landed on the second ledge. They jumped again. As Axenya landed on the sixth ledge she began to slip. Alphos instantly threw his hand towards her, saving her from certain death, or at least infection. He looked at her desperately.
"DON'T fall in," he whispered. She nodded nervously. She had heard stories of minifigures being infected. Apparently, a darkness unlike any other surrounds them like a blanket. Unspeakable pain shoots through their body as their skin turns a deep purple and Maelstrom energy starts to course through them. Finally, they slowly start to lose control of their body until the point where they can't even speak anymore. No one knew what happened after that. No minifig had remained in control long enough to say.
The monstrous ape was gaining on them. Gathering every last shred of nerve among them, the trio jumped towards the last ledge.
From the middle of Brig Rock, a rustling could be heard in the nearby bushes. The blasters mounted on Exodus 1's back prepared to fire.
"Surrender yourself, or be destroyed!" he commanded the unknown intruder. Two figures emerged from the dense foliage.
"Mistress," he said to one of the approaching minifigures, "Forgive me."
"No need," the Scientist said, "Strict perimeter control is vital in this situation. Have any of the prisoners divulged the code yet?"
"None, I am afraid. They all seem to value their pride over their own lives."
"Then maybe," the Scientist shouted to the audience of prisoners, "you need some convincing of our supremacy here!" At that moment she leveled her staff at a nearby Rank 2 summoner. His hands bound and stromling pirates guarding him, he had no choice but to watch a violet colored beam emerge from the tip of the weapon. The blast struck him full in the chest, but did not shoot through him. Instead, it was absorbed into his body. His body began to change. Dark purple legs made of some metallic looking substance replaced his own. Soon, his entire body, with the exception of his face was covered with the metal. A helmet formed over his head. Pain shot through him as his new metal body began to melt and reform into powerful robotic limbs. On his back was some kind of anti-gravitational unit. He found himself losing control of his own consciousness until nothing of him remained. An Exodus unit now stood on the warrior's place.
"Now!" the Scientist bellowed, "Shall I transform another?"
Captain Jack Knife, still guarded closely by Exodus 1, spoke.
"We don't care what ye do to us! The Nexus Force will arrive, and ye will be destroyed. Plain and simple."
The Scientist grinned evilly. She transformed another prisoner, this time a shinobi.
She claimed 10 new Exodus units that day.
Exodus 1 felt something twinge deep inside of him as he watched the new Exodus units being heartlessly given the designations of their fallen predecessors. He watched as a clearly agitated Zegon walked up to his mistress and began to speak.
"Why do we not just leave now?!" he shrieked, "The temple collapsed. Surely they were crushed."
Captain Jack's heart sank as he heard the words. Exodus 1 felt something he could quite identify as part of his normal functions.
"Because," the Scientist replied, "If they were smashed, we would have found their mortal remains among the rubble."
"What if they fell in the pit?"
"It's possible. As is Alphos still being alive."
"So you're going to risk getting annihilated by the Nexus Force on a POSSIBILITY?!"
"If the Nexus Force arrives, I will destroy them."
"Like last time?" Zegon muttered.
"Unless I recall incorrectly, one of their brand new vessels was crippled in battle with us. Not to mention they don't have their new little flying ace with them," the Scientist said, speaking the words regarding Alphos in such a disgustingly evil tone that all the prisoners felt its chill in the very cores of their bones.
"So we wait?"
"We wait for Alphos to realize the suffering that he is perpetuating and surrender himself to us," the Scientist said, "When the Nexus Force arrives, they can take one look at our prisoner and know that any strike against us would mean the cold-blooded destruction of their own people."
"Oh this WILL be fun," Zegon muttered sarcastically.
"You have no patience, Zegon," his partner replied, "And right now, patience is our greatest weapon."
As Alphos landed neatly on the ledge, he noticed Axenya falling short of her target, screaming as she realized the certain doom awaiting her. Alphos threw himself onto the rock, arms outstretched. At the last possible moment, Alphos' hand touched Axenya's. He held on tight and hauled her up onto the ledge. He considered giving her another scolding, telling her to be more careful, but as he looked deep into her fear-stricken eyes, he knew the words need not be spoken.
"COME ON!" Renee screamed as the monstrous ape jumped towards them. Alphos and Axenya immediately scrambled to their feet and ran into a tunnel that opened out onto that ledge. The infected beast landed behind them and pursued them into the dark tunnel. Soon the tunnel opened into another cave, much smaller than the previous one, but lined on its roof and floor with wicked looking stalactites and stalagmites.
"Maybe we can lose him in here!" Renee said. Her burst of confidence was cut short though as the terrifying creature bolted into the cave and started knocking away the spiky formations like mere playthings. As the ape ran towards them, Alphos drew his sword. The moment it was within range, he swiped his blade across the creature's chest. The monster howled ferociously and promptly knocked Alphos across the room with the back of his hand, slamming him into the wall. Alphos shuddered. The pain of the impact hadn't hurt nearly as much as the burning sensation left behind by the creature's Maelstrom infected hand. As the beast again lumbered towards him, Alphos leaped to his feet, sword at the ready. As the ape brought its mighty hands down towards his target, Alphos dove to the side, miraculously avoiding impaling himself on the sharp stalagmites coating the floor. The ape, however was not so lucky, embedding one of the formations deep into its hand. It let out a tremendous bellow of anger and pain. Again it turned towards its would-be victim, and charged again.
In the middle of Brig Rock, the Scientist was staring into her crystal again. All of a sudden she laughed.
"What is it?" Zegon snapped, "You're making me nervous."
"Alphos," she replied, still chuckling, "Is about the become an ape's chew toy."
Axenya couldn't continue just watching the spectacle before her. She ran at the ape and slashed at its face with her sword. It howled in pain, then reached out and grabbed her around the waist with its massive hand. As the beast clenched its fist tighter Axenya cried out in agony. Alphos picked himself up off the cold floor at ran at the creature with gritted teeth. In one fluid motion, he brought the blade of his weapon down across the ape's fingers. The beast bellowed furiously and loosened his grip on Axenya long enough for her to escape being crushed. Alphos looked over his shoulder, but Renee was nowhere to be seen. She wouldn't have just run off.
In reality, Renee had heard the booming sound of thunder and the pounding of rain upon rock. She realized it was coming from the ceiling. Just beyond an entombing layer of stone was freedom. But how to reach it?
Meanwhile, Alphos and Axenya were still locked in the brutal battle with the ape. Cuts and bruises covered their bodies, but the fought on, slashing their weapons at the mighty beast. But to no avail. The hideously infected creature remained just as strong as ever before, only now it was angrier.
Further up the cave Renee took a lone fire cracker out of her pocket and strapped it onto the cave ceiling. Normally she would never has risked a cave in like that, but this was serious. She took a pocket timer out of her pocket next and attached it to the firecracker. She then ran back down the passage to where the vicious duel was taking place.
"ALPHOS! AXENYA!" she screamed, "COME NOW!"
Knowing that they wouldn't have lasted much longer against the ape, the two warriors followed her order and ran up the tunnel their opponent now in hot pursuit. When they were halfway to their goal, they heard a small explosion. Renee crossed her fingers, hoping that the tiny weapon had blaster a way out. As she ran up the tunnel though, she saw that it hadn't. All the blood left her face as she turned around and saw the ape thundering up the tunnel behind them. Thinking quickly, Renee noticed some cracks in the tunnel roof most likely left by the firecracker. Too nervous to speak she pointed madly at the roof. As if reading her mind, Alphos plunged his sword into the ceiling over his head. The cracks grew. Then the ape made a dive for Alphos.
Axenya dragged Alphos to safety as the cave ceiling came crashing down on top of the ape. The beast let out one final moan before it succumbed to its injuries and lay still. Daylight shone into the cave through the hole in the roof, the fallen debris forming a sort of makeshift ladder they could use to climb out. Alphos was still shaking from his close encounter with the ape, and the cave in for that matter. Axenya put an arm around his shoulder and whispered in his ear.
"You were very brave," she said, "You did everything you could, and you succeeded."
"I did. If only I always had."
"Alphos, you tri..."
"This isn't the time," Alphos said, "It already happened. It can't be undone. Neither can how it changed me."
"You two done?" Renee asked, "because if you guys are really being hunted down, we should keep moving."
"Your right," Alphos said, glad to end the conversation, "Let's get moving."
Rain poured into the hole from the lead colored sky above them. The booming of thunder echoed inside their heads as they climbed out. After a severe drenching and about 1 minute of climbed, they were free of the cave. Alphos looked around. Off in the distance, he saw dense jungle at a lower altitude. He looked in the other direction and noticed that the plateau of rock they were standing on dropped off all of a sudden. Upon closer examination, he realized that they were standing on top of a cliff. He got down on his stomach and peeped over the edge. Beneath him was Brig Rock. Dozens of stationary minifigures were sitting on the ground. Exodus units marched among them. And two particularly familiar figures were standing in front of them all, appearing to be shouting at the minifigs. Alphos' blood ran cold. Brig Rock had been taken by the enemy. And the enemy had hostages.
"It's like they're holding everyone in Gnarled Forest," Alphos said, "And by the looks of things, some of them have already been corrupted."
"They're building an army," Renee said.
"What should we do?" Axenya asked. At that moment, a sonic boom echoed over their heads. Three tiny dots shot through the upper atmosphere. The sound of powerful jet engines rung through the air, getting louder and dozens of starfighters zoomed in like a flock of birds. A grim smile crossed Alphos' face. Before he could be told to do otherwise, Alphos clicked together the parts of his powerjouster, the weapon he had not wielded since his battle with the Spider Queen, ran to the edge of the cliff, and jumped down into Brig Rock. Axenya screamed. Alphos held his powerjouster pointed to the ground as he fell. He landed neatly on the back of a Stromling Ape, propelling it his weapon deep into the creature and smashing it in a single hit. As the ape fell to the ground defeated, the Scientist noticed Alphos' arrival.
"SMASH HIM!!" she screamed. Instantly, every Exodus unit, Admiral and Pirate turned on the warrior, slashing and blasting at him. Alphos twirled the gleaming weapon in his hand deflecting the incoming blasts. He jumped into the air, avoiding the deadly anchors and blades of the pirate and admirals. He landed directly behind Captain Jack Knife, and in a single fluid motion, sliced the ropes binding his hands.
"FIGHT!" the captain bellowed. At his command, the remaining prisoners leaped to their feet, ready for battle. A flurry of blaster fire rained down into Brig Rock from above, reducing several apes and Exodus units to ash. Alphos ran towards the stunned Scientist and pointed his weapon at her throat.
"Surrender," Alphos said, trying to stop himself from destroying her then and there.
"You destroy me," she said, "and every creature here stops following my will and randomly destroys everyone here."
At was only a moment of hesitation, but it was enough for Zegon to send a high kick to Alphos' jaw, knocking him to the ground. Seeing her friend was in danger, Axenya jumped down to the battle below, shortly followed by Renee. The battle was on.
Alphos leaped to his feet, narrowly escaping one of Zegon's lethal energy blasts. The Scientist swung her staff at Alphos' head. Alphos quickly parried with his powerjouster. Meanwhile, the prisoners were beginning to get the upper hand. They scavenged the blasters from the fallen Exodus units and were now using them against their foes. Swifty McGurk, also one of the prisoners, tossed one to Renee. She neatly caught the lethal weapon, and fired it at an Admiral. The creature was instantly destroyed.
Axenya knew that Alphos could not hold off both Zegon and the Scientist forever, so she ran to her friend's side. She brought down her blade towards the Scientist. Her opponent parried without a second's thought, and so with such force that Axenya was thrown to the ground. Alphos was still locked in battle with Zegon, both fighting so brutally that it was incredible that their weapons did not shatter on contact with each other. Sparks literally flew when the tip of Alphos' powerjouster locked with Zegon's two blades.
"I must admit. You're a good fighter," Zegon said, "For a whelp."
Zegon's insult fueled Alphos to fight harder. He slammed his weapon against Zegon's, trying to knock the blades from his Zegon's hands. Zegon fought back harder.
The Scientist fired a Maelstrom blast at Axenya, but it was quickly deflected off Axenya's shining blade. Axenya went into offensive mode, and swung her blade at her opponent's torso. The Scientist raised her staff and caught the attack in the maelstrom crystal. Axenya's blade was wedged in so tight that she couldn't remove it. A charge of maelstrom energy shot up the staff, through the sword, and into Axenya.
"AAAAGH!" she cried, as she was hurled back through Brig Rock. The blade fell from the maelstrom crystal as though it was a dead thing, and landed with a soft thud on the hard ground of Brig Rock. The Scientist raised her weapon, this time to finish Axenya.
And then the Scientist was knocked to the ground.
Cap'n Jack Knife had leaped onto the Scientist's back and was now pinning her to the ground. Incensed by the unexpected assault, she released a powerful burst of Maelstrom energy around her, blasting the pirate clear over to the cliff face. This had given Axenya time to act however. She grabbed a spare Exodus blaster from the ground and fired at the Scientist. The villain twirled her staff in her hands, creating a shield of Maelstrom energy in front of her. Having deflected Axenya's blast, she quickly returned fire.
Alphos was still locked in the deadly duel with Zegon. His opponent's twin blades arced through the air around him, every second missing a collision with Alphos by mere hairs. It was almost as if the blades themselves were possessed by evil, attempting to strike Alphos down without the need of their masters' input. Despite the danger and sheer brutality of his opponent, Alphos fought on, heroically clashing his mighty Valiant weapon against the shimmering blades. A rain of blaster fire from incoming starfighters showered down around them. As Alphos fought, he knew a single false move could mean the fighters scoring a friendly hit. The remaining Exodus units had gathered themselves following the previous aerial attack, and were now channeling their firepower towards the brave fighter pilots.
Leading the aerial attack was Sky Lane. As she maneuvered her craft through the heavens, blasts of Maelstrom energy shot up at her from the battlefield below. She flicked on her comm unit.
"The cyborgs are on us," she calmly said into the microphone on her helmet, "Stay sharp."
She didn't know how right she was. Some of the Exodus units had activated their anti-gravitational packs, and were flying up to meet the fighters in close combat. She watched helplessly as one of the mechanical terrors landed on a nearby starfighter and blasted the pilot through the windscreen. The now unmanned craft crashed to the ground, and the Exodus unit flew away unharmed. It was them that Sky felt a thud on her own fighter. She darted her head around, and identified a cyborg approaching the cockpit. She quickly threw her fighter into a barrel roll praying that the creature would be thrown off. It wasn't. It came closer.
Blaster fire rang through the clouds.
The shattered components of an Exodus unit flew harmlessly away from Sky Lane windshield. She breathed a deep sigh of relief as she saw another starfighter fly up beside her.
"Thanks for the save," Sky said into her comm, "That was close."
As spears of Maelstrom energy shot out of the Scientist's staff, Axenya dove behind the shattered staircase leading out of Brig Rock for cover. During a short interval where the Scientist had stopped firing, Axenya leaned out from behind her hiding place and shot back with her Exodus blaster. During that battle, all thoughts were cleared of her mind but one: survive. Lethal blasts shot back and forth throughout Brig Rock as though the warriors were playing some deadly form of badminton. More than once, parts of the stone staircase protecting Axenya crumbled on impact with a blast. She knew that she couldn't keep this up forever. The next chance she had to fire, she didn't aim for her opponent. Instead, she sent a powerful blast to the base of one of the trees lining the path through the forest. The monstrous palm shuddered and fell towards the shocked Scientist.
"AAGH!" she cried, as she jumped to the side. Using blasts from her weapon as a boost, she made another leap onto a rather elastic looking palm tree. The tree bent under her weight and sprung back into position, catapulting the Scientist neatly onto the staircase protecting her opponent.
"Lights out," she whispered evilly.
From the other side of Brig Rock, Alphos noticed Axenya's plight out of the corner of his eye. As Zegon brought another powerful blow down towards Alphos, his opponent ran. Alphos darted across Brig Rock towards his endangered friend. He dug his powerjouster into the hard soil and used it to propel himself towards the Scientist. Just as she was about to end Axenya's life, Alphos collided with her. Axenya's rescuer raised his weapon towards the Scientist, who quickly rolled out of the reach of his weapon and help her staff erect. The Maelstrom crystal glowed brightly.
From the deep waters off the edge of Pirate Camp, a trembling sound shook the ground. A glowing, behemoth mass was rising out of the water. The Venture Explorer was ready for her next battle.
Hael Storm stood aboard the bridge of the New Frontier. A holo-display in front of him streamed images of the chaotic battle unfolding below. A grim expression crept into his face, and hiw forehead creased with a mixture of both concern and anger. He loved Gnarled Forest. Some of his best friends were the people who lived and works there. The attack of the Maelstrom on Gnarled had proven a difficult problem to overcome, but the Nexus Force had been working hard to take back its lucious jungles and rugged mountains. Now however, things were different. The Maelstrom had control, and was being controlled by a single being. The mindless stromling pirates, previously only bent on destruction, were now as swift and precise as a Nexus Force attack unit. They now fought with a goal, and that was what made Hael uneasy. What their goal was, Hael did not know. All he knew was that the scheduled checkpoint had been missed, and the Wielder had been spotted from above. He flicked on a comm unit.
"This be Storm to Frontier 1," he said, "Come in Frontier 1."
"Frontier 1 reading you loud and clear," Sky Lane's voice replied.
"Not good. The enemy is sending cyborg onto us. They've taken out three of my pilots from within their fighters already.
Hael shook his head angrily.
"Them fools must know that we 'ave the resources to keep this up longer than they can."
"Speaking of," Sky Lane began, but was cut off again by Hael.
"No need to worry. Reinforcements from the Avenger and the Intrigue be preppin' fer launch now. Over and out."
At that moment, an officer sitter at on of the many control panels lining the bridge of the Nexus Force battleship spoke.
"Sir, we've got a bogey approaching our fighters. No visual yet, but roughly the size of the Explorer."
Hael flicked on his comm again.
"Frontier 1! Com' in! Hostile approaching at 12 o'clock!"
Before Sky Lane could utter a response, Hael heard her gasp in shock, followed by the whining of her fighter's engines as they threw her craft into a tight evasive maneuver.
"Got a visual. Hostile craft is Venture Explorer. Preparing for battle." Sky flipped on her comm and passed on preparatory message to her fellow pilot.
"Frontier 1, over and out," she then said, cutting off the connection to both the Frontier and her fellow pilots. As Hael stared through the windshield of the massive battleship at the tiny starfighters miles below him in the lower atmosphere, Hael give a sigh of apprehension for the brave pilots.
"Good luck," he muttered, "Stay sharp."
While Alphos had no idea what the Scientist had actually just done, he knew it wasn't a good thing. He made a desperate lunge for her staff. The Scientist nimbly stepped aside, and as Alphos stumbled past his target, she swung her weapon around to hit him powerfully in the back. Alphos moaned and fell to the ground. His skin felt as though it was burning where the maelstrom crystal had made contact with him. However, anticipating another attack, he jumped to his feet, powerjouster still in hand, ready to fight.
"You fool," the Scientist said, "You will perish. I finish what I start."
Again her staff glowed brightly, and released a of Maelstrom energy sufficient to reduce a fighter jet to ash at Alphos. The knight dodged, narrowly avoiding the lethal attack. Behind where Alphos had stood a large patch of charred jungle. At that moment Axenya gathered her wits and rushed at their enemy, firing her blaster as she went. As the Scientist returned fire, she again took cover behind the staircase. While she was occupied with Axenya, Alphos ran at her with his powerjouster. The metal tip of his weapon whizzed through the air. The Scientist quickly dodged a blast from Axenya and then raised her staff, blocking Alphos' attack. Again her staff glowed, and six more stromling admirals shot up out of the ground.
"Enjoy," she spat. She used this new distraction to run over to the other side of Brig Rock. She looked up the path leading back into the forest. Nexus Force foot soldiers had already landed, and were slicing through her maelstrom minions. She looked up in the air and saw the Venture Explorer above her, locked in battle with the Nexus Force fighter jets. She closed her eyes, and again her staff began to glow. Instantly, the ten remaining Exodus units retreated from their battles and ran towards her. With another glow, an ape leaped to the ground from above Brig Rock. It thundered through the battlefield towards Zegon and picked him up like a plaything. Again its powerful body launched itself off the ground to land beside the Scientist.
"Get your filthy hands off me you....." Zegon said, but was cut short.
"There is a time and place certain cliches Zegon," the Scientist said, "Get us abourd the Venture Explorer."
The Nexus Force troops were cutting rapidly through the foliage to engage their enemy. Just as the heroic soldiers emerged from the jungle into Brig Rock, Zegon clashed his blades together. A blinding dome of energy exploded from his weapons, engulfing himself, the Scientist and the remaining Exodus units. In a flash, they were gone.
Blasts of energy flew from the warring crafts dotting the sky. Small explosions broke on the Venture Explorer's maelstrom shields, but the ship was unharmed. The massive cannons adorning the starship fired into the tight formation of Nexus Force starfighters. Less than 10 seconds into the battle, three more fighters and the pilots within were corrupted and turned on their former allies. Sky Lane flew valiantly through the streaks of Maelstrom energy, praying that no more of her pilots would be lost in the fight. A voice crackled over her comm unit.
"This be Storm to Frontier 1. Repeat. This be Storm to Frontier 1."
"This is Frontier 1 reading you loud and clear. Over."
"Reports just be comin' in from the ground. The enemy has boarded the Venture Explorer. Exercise extreme caution. Over."
"Understood. Over and out," Sky Lane said. She then opened her comm to the other fighters.
"Enemy is manning the Explorer," she said, "Stay sharp."
At that moment, all the cannons aboard the Venture Explorer seemed to fire at once, vaporizing all but two fighter of Sky Lane's squadron. The massive starship, having cleared a path, began to pull up into orbit, followed by the corrupted starfighters. Sky Lane couldn't believe what had just happened. Rather than mourn her lost pilots however, she pulled her starfighter around and made another dash for the Explorer, this time the battle more personal than ever. Again Hales' voice crackled over the speaker.
"They took out most of my squadron by firing all their cannons at once. Must've drained the shields. They're headed your way."
" Acknowledged. 'n' be careful."
"Will do. Over and out."
As Sky Lane pushed her fighter into exit velocity, every she cleared every shred of emotion from her mind. No more anger, no more hatred, no more fear. She switched her entire mind set to one of pure military precision. She would destroy the Venture Explorer, but not because she wanted to.
It was her duty.
Aboard the Venture Explorer, the actions of the crew were also swift and mechanical. The Scientist stood firmly at the control panel, watching the clouds race past the mighty starship as it exited Gnarled Forest's atmosphere. From the panel he was staring at, an Exodus unit spoke: "Three large enemy ships are blocking the preferred hyperspace route. Please advise."
"All thrust and shields, full double forward," she replied, "We're not going anywhere."
Zegon's mouth fell open at her response. "YOU'RE GOING TO PLAY CHICKEN WITH THREE NEXUS FORCE WARSHIPS?!?!" he shouted, "YOU'RE INSANE!"
The Scientist, completely ignoring Zegon, spoke again: "Arm all forward weaponry. Divert power from life support. We fight our way through."
"Understood," said Exodus 1 from another control panel.
"Yo...you... YOU'RE GOING TO GET US ALL SMASHED!!!!" Zegon stammered.
The Scientist rolled her eyes from behind her golden visor. "DO shut up," she said, "I know what I'm doing." The last wisps of Gnarled Forest's atmosphere whizzed past, leaving them in the blackness of space.
"Nexus Force warship at 12 o'clock," Exodus 1 said, "We have visual contact. Evasive active advised."
"Stay on course," the Scientist repeated, "I have my own plan."
"Listen to me," Zegon said, in an obviously forced tone of calmness, "I don't know about you, but I think any plan where we become blaster fodder to be A BAD PLAN!!!!"
Before the Scientist could respond to Zegon's panic, however, Exodus 1 spoke again. "Warships within firing range."
"FIRE!" the Scientist replied. Instantly, the massive maelstrom charged cannons on the Venture Explorer sent a surge of energy at their enemy, rocking the starship with their sheer power. As the blasts reached their mark, the crew of the Venture Explorer saw small explosion break out on the hulls of the warships. The warships returned fire, but the energy blasts were effortlessly absorbed into the maelstrom laden shields. Again the Venture Explorer fired, dealing a massive hit to the hull of the Sentinel Avenger. The warship rocked painfully from the resulting explosion. Still the Venture Explorer rocketed closer, and still its shields were dealt massive hit after hit. And with every hit, the glowing foggy maelstrom shield grew thicker.
Exodus 1 spoke: "Mistress, shield is well beyond 500% and is becoming unstable. Another hit could take it out." Zegon's face turned pale.
"Stay on course," was all she replied.
"SLOW DOWN BEFORE YOU GET US ALL SMASHED!!!" Zegon screamed. The Venture Explorer rocketed towards the Nexus Force warships, lethal energy blasts streaking past the starship, barely avoiding destruction. A blast hit home, rocking the entire ship. Exodus 1 spoke from his control panel.
"Shields are down. Another hit will breach our hull." At that moment the communications system activated. The chiseled face of Duke Exeter appeared on the display.
"You are hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned," the Sentinel leader said, "Your shields are crippled. Surrender now, or be destroyed." At the image of the man on the screen in front of him, Zegon spat with disgust.
"Charming," the Scientist muttered. Again Exodus 1 spoke.
"The shields require at least another 10 minutes to be restored, mistress." The Scientist frowned, deep in thought. Then she dove onto the controls and threw the ship into an extremely tight turn. As the starship maneuvered around, fire from the Nexus Force ships resumed. The Venture Explorer lurched violently as it completed a 180 degree turn and began to rocket back towards Gnarled Forest. Sky Lane, still pursuing the starship in her fighter, wrestled violently with the controls of her ship to avoid a collision. She pulled the small craft around, however and remained close on its tail. Back on the Venture Explorer, Zegon looked ill.
"Well at least we're not headed in a crossfire anymore, but WHY are we headed back, pray tell?"
"Pipe down and hold on," was the Scientist's reply.
"Why are we getting faster?" Zegon said nervously. The Scientist smiled wickedly.
"If I cannot control Gnarled Forest, no one will." Zegon's face fell. "Y...you CAN'T BE SERIOUS!!!!!!" he shrieked, "YOU'LL SMASH US ALL!!!" The Scientist just rolled her eyes.
Aboard the Paradox Intrigue, a young officer (nicknamed "Berserk" for his outrageous battle tactics) spoke.
"Commander Darkflame," he said, "The Venture Explorer is increasing in velocity. Their speed is too high for them to be planning on a safe landing." Vanda's face turned pale. She flicked on her intercomm. "Duke, Hael, I think they plan to ram the planet chunk," she said worriedly. Hael's face set grimly. "Not on MY watch," he muttered. And with that, he walked over to the weapons control panel. He armed the most powerful missile aboard. And he fired.
Vanda saw the elongated weapon rocket away from the New Frontier, locked on course for the Venture Explorer. Vanda flicked on her comm unit.
"Hael, what did you do?" she said calmly. The response however, was almost anything but placid.
"I ain't gonna let them maniacs destroy Gnarled Forest. I'd sooner be smashed." Duke had been conferenced into the conversation, and now spoke.
"That decision was unwise, Hael," he said, "We still don't know their intentions. If they do not plan to crash their ship, they are certainly worth more to us alive."
Aboard the Intrigue, Captain Berserk spoke again.
"Commander Darkflame, Venture Explorer has increased engine power to full military thrust. IF they plan to ram the planet, the result will no doubt be cataclysmic."
"Run the simulation," Vanda replied.
As they spoke, the Venture Explorer hurtled closer and closer to its target. Still desperately pursuing it, Sky Lane fired round after round of blaster fire at the corrupted starship. She too had clued onto their plan, and knew that the stakes were now higher than ever. Never losing hope for a moment though, she continued her brave pursuit.
Aboard the Venture Explorer, Zegon was having a panic attack.
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?!?" he screamed, "WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO, SMASH US ALL, JUST TO DESTROY GNARLED FOREST??!! YOU'RE INSANE!!!!" Again the Scientist completely ignored Zegon's panic. Exodus 14 spoke from his panel.
"Mistress, we are being approached by a high yield Nexus Force warhead. Please advise." The Scientist snickered evilly.
"Perfect," she said, "Charge hyperspace engines. Set a course for Deep Freeze." Zegon couldn't believe what he was hearing.
"It was all a bluff?!" he exclaimed, "You're gonna shoot off into hyperspace at the last second and let them destroy Gnarled Forest with their own missile?! Y... you..."
"Brilliant. I know. Now sit down, shut up, and enjoy the ride. Today, we leave a mighty scar on the face the Nexus Force."
We have just received the simulations back from the computer lab," Captain Berserk said, "If the Venture Explorer hits Gnarled Forest at its current velocity, the landscape will be irreparably shattered. The chemicals from the starship's hyperdrive will from a toxic mist over the planet. The impact itself will be enough to fell every tree within 10 miles of the crash site, let alone awaken dormant volcanic activity in the area. No life form will survive the first 5 seconds, Commander. However, we now have new information.""What's that?" Vanda asked."The enemy is charging their hyperdrive."Hael had heard the entire conversation over intercomm, and started to feel sick. He'd fallen for their bluff. Now Gnarled Forest would be destroyed, and it was all his fault. He turned to one of the officers aboard his ship."REMOTE DETONATION! NOW!!!" he bellowed. His heart sank as he heard the response."We're out of range, sir."Duke's voice crackled over the intercomm."Did you catch all of that?" he asked."Aye," Hael grunted, "And the missile be out range for remote detonation."At that moment, a third voice piped up."I guess it's up to me then," Sky Lane said."SKY!" Hael bellowed, "Can ye do it?""Possibly," she said, "The missile is behind me at the moment. I could target the warhead itself, but the blast will no doubt destroy everything in the area. Wish me luck.""No, wait Sky, I..." Hael stammered, but was cut off when Sky switched off her comm."I assume you heard that," Hael said, still stupefied by the reality of the situation."I did," Duke replied, "Only the Nexus can help her now."
Aboard the Venture Explorer, Exodus I sat at his control panel, deep in thought. He didn't know what it was, and he had no idea why, but something inside him just didn't feel right. His first memories were of pledging his loyalty to his mistress, swearing to willingly and efficiently do her bidding on the path to defeating the Nexus Force once and for all. But as the Venture Explorer rocketed towards the planet chunk, the Nexus Force missile close behind, he felt that wiping out Gnarled Forest wasn't what he had been intended to, nor what he had promised to do. This act would serve no purpose of conquest. It was pure, random destruction. Hundreds of lives would be lost, but not on the battlefield. It served no military purpose.
Behind all these thoughts were deeper, more strained emotions, almost gone, but still omnipresent throughout Exodus 1's consciousness. He had no idea what they were, but they were there. Every couple of moments, a foggy memory of a scene played back in his mind, in which he felt to be both part of and an observer of at the same time. Two warriors were fighting creatures. In his minds eye, all Exodus 1 could see were purple splotches hovering above the ground, but he knew enough to realize that they were spiderlings. As the last of these spiderlings fell, a hideous, behemoth spider emerged from an evil, Maelstrom mist. After that point, all he knew was pain, fear and torment. This had been happening for as long as could remember, and while he had no idea what it meant, he knew it meant something. And something inside him told him that if Gnarled Forest was destroyed, he would never find out what it really was.
On the panel in front of him was a button that would initiate the launch of one of the Venture Explorer's numerous escape pods. The thermal radiation from its engines would almost certainly be enough to distract the infrared tracking system of the Nexus Force missile. His hand hovered over the button. He knew if he was caught, his mistress would destroy him as slowly and as painfully as she possibly could.
The ground loomed closer through the forward windscreen.
Yet another simulation had returned from the Intrigue's computer lab, and the result was anything but pleasing.
"Results just came back," Vanda said over the ship to ship comm, "The blast itself will wipe out all life in GF instantly, and chemicals present in the resulting debris will be ionized to a state where the chunk will be uninhabitable for years."
Duke's disposition was grim. Hael was starting to feel sick again.
"Thar has to be SUMTHIN' we can do!" Hael exclaimed.
"I guess it is up to Sky Lane after all," Duke murmured.
For Sky Lane, however, the manner in which things were going were anything but as planned. The missile had since overtaken her, nearly colliding with her in the process. The velocity required to catch up to the missile was putting high strain on the engine of her fighter, not to mention that the craft itself was not designed for high-speed re-entry of that magnitude. She didn't give up though. Another 500 meters, and she would be in firing range. Meanwhile, the missile was a mere 10 km away from destroying Gnarled Forest for good. Sky Lane knew that if it got much closer, an aerial blast would still result in mass devastation. She had her weapons charged with enough energy to set off the missile with a single hit, but it was requiring much of the craft's power. She flicked on her comm.
"I'll never catch the missile if I try to take it out range," she said, "So I have no other options. I guess this is goodbye."
Before a response could be uttered, she flicked off the comm. This was no time for having second thoughts. She diverted all power from the weapons to her engines. Instantly, a roar came from the rear of her craft, as the tiny vessel darted towards its target. Sky planned to fly the fighter in front of the missile, resulting in a collision sufficient to set off the warhead. She didn't care that she would be destroyed, rather, only that others wouldn't.
As she over took the missile, however, she didn't notice a warning light on the panel in front of her. The strain on the craft itself had damaged the inertial dampeners, and now Sky Lane was the subject of a massive amount of g-force. Before she could maneuver into position, the strain on her body took its toll, and she blacked out, leaving her now unmanned fighter hurtling towards the rear of the Venture Explorer.
Back in Brig Rock, Alphos, Axenya and the rest of the Nexus Force warriors had succeeded in defeating the last of the remaining Maelstrom opposition. Every last infected pirate had fallen, each admiral slain, until none remained. Alphos gasped for air. The constant movement had reopened his wounds, and this combined with pure exhaustion overtook his body, and he fell to the ground. Axenya immediately rushed to his side.
"Alphos!" she spoke worriedly, "Are you alright?"
"I...I... so.... tired..," Alphos murmured. Cap'n Jack Knife walked over to the collapsed warrior.
"Aye, he'll be fine," the pirate growled, "He just needs a few moment's rest."
With what strength he had remaining, Alphos nodded. He propped himself up on his elbows into a half-sitting, half-lying position. Axenya produced a canteen, and handed it to Alphos, who quickly and thirstily sucked it dry.
"Thanks," he mumbled weakly, "I should be fine now."
Cap'n Jack Knife, on the other hand, was anything but fine. As he listened to a voice coming over his comm unit, his face went pale. He looked up to the sky nervously.
"Wha... what is it?" Alphos inquired.
"Venture Explorer.... missile coming.... it's gonna...."
Alphos' face turned the same shade as the Captain's. He quickly turned to Axenya, forgetting his moment of weakness.
"Listen to me," he said assertively, "This is gonna be alright. They're gonna do something."
As he said the words, he realized from the look on Axenya's face that he was doing as poor a job convincing her as he was himself. Everyone in Brig Rock gazed up in the sky. Several kilometers above their heads, a tiny purplish dot had become visible, and commenced increasing in size at an alarming rate.
"It'll be here within the minute," Alphos whispered.
As certain doom hung in the air above them all, Alphos didn't notice Axenya wrap her arms around him. In the air above them, the sky began to shimmer, quickly exploding into a bright circular phenomenon; a hyperspace window. As the Venture Explorer passed seamlessly through, a second gleaming dot roughly two kilometers above them was revealed; the missile. Along with everyone else present, Alphos squeezed his eyes and waited for the end.
And then the explosion came.
The blast was cataclysmic. It seemed as though the air itself was on fire, and the ground shook as though it were about the explode. Several fires sprung up through the forest.
Alphos had no idea why he was still alive.
Back aboard the Nexus Force warships, the air was filled with tension. Finally Captain Berserk spoke.
"Missile detonated at 1700 meters," he said. Instantly the bridges of the three ships were filled with words of cheer and relief, until Hael spoke.
"Sk...Sky Lane's fighter be off the radar," he croaked, "She's gone."
"Oh my....," Vanda whispered.
"She will be missed, and her sacrifice not forgotten," Duke said sorrowfully.
Alphos staggered to his feet. Dirt and grit filled his eyes and mouth. He blinked several times to clear his eyes. Slowly an image of the world around him formed. He scanned through Brig Rock, searching for survivors. He quickly spotted Axenya lying face down in the dirt. He ran to her, panicking. He rolled her onto her back, and held her head off the ground.
"Come on, honey, speak to me!" he said, tears forming in his eyes. After ten seconds of Alphos fearing the worst, Axenya began to cough violently.
"What happened?" she said after clearing her throat of the airborne debris.
"Missile went off," Alphos said, "Since we're alive, I'd say they detonated it mid-flight."
"That's certainly a relief," Axenya muttered. Alphos looked around and saw several other minifigures getting to their feet. Miraculously, it looked as though no one had been severely harmed. Cap'n Jack Knife's comm crackled to life.
"This is Duke Exeter aboard the Avenger speaking. Come in. Over."
Cap'n Jack forced himself off the ground and took the device up in his hand.
"This be Cap'n Jack Knife readin' ye loud and clear. Over."
"Casualties?" Duke asked.
"By the look a things, I'd say we all made it," the pirate replied.
"Excellent news. I am however afraid to say that Sky Lane went up with the missile," Duke said the last words softly, knowing that the news of the loss of the Venture League Captain would hit the pirate hard.
"Wha.... what?" he stammered.
"News just came in. I'm deeply sorry," Duke replied.
As every heart in Brig Rock sank, none present were aware of the fact that Sky Lane was still alive, let alone the that the powerful warhead had collided with a stray escape pod.
That pod had come from the Venture Explorer.
As the Venture Explorer shot through hyperspace, the Scientist realized something was wrong. As she gazed into her Maelstrom crystal, she saw through the eyes of infected beings in Gnarled Forest.
Infected beings that the missile should have destroyed along with everything else.
"The missile was detonated before impact!" she shouted furiously, "What happened."
"System report says that an escape pod was jettisoned prior to entering hyperspace," Exodus 1 said, in an attempt to take heat off himself. Whether what he was done was wrong or right was a matter of opinion. All he knew was that his mistress must not find out that he was responsible.
"I want a head count!" the Scientist exclaimed, her eyes seemingly burning with pure rage. After a few seconds, Exodus 1 spoke.
"All Exodus units present and accounted for. We took no Maelstrom creatures with us."
"And if one of you is lying?" the Scientist threatened.
"Then read our minds, mistress," Exodus 14 replied. The Scientist pondered this, and decided on just that. She slowly went down the stairs from the helm and walked towards the ten remaining cyborgs, all neatly lined up in front of the rocket launch pads. As she tested each unit, they felt an insidious presence probe their mind, sorting through their thoughts, searching for some confirmation of guilt. When she reached Exodus 1, the cyborg cringed in his mind, knowing that he would be found out.
The Scientist passed him by.
"Well then," she muttered, "Perhaps it was some kind of technical failure. Either way, we've lost that opportunity. As you were."
As Exodus 1 walked back over to his control panel, his mind was racing. How come he hadn't ben discovered? Was she intentionally sparing him? If so, why?
In reality, none of these were the truth. The Maelstrom infection that coursed through his mind was what allowed the Scientist to read his thoughts. What neither party realized, however, that someway, somehow, a tiny portion of the infection had been pushed back, leaving that portion of his consciousness unreadable, an untouched portion of his mind that belonged to himself, and himself alone.
Meanwhile, the Scientist had found something new to concern herself with; a Nexus Force fighter had followed then into the hyperspace window.
"Zegon, look at this," the Scientist said, gesturing to the screen in front of her.
"What is it?" he asked.
"A fighter. We were followed."
"Blast it out of the sky then."
"No, wait," the Scientist replied, "I took out the entire fighter squadron pursuing us, save one. I think that is the very same pilot."
"So?" Zegon asked, perplexed, "What do you want to do about it?"
"That fighter is giving off a unique energy signature, sort of like a registration number on the electromagnetic spectrum. I want it analyzed, and run through the Nexus Force databases."
Exodus 1 turned to her and responded in the affirmative.
"This pilot may prove useful yet," the Scientist said evilly.
Aboard the tiny starfighter, its pilot was just opening her eyes. She groaned. As her vision cleared, she realized she was traveling through hyperspace.
"What the...?" Sky Lane said. She craned her head further forward to get a different view. What she saw amazed and frightened her. Above her fighter, a massive starship rocketed through hyperspace with her; the Venture Explorer. She quickly put the pieces together of what had happened. She had blacked out and followed it in. Worse yet, this meant that she had not succeeded in destroying the missile. Tears pricked her eyes as she realized how many lives her failure had cost. What worried her most about her current situation though, was why she had not yet been destroyed. What did the malevolent crew of the starship above her have in store for the brave pilot? She didn't bother turning on her comm to radio for help. She knew that the short range transmitter in her fighter wouldn't work from within hyperspace, not to mention that she didn't want to tempt fate with the evil crew of the Venture Explorer.
Aboard said starship, an Exodus unit spoke.
"We have the results of the analysis, mistress," the cyborg said, "It is piloted by Captain Sky Lane of the Venture League."
The Scientist chuckled.
"Excellent," she said, "Leave her be. When we reach our destination, we'll catch her fighter and take it down with us. She may prove to be a valuable resource."
Alphos took the scene before him; minfigures struggling to their feet, helping each other to stand. Medical support from the warships above was just starting to arrive. A nurse walked over to him, asking if he felt alright, to which Alphos gave a solemn nod. Something about this entire situation frightened him; naturally not just the concept of war, as he had been fighting in one all this time. Something else seemed wrong. Darker, more twisted, something that never should have happened. And at the same time he felt the terrifying looming presence of what might lie ahead. Seeing him standing alone, Cap'n Jack Knife took the opportunity to approach Alphos.
"That was some fierce fightin' out thar," the weathered pirate said, "If ye hadn'ta come when ye did, the Nexus Force woulda still had some hostages to worry about. You're a hero."
"Thank you," Alphos said graciously, although half his mind was still wandering throughout the universe. He imagined that twenty years ago, back on Alphos' homeworld of Morcio, his parents never would have imagined that one day their baby son would be fighting a war, let alone being a hero of it. He thought back to those days of his childhood, where the entire universe lay before him, and he dreamed of what he would one day become. He recalled growing up with Exotus; the afternoons they spent playing together, having mock swordfights with tree branches. He smiled at the memory. So much had happened since those good times, so much that Alphos wished he could have simply taken back. He knew however that his emotions were quickly getting the best of him. He pushed away the thoughts and blinked back the tears before they could form. He saw Axenya standing on the other side of Brig Rock, assisting the injured in any way she could. Alphos couldn't help but smile at the sight. She was so strong, so determined, so righteous. She had been there for Alphos since they had first met at the Nexus Force Academy, in moments of darkness, she was the only light he had left. Quickly realizing he was slipping into dark thoughts again, Alphos quickly perked up. Axenya was walking over towards him, her confident stride reconfirming everything he had just been thinking about her.
"Is everyone ok?" Alphos said.
"They'll all be fine, apparently," Axenya said, "It's a real relief."
"I'm glad," Alphos said, relief mirrored inside his own mind. He knew that the enemy had come to destroy him, and while he told himself that all had transpired was not his fault either way, a part of him couldn't help but feel responsible. Axenya saw the vacant look in his eyes.
"Are YOU ok?" she asked softly.
"I'll be fine," Alphos said, "I just need to clear my mind a bit. Let's head back to Nimbus."
Axenya gazed at him worriedly for a moment, then nodded in agreement. And with that, the two warriors climbed the crumbling staircase in Brig Rock and walked back to Pirate Camp.
Alphos assembled the components of his rocket and put it on the launch pad. He remembered that when he had first joined the Academy, the concept of the tiny roofless vessels baffled him, until his rocket piloting instructor told him how it worked. Naturally the tiny vessels were too small to carry a hyperdrive engine, so instead the launch pads generated hyperspace windows between each other, allowing for fast, reliable, predetermined travel routes from world to world. As for a air supply, a small force field formed around the cockpit on activation, so as to keep the oxygen stored in the life support systems from leaving the craft. It was such an ingenious concept, Alphos thought, as he climbed into his seat and started the ignition. He swiveled his body around, and gestured with his hand for Axenya to follow. Then he slammed down the throttle and rocketed off towards Nimbus Station.Deep inside another hyperspace passage, however, Sky Lane's nervousness had escalated to all-out fear. The mighty ship the flew above her still had taken no action against her, but Sky Lane was certain that it wasn't because they were unaware of her presence.They were waiting.For what though, was what Sky wanted to know. What were the planning, why were they waiting? She knew knew that they had more than enough firepower to reduce her entire vehicle to space dust, or worse, corrupt the vessel and herself within it. She shuddered at the thought of becoming a stromling, a mindless creature of darkness with no purpose in life but to cause destruction. She couldn't let that happen.She knew one thing though; the Venture Explorer was waiting for Sky to make her next move. The only problem was, Sky still had no idea what that move would be. As the twisted reality of hyperspace whizzed past her, she decided to forget her surroundings and try her best to relax until the vessels dropped out of hyperspace. She would probably need all her strength for what awaited her.
As Alphos' rocket landed at the Gnarled Forest launchpad in that shimmering jewel of a planet chunk known as Nimbus Station, he was surprised to find a crowd of minifigures cheering at his arrival. He stepped out of his vehicle, perplexed at the presence of the welcoming committee. Nexus Jay was among those present, and he stepped towards Alphos.
"What's with all this?" Alphos said, gesturing to the minifigures standing behind Nexus Jay. Axenya's rocket touched down as he said the words, thus commencing another group cheer that echoed through the perfectly manicured shrubbery and small hills surrounding them.
"They're happy you made it back!" Nexus Jay said, "We received word that Gnarled Forest was under attack from the Wielder. Seeing any member of the Nexus Force return is a great relief for all of us. Could you possibly inform us of the status of the situation?" Alphos started to relax a fraction, his usually immaculate posture dropping slightly as his subconscious mind reminded him of what he was already aware of; the conflict was over. He willingly related the details to his concerned audience.
"But sadly," Alphos finished, his disposition darkening as he spoke the following words, "the victory has not come without a great cost to the Nexus Force." The crowd froze, bracing themselves for the bad news.
"In order to destroy the missile," Alphos said, trying to sound official, yet just as saddened as ever, "Sky Lane sacrificed her life." Murmurs drifted through the crowd. Then Nexus Jay raised his hand, and all fell silent.
"She was a great asset to the Nexus Force, and a good friend. She will certainly be missed by us all. Now as you were," the usually cheerful minifig said, gesturing the small crowd back towards their everyday tasks. After the scene had calmed down, Alphos turned to Axenya. He smiled; maybe now, surrounded by the peace of Nimbus Station, he could relax.
A small, beeping sound came from the control panel of Sky Lane's starfighter. She jolted awake, realizing that the alert was telling her that she was about to drop out of hyperspace. As she waited nervously, an exit to the distorted tunnel of space and time formed before her eyes, and the Venture Explorer rocketed out of it, Sky's fighter close behind. The moment she was clear of the window, Sky Lane threw herself onto the throttle and activated her distress beacon. The starfighter shot forward. She noticed the white planet chunk below her, which she figured must be Deep Freeze. Knowing it would only be mere seconds before the Venture Explorer took action against her, she pulled her fighter into a tight maneuver that sent her flying off into the black of deep space. Trying desperately to evade the blaster fire that she knew would follow her, Sky performed a series of neat barrels rolls and corkscrews. But nothing came after her. Sky began to feel relieved, as though she just might escape after all.Then she felt a thud. Her whole fighter lurched, throwing her head forward in the process. She glanced down at her control panel and saw that she wasn't moving, although engines were running at maximum. A thick Maelstrom fog engulfed the tiny vessel, covering the cockpit. Sky waited for the dark energy to penetrate her ship, corrupting her mind and body, but it never happened. Instead, she noticed something stranger yet; she was moving backwards. Surely this enemy hadn't gone to all the trouble as to spare her? Surely they hadn't known she was there all along? If so, why would they run the risk of allowing her to alert the Nexus Force of her presence, as she had just done? As these thoughts raced through her confused mind, her comm unit activated, and a helmeted face appeared on the fighter's display.
"Hello Sky Lane," the minifigure said, "I believe we've met." Sky Lane scowled.
"Why would you bother to capture me?" she responded, "I've already alerted the Nexus Force of my presence. When they arri..."
"WHEN they arrive?" the minifigure, who was obviously the Wielder interrupted, "Even at top speed, the your precious friends will not be able to arrive in force for hours."
"Then what do you want?"
"Answers, my pet," the Scientist snickered, "And you're going to give them to me."
Hael Storm was miserable. He gazed out of one of the many viewports adorning the New Frontier at the green and blue gem below him that was Gnarled Forest. It had been saved from complete destruction, but at what cost? Sky Lane had been one of his very best friends, although Hael LIKED to believe that it had been more than that. He slumped back down in the signature chair sitting in his quarters and took a rather lengthy swig out of his favorite mug. At that moment, there was a knock on the metal doors sealing off his chamber from the corridor."Eh, come in," the man moaned."Sir," came the voice of one of his officers, "Cleanup of Gnarled Forest is complete. All wounded have been taken care of. We can leave now.""Aye," Hael replied, hauling himself out of his chair. All he wanted now was to get back to Nexus Tower and try to forget the entire thing. But how could he; Sky Lane was gone forever.As he walked onto the bridge, the officers present rose from their seats and gave saluted their leader."At ease," Hael said, gesturing for the minifigures to sit, "Just get us outta here."On Hael's command, the massive vessel began to turn about, steering away from the planet chunk. Through the windsreen, two hyperspace windows were visible, and Hael watched as the Avenger and Intrigue jumped into hyperspace ahead of him. The New Frontier accelerated, a third window opening in front of the warship, and the Venture League mothership shot into subspace. Before 10 seconds had passed however, an officer spoke:"Commander Storm, sir, we received a transmission prior to entering hyperspace. It appears to be a distress signal.""Clean it up," Hael said. Naturally, he jumped at the possibility of Sky Lane having survived, but he insisted to himself that he not get his hopes up."It appears to have originated from orbit around Deep Freeze. It's one of ours."Hael's heart sank. How Sky Lane have even have re-exited the atmosphere after being in such close proximity to the missile after detonatation?"Oh my bricks, sir," the officer murmured, "If I'm reading this correctly, than this is..."Hael raised an eyebrow. "This is Sky Lane's fighter."
A white world of ice and snow was all that could be seen through the Venture Explorer's many viewports as it touched down on Deep Freeze, Sky Lane's captured starfighter towed behind it. One of the starship's airlocks soon opened with a hiss, and a ramp extended out of it to the ground. The Scientist, upon having regulated her protective suit to keep her warm in the frigid weather, strode down the ramp into the giant dunes of snow. It was a common misconception that Deep Freeze was a small planet chunk; it had actually composed 90% of Crux's northern polar region. The reason nobody saw much of it was because only a tiny fraction of the world was habitable. Behind her visor, the Scientist snickered. Even if the Nexus Force sent troops through the hyperspace rocket link, it would be hours before they sifted through the mess of ice and snow that was Deep Freeze, and located the Venture Explorer, even if they were using Sky Lane's fighter to track it. It would be hours before the warships arrived, their larger, heavy-duty hyperdrives not capable of the speeds achieved by the smaller, pre-programmed ones. Yes, the Scientist thought to herself, by the time the Nexus Force arrives, we'll be long gone.As the menacing figure stood in the snow, two Exodus units walked down the ramp, dragging Sky Lane down with them. When they reached the bottom of the ramp, they dropped her onto the freezing ground."I w...w...won't..t....tell ...y...ou...anything!" Sky Lane snapped, despite the fact she was shivering violently."We will see," the Scientist said with a smirk. She grabbed Sky by the collar, pulling her to her feet, then pushing her backwards, so she fell into a snowbank. Sky Lane just sat there, shaking from head to toe."I won't t..talk," the Venture League Captain said, "So there's no p..point in k..keeping me al...live."The Scientist cackled evilly."On the contrary," she said, "It will just make extracting information even more interesting."
The Faction Leaders were in the midst of a heated conference."You do realize that this could very well be a trap, don't you?" Duke Exeter said to the split screen in front of him, but directing his conversation specifically to Hael Storm."I'm with Duke," Dr. Overbuild said, joining the debate form Nexus Tower, "How could Sky Lane have even gotten to Deep Freeze, anyway?""I've been thinking about that," Vanda piped up, "And as far as logic goes, there is only one possible way; she followed the Venture Explorer into its hyperspace window.""In which case," Duke interrupted, "She has most likely been captured or destroyed.""No, I don't believe it," Hael muttered then raised his voice, "If they let her survive the entire hyperspace journey, why would they destroy her at the end of it? Yer right when ye say she has probably been captured, but in that case they might be torturin' her fer information right now! We have to rescue her!"Duke sighed. Doc's face brightened."Both Hael and Duke are right, but for different reasons," the Assembly leader said, "Sky Lane is being held there as bait. They expect us to come and rescue her, but assume we won't bring the full force of our fleet on a rescue mission. One of our ships goes to save her, and is blasted out of the sky by the Venture Explorer. Following me so far?"The faction leaders nodded."If we arrive in full force, we will outgun the already battle damaged Venture Explorer. We can successfully rescue Sky Lane, and end this Wielder madness once and for all. Ok?""Agreed," Duke said."As do I," Vanda chimed."Ye never had to ask," Hael said, "Let's go."
As Sky Lane sat in the snow, fearing more for her enemy's next move against the Nexus Force than her own chance of going into hypothermia, the Scientist pulled Zegon aside for a little chat."What is it?" Zegon grumbled, then smiled, "Check this out."He took one of the torches retrieved from the temple in Gnarled Forest off his belt and ran his finger along it until he heard a click. Instantly, a bright flame roared to life atop the artifact. Zegon swung the item, and the flame danced through the air. He then flicked his finger across it again, and the flame died down."Very nice, you discovered fire," the Scientist snickered. Zegon's disposition soured at the remark."What did you want to say, anyway?" he snapped."I wanted to tell you the plan.""SINCE WHEN?!?!""Since now," she remarked, "Now shut up, and listen. The Nexus Force is going to come to rescue Sky Lane, that much is certain, but upon realizing that Sky Lane is being held prisoner by us, they won't send a single ship.""In which case, we're toast," Zegon said, "The Exodus units discovered some further complication with the shields. We're sitting ducks.""Or not," the Scientist spoke, "because we'll be long gone. I'm going to set the engines aboard Sky Lane's fighter into a never-ending feedback loop, with sufficient delay so as not to reach critical state until the Nexus Force arrives. With the full force of the enemy fleet here, we attack Nimbus Station. It will be at least an hour until the Nexus Force catches us, and by then, we will control one of their major strongholds.""Conquer the only maelstrom-free world with a power that requires maelstrom to be effective. Brilliant," Zegon remarked sarcastically."When the Nexus Force arrive here, they will find us to be gone," the Scientist said, completely ignoring Zegon's comment, "They will find Sky Lane, who will probably already have frozen to death, just in time for her rigged fighter to destroy them all. From that point on, nothing will stand in our way of conquering Nimbus Station. As for taking Nimbus itself, I will explain that in due time."As the two menacing figures spoke, a frigid Sky Lane listened to every word. She knew that she had to do something, but what could she possibly do?
"So, remind me again," Zegon said to the Scientist, "Why did you bother to break tradition and ACTUALLY TELL ME THE PLAN?!""Because," the Scientist chuckled, "I need YOU to rig the starfighter."She walked over to the tiny craft and clambered into the cockpit. After a few moments of rummaging around, she produced a large book from under the dashboard labeled "User Manual"."You've got to be kidding me," Zegon muttered."I'm not," the Scientist replied coldly, "Re-route the power supply back into the engines as per the diagram, but don't activate it until I tell you to. Capiche?"Zegon grumbled to himself. He snatched the book from the Scientist, who grinned behind her visor with satisfaction at the sight of the disgruntled man. Content that he would suffer for as long as the job took, the Scientist turned back to her prisoner."Enough of this foolishness!" the Scientist growled, "Tell me now. What does the Nexus Force know about ME?""I will t...tell you NOTHING!" Sky Lane screamed through gritted teeth. Her body tensing with pure rage, the Scientist directed her staff at Sky Lane's head and remorselessly allowed a stream of Maelstrom energy to flow into her prisoner's skull. Sky Lane writhed in pain, but didn't give her captor the pleasure of hearing her scream. Agonizing pain rocketed through every nerve in Sky Lane's body, almost as if the dark energy was trying to cook her internally. After what seemed like hours, the Scientist lowered her weapon. Sky Lane lay motionless on the ground, save for the odd shiver. Finally, the tortured minifig spoke."I said it bef..fore, and I'll s..say it ag..gain," she wheezed, "You m..might as well k..kill me, bec..cause I'm not t..talking.""Don't worry dearest," the Scientist oozed sickeningly, "We'll find your breaking point."
Peace. It seemed odd that whenever one was surrounded by peace, they themselves felt antsy, at least that's how Alphos felt. A sense of dread washed over him, then disappeared as fast as it had come. He sighed. Maybe he was just going crazy, perhaps the blind fury of battle had fried his brain. He shook off these thoughts and tried to take in the beauty around him. He was standing alone in the Nimbus Station Race Place, up on the small hill upon which some vendor stalls were placed. Axenya walked out of a changing booth behind one of the stalls wearing a new outfit."You like?" she said, gesturing at the floral purple shirt she was wearing."Indeed I do," Alphos said with a smile, "You should get it."Axenya nodded happily, and gave the sum, 925 coins, to the vendor. Alphos released a pent up breath of stress from within him. Maybe he could find peace, maybe he could be happy again. He was interrupted again however when another morbid wave of dread washed over him. With that, he knew something was seriously wrong, or at least would be. He found himself looking over his shoulder constantly, jumping at the slightest noise. Yes, he thought, something was wrong, and he had to find out what it was."Are you ok?" Axenya asked, noticing Alphos' sudden jumpiness."Me?" Alphos said with a start, "I'm fine. How are you?"Axenya sighed and shook her head. She knew that something was up with Alphos, but as usual, he was trying to protect her from it. She smiled. She knew how much he cared about her.As they wandered into Nimbus Plaza, they saw Nexus Jay standing in the grass circle marking the center of the world's hub."Attention everyone!" he shouted, "I just received news! The Nexus Force has detected Sky Lane's fighter near Deep Freeze, and is currently embarking on a mission to rescue her!"As the crowd of minifigures cheered, Alphos stopped dead in his tracks. Something very obvious bothered him; if Sky Lane's fighter hadn't collided with the missile, what had?
Zegon was in a most certainly foul mood. He had been working on the starfighter for an hour now, and while he figured he was just about finished, the very idea that he was doing the job for that scientist whelp riled him to the core. He fiddled around with a few more settings and then sat back in the pilot's seat."I'm done," he spat, "What next, shall I swab the decks?"The Scientist turned around to him and tilted her head in a manner that told Zegon that the expression beneath her helmet oozed smugness."Well, now that you mentio...""Why you little!""Calm down before you blow your skull open," the Scientist commanded, "If the job is done, then there is no need for us to be here anymore."The villain turned to Sky Lane."As for you," she said, "You have outlived your usefulness. But I will grant you a chance of survival. I won't kill you, so if you can survive until your friends arrive, know that it was I who spared your life. Oh, your starfighter won't fly anymore, by the way.""Have it your way," Sky Lane muttered, "I'd rather freeze solid than have you destroy me."Completely ignoring Sky Lane's comment, the Scientist turned to the remaining Exodus units patrolling the area."WE'RE DONE HERE!" she shouted, "EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING ABOARD THE EXPLORER! Zegon, set the loop.""Will do," Zegon replied with a sadistic glee."This time, the Nexus Force will not escape us unharmed!" the Scientist cheered, as she walked up the boarding ramp of the Venture Explorer, leaving Sky Lane to her fate.
Three Nexus Force warships dropped out of hyperspace so as to set a new course: one bound for Deep Freeze. Hael Storm stood on the bridge of the Venture League New Frontier, gazing out into the star dotted abyss in front of him. As the warships lurched into hyperspace, Hael frowned. He would save Sky Lane, if it was the last thing he did, he told himself. A holographic image sparked to life before him, and the Face of Duke Exeter appeared. "Hael, I've been thinking," Duke said."Bad plan," Hael remarked, trying to retain his usual jovial nature."Haha," Duke replied, "The point is, if Sky Lane didn't take out that missile, what did? I think uncovering that truth may be of great importance if we are to win this coming battle."Vanda's image shimmered to life as well."I understand Duke's concern, but I believe we should stay on course," the Paradox leader said, "For all we know, the missile may have collided with some loose debris from the Venture Explorer. We did score some major hits on her hull.""I'm with Vanda," Hael said, "It don't matter to me who saved Gnarled Forest, as long as it be safe. I'll not be leaving behind a friend, though.""Then we're all on the same page," Duke replied, "I want to see Sky Lane home safe as well. Don't get your hopes up too high though. You may not like what you find."***The Venture Explorer rocketed through hyperspace towards Nimbus Station. The maelstrom-charged engines propelled the starship through the sub-space dimension of hyperspace like a speeding bullet. Standing firmly on the bridge was the Scientist, her covered face smiling evilly. Around her, Exodus units manned control panels and repaired damaged systems. Exodus units under her control. Once she reached Nimbus Station, they would at least quadruple in number, and she would be truly unstoppable. She glanced over at Zegon, who was now carefully examining an inscription on the side of one of the mystical torches obtained in Gnarled Forest. He was a fool, she thought, to chase power as he did when she herself held enough for the both of them. And within her dark, twisted self, she knew she wouldn't let him use any power he did find against her. Ever.The utopian hub world of Nimbus Station drew closer.
As the Venture Explorer dropped out of hyperspace above Nimbus Station, the usual dark Maelstrom mist that clung to its hull grew thicker, until the vessel beneath it was no longer visible. The mist quickly faded away, but the ship it had concealed was no longer there. The Venture Explorer was cloaked."So remind me why this isn't a suicide mission," Zegon growled, "because I still have unfinished business to attend to, and it would be an absolute shame if I didn't live to finish it."The Scientist rolled her eyes. Zegon was such a coward, she thought."Just flash us down," she commanded, "Near the Avant Gardens launchpad.""If you say so......""I do. Now do it.""Fine," Zegon muttered under his breath, as he clashed his glowing blades together. Instantly a dome of light swallowed up Zegon, the Scientist and all but a skeleton crew of Exodus units who were to remain upon the starship. After the glaring energy faded, the Scientist opened her eyes. They were in Nimbus Station. As they crept down the grassy hill topped with the AG launchpad, they heard a cry from behind them. A Rank 1 Knight was running towards them."HEY!" he shouted, "STOP!"The Scientist grinned under her breath. She held her staff into the air, and the Exodus units raced towards the Knight. Bravely, the hopeless warrior drew his sword, but quickly fell to an incoming volley blaster fire. The Scientist then strode towards the barely alive Knight, and pointed her glowing weapon at him. Within seconds, his form metamorphosed into that of an Exodus unit. The corrupted warrior, now healed of his injuries, rose to his feet and joined the ranks of his former enemy."That was too easy," the Scientist snickered to herself, then raised her voice for her company to hear, "Now we must meet with a man. One by the name of Wenn Wuzzit."
Wenn Wuzzit was a strange minifigure. He spent all day, every day standing at the side of his pride and joy; a time machine through which minifigures could win theBattle of Nimbus Station, thus preventing present day Nimbus Station from being overrun with the Maelstrom. As he stood there, dressed in his usual green and yellow Venture League garb, he heard the sound of blaster fire from further up the hill on which he stood. Before he could take action, the fighting ceased. He started to panic, and dove behind the yellow ring that was his time machine. Within seconds, he heard a voice."Coward," the voice said, "Exodus units, drag that worthless bag of bricks out here."As he felt a pair of firm metal hands clasp around his ankles and start to drag him out of his hiding spot, Wenn Wuzzit craned his head around to face the speaker; a tall, imposing figure clothed in what appeared to be some sort of Paradox space suit with the symbols removed, and a gilded visor that completely obstructed the figure's face from view was attached to the matching helmet covering said figure's head. Like all other members of the Nexus Force, the image of this figure had been burned into Wen's brain; it was the Wielder."Wh....what do you want?" Wenn stammered, struggling to free his legs from the mighty hold of the Exodus unit. The Wielder, ignoring that the man before her had ever spoke, turned to the Exodus unit holding the time traveler."Tie him up and gag him," she said, "He may prove useful later.""Yes mistress," the unit, Exodus 1, said, and proceeded to carry out her command. After rendering the man helpless, Exodus 1 tossed him into the perfectly manicured bushes and other random shrubbery surrounding the time machine. At this point, another man, Zegon, approached the Wielder."What exactly do you plan to do with the time machine?" he asked. The Wielder chuckled from behind her helmet, and quickly replied as she walked towards the device."The time machine accepts amounts of matter into through a portal. While the portal seems flat, it is actually shaped more like that of a convex lens. In layman's terms, I plan to adjust the portal outwards so said lens encompasses all of Nimbus Station.""You're going to send Nimbus Station back in time?!?" Zegon gasped."There's not even nearly enough power in the machine for that. What will happen is that the fabric of space-time will be weakened to the point where my powers will penetrate it and succeed in pulling Maelstrom energy from the past," the Wielder paused, snickering gleefully, "I'm bringing the Battle of Nimbus Station here."
Zegon tensed at the slightest sound emanating from the foliage around him. He turned to the Scientist, who was still adjusting the time machine."How are we going to avoid being spotted?" he whispered nervously."Here's how," the Scientist said. She slammed her staff into the ground, causing Zegon to nearly jump out of his skin. A purple mist surrounded the group, then quickly dissipated as it had with the Venture Explorer. Again, they were invisible."Now hush up," the Scientist said, "We're completely undetectable."Zegon nearly jumped for joy. He was still incredibly eager to get his hands on the Blade of Eternity, but that didn't mean he had to settle for just one maniacally powerful weapon of torment and destruction. The more he learned about his ally's weapon, the more he coveted it. One day, he would take that staff, and he had every reason to. With control of the Maelstrom and the Powers of Eternity, he would be truly unstoppable, and that was just the way Zegon liked it."Hmm," the Scientist said, "I need to weld shut this panel. Got anything?""Indeed I do," Zegon replied, as his right hand clasped around one of the ancient torches now slung at his belt. He directed the tip of the artifact at the panel in question, and activated a small switch on the handle. Instantly a jet of flame shot from the torch, melting the edges of the metal panel and thus firmly attaching it to the surrounding components of the time machine."That'd be it," the Scientist said, "It's done."She fiddled with a few buttons and switches on the outside of the time machine, and smiled gleefully as it hummed to life. The blue portal expanded out of the time machine, quickly engulfing the surrounding area. Within seconds, the whole of Nimbus Station was within a bubble of fractured space-time. Around them, reality seemed to flicker. One moment, they were surrounded by the beautiful Nimbus Station of the present, but these images were sporadically interrupted by a landscape of dark purple mist, crumbling buildings, dead trees, and Maelstrom.Lots of Maelstrom."May our battle begin," she said.
Alphos was more than relieved to have that horrendous battle behind him, but even now, something deep inside him twitched for some action. He turned to Axenya."You know, things seem pretty quiet around here," he said, "Wanna race?"Axenya shook her head."After seeing your driving skills in Gnarled Forest, I think I'll sit this one out," she said with a smile, "You go ahead though. I'll be watching.""Ok, thanks," Alphos replied, "Wish me luck."Alphos walked onto the Vertigo Loop Racetrack. Its gravity-defying twist and turns seemed titanic in scale, but the best of racers could complete a lap in around 40 seconds. Alphos clicked some car components together and wheeled his new vehicle out onto the track. His racecar was won of the coveted Burst Tamale models, a flashy yellow car with dark red highlights, awarded to those who mastered the Keelhaul Canyon Racetrack in Gnarled Forest. Alphos watched as his competitors came onto the track. He spied a Rank 3 Space Marauder, probably rather experienced on this track; one he'd have to look out for. Another possible threat was a minifigure clothed in Explorien Bot Pants, a Classic Astronaut Shirt, Crux Prime Armor and a Mosaic Jester Cap atop his head; someone who smashed Crux Prime enemies for the rare items they were known to carry with them. A Crux rares dealer would probably have no problem with Vertigo Loop. Alphos would have to watch him too. He looked up the grandstands, and spied Axenya sitting among a few other spectators. He waved to her, then firmly grabbed the steering wheel and waited for the race to start.A red light flashed.A yellow light flashed.A green light flashed.They were off.
Alphos pulled his car smoothly into a left turn, cutting off the Space Marauder behind him and blocking his opponent line. He accelerated out of the turn and braked into the right-hander ahead of him. The cars flew up a ramp, and landed with a thud on a continuation of the track below. By now the positions had stabilized; the rare hunter was in the lead, Alphos was second and the space marauder third. Ahead of the racers, the track shot up vertically. Normally this would worry a racer,but not a Vertigo Loop. Portions of the specially designed track had built-in artificial gravity devices, allowing for all sorts of crazy twists and turns. Alphos accelerated up the vertical portion of track and pulled into the left-hander he was approaching. A short straight, another left-hander and back down another vertical portion. Alphos glided into a right turn and allowed his cay to fly up a flat portion of track. The leader was now only two car-lengths ahead of him. Another vertical area loomed ahead, followed by a mind-bendingly twisted curve that set the track back to horizontal. Alphos made the perpendicular transition with ease, and drifted into a tight right hander that sent most rookies screaming into the wall. As the wind raced through his hair, Alphos exhaled. THIS was his idea of fun. He guided his car into a specially designed "boost lane" on the side of the track that automatically sped up his engine. Alphos emerged from the topsy-turvy curve beautifully, and accelerated for the upcoming jump. Alphos shot off the next ramp easily, and sent his car flying towards another ramp on the right side of the track leading up to flat area with plenty of glowing imagination orbs designed to boost his speed. After a satisfying "thud" onto the next portion of track, Alphos sent his car up the next ramp. He quickly collected several boost orbs, but held off from using them. Ahead of him was a small jump onto the main portion of the track below. Ahead of that was the finish line. Alphos readied himself to activate the boost as he approached the edge of platform, but then saw the rare hunter shoot down the straight below him. If he boosted now, he would land on top of his opponent. He traveled off the platform normally, and hit the track only to have the rare hunter pass him from..... behind? Alphos had just seen his opponent travel ahead of him from above. Alphos shook his head. Maybe he was just seeing things. He cleared his mind and boosted into the second of three laps.
The Scientist strode out of her small bubble of invisibility, down the hill from the Avant Gardens launchpad and into the center Nimbus Plaza. Gasps filled the air as she was recognized. The Scientist planted her staff into the ground, and at once, another bubble was created, this time around all of Nimbus Plaza. She smiled evilly. She knew that the combined forces of Nimbus Station stood a chance of beating her. Isolating individuals areas as she was doing meant that she could take control of those areas one by one, and hence make her victory all the more ensured. Several minifigures drew their weapons, but in vain, for they were almost immediately blasted down by a group of Exodus units. Chaos ensued as the remaining minifigures tried to escape the doom, but were too slow to evade a massive charges of energy from the Blades of Harmony wielded by Zegon. A Faction vendor tried to place an emergency communication to Nexus Tower, but gasped in horror as he realized the frequencies were all being jammed. The vendors ran, but were quickly stunned by minor blasts from Zegon. Noticing his act of mercy, the Scientist turned to Zegon."Why did you spare them?" she growled."Backup plan, genius," Zegon snapped, "I'm still not entirely convinced were getting out of here alive without hostages."The Scientist rolled her eyes from behind her helmet and held her staff high into the air. The flickering time effects grew more and more common, and a sinister Maelstrom fog materialized in midair, only to be sucked into the Scientist's staff. Mere seconds later, Stromlings shot out of the ground, followed soon after by Mechs and Spiderlings."CREATURES OF DARKNESS!" she commanded, "VENTURE INTO BRICK ANNEX!"A group of Stromlings, Mechs, Spiderlings and Exodus units nodded in compliance, and marched off to do her evil bidding. The Scientist would control Nimbus Station within the hour.
Frigid winds raced through Sky Lane's pilot uniform, chilling her to the bone as she desperately tried to find some sort of shelter. Ahead of her, an enormous dark mass loomed. A mountain, she thought. If there was a cave within it, she might survive the rapidly approaching night. Before she could take two more steps, however, her body succumbed to the icy environment, and she fell face first into the snow.***High above the planet chunk that was Deep Freeze, three Nexus Force warships dropped out of hyperspace. Aboard the Venture League New Frontier, an officer confirmed Hael Storm's hopes."Sir, we're picking up an energy signature from Sky Lane's fighter. Enemy is nowhere to be seen."Hael smiled. He activated the comm on one of the ship's many control panels."You get that?" he said to his fellow Faction Leaders aboard the Sentinel Avenger and the Paradox Intrigue."I heard and understood," Duke Exeter replied, "But this could well be an ambush. I advise two warships remain in orbit to prevent the enemy's escape.""Reading you," Hael replied, "I'll take the Frontier down. You two stay in orbit.""Agreed," both Duke and Vanda replied.Within minutes, the Venture League flagship had crossed through Deep Freeze's chilling atmosphere. "Ready landing gears," Hael Storm commanded."Are you sure sir?" an officer asked, "Do you really want to land the ship?""It will be easier to get Sky Lane's fighter aboard that way; the vessel itself might have recorded crucial information regarding the destruction of our missile over Gnarled Forest. Now set the ship down, that be an order," Hael said. As if his words themselves had triggered the ship, ten massive retro rockets shot to life beneath the Frontier, as the same number of landing of landing struts locked into position. Seconds later, the warship softly touched down upon the planet. Another officer spoke."Detecting a life sign sir," he said, "Faint, but it could be Sky Lane. Here are the coordinates."Hael sat upright at the words. Then he reacted."Well move then, people!" he shouted, "Get a patrol team out thar! Save her, for the Nexus' sake!"
The minifigures in Brick Annex were not even nearly prepared for what happened next. At least a dozen Exodus units marched up the path to the Assembly retreat, followed by four times as many stromlings, mechs and spiderlings. Seeing the futility of engaging this enemy, a Rank 2 Sorcerer raised his hands in the air, as a sign of surrender. Seeing common sense, many of the others followed suit. From his perch at the top of a small stairway in front of a building of the same scale, an elderly man an Assembly robes stepped forward, his long white beard dancing gently in the light breeze; Mardolf the Orange."What do you want from us, intruder?" Mardolf said, speaking to the Exodus unit at the head of the pack."Silence, old man," the unit, Exodus 1, replied, violently pushing Mardolf to the ground as he said the words. For a moment, his eyes glazed over as the dark energy within him sent him a message from his mistress."Fire," Exodus 1 said, "At all of them."Nodding in acknowledgment, the dark cyborgs did their mistress' evil bidding, mercilessly leveling their opponents. Within seconds, their battle had been won."Bring the wounded to Nimbus Plaza," Exodus 1 said, "Our mistress wishes that more may join our ranks."A few stromlings and mechs, who had been mere spectators for the duration of the short scene, hauled the living up onto their slimy purple shoulders and marched away with them. With Brick Annex conquered, the dark creatures marched away. Still with his rear planted firmly in the garden bed on the side of the path, Mardolf gaped at the sight of destruction before him. He knew within his heart that things would get much worse before they got better.
When Sky Lane was brought aboard the New Frontier, she was barely even breathing, and was immediately rushed to the on-ship infirmary. Hearing of her retrieval, Hael Storm rushed down the 5 five levels that separated him from the infirmary to see her. As Hael walked into the meticulously kept ward, a nurse approached him."I'm sorry sir, the patient mustn't be disturbed right now," she said, "Captain Lane hasn't even regained consciousness yet.""But I....," Hael pleaded, but was interrupted when Sky Lane gasped for a breath of air. Warm air, most importantly."Oh thank goodness!" Hael exclaimed, as Sky Lane's eyes fluttered open, "Are ye ok?""Y...you shouldn't have come," Sky Lane stammered, "You put so m..many lives in jeopardy.""What do ye mean? I wasn't gonna leave ye out here.""It w..was a trap. I blacked out during the op and must've followed the Venture Explorer into hyperspace. They knew they'd been followed, but they didn't destroy me.""I don't understand," Hael said."They waited until we came out of hyperspace so that my tracking beacon would become active," Sky said, her voice now returning to its usual clarity, "Then captured me. They tortured me for any knowledge relating to them. I told them nothing.""Them monsters!" Hael bellowed furiously."They're headed to Nimbus Station," Sky said, "They knew you'd come for me, and Nimbus would be left virtually unguarded.""WHAT?!" Hael shouted, horrified. Sky Lane's face suddenly turned pale as another memory washed back over her."We're still on the ground, aren't we?" she said worriedly"Yeah, why do ye ask?""They rigged the engine on my fighter," Sky said, "It's set in an eternal feedback loop. When it blows....""No need to finish," Hael said, realizing the gravity of the situation. Just he reached for the intercomm, however, a voice crackled over it from the Frontier's bridge."Sir, we're picking up enormous energy readings form Captain Lane's fighter," the voice said."I know, officer!" Hael shouted, "Get us out of here, now!""Sir, engines are powered down. They'll take five minutes to repower.""THEN DIVERT ALL POWER TO SHIELDS! NOW, YE HEAR?" Hael screeched."Understood," the officer said, "Shields powering."Less than ten seconds later, the fighter exploded.
Alphos was completely unaware that Nimbus Station was being conquered as he raced out of the second lap of his race and into the third and final one, now in the leading his opponents. As he glided into turn one of Vertigo Loop, he looked back at the stands to see Axenya cheering him on. Her encouragement only pushed Alphos harder. He slammed the accelerator to the the floor and shot off the first jump at top speed, boosting as he went. His sleek Burst Tamale hit the track with a thud as he raced towards those gravity-defying slopes again. Brake into a left-hander, accelerate out of the next and then back down the slope. As he sped towards the next one, he craned his head around to see his direct competition; the Crux Prime rare hunter was only three car lengths behind him. In an attempt to lose him, Alphos boosted up the perpendicular section of track, expertly drifting around the next right-hand turn and into a long curved area, ending in a jump. Alphos rocketed along the track, launching himself off the jump with ease. The finish line loomed ahead. So as to play it safe, Alphos decided to forego the ramps lining the sides of the track and drive straight under the platform they led to to the finish. He passed under the platform like a speeding bullet, confident that he had won the race. He was wrong.At that moment, the rare hunter came flying down onto the track from the platform above and landed squarely in front of Alphos. Alphos desperately tried to brake to avoid a collision, but not soon enough.At that moment, the rare hunter came flying down onto the track from the platform above and landed squarely ON TOP of Alphos' hood, both cars stopping dead in the crash. From behind, the Space Marauder shot past them and won the race."What happened?" Axenya said as they walked out of the Vertigo Loop race track, Alphos no worse for wear, but his car in ruins."I don't know," Alphos replied, "One moment he was in front of me, then he was on top of me.""Funny," Axenya interjected, "I was about to ask you what happened, when you told me.""But you..""You must be a mindreader," Axenya giggled.Suddenly Alphos' mind flashed back to when he was hiding in the bushes in Gnarled Forest, and he put 2 and 2 together."Oh my bricks," he said, his mouth wide open, "I think the Wielder's here. And I think she's messed with the time machine."
The New Frontier rocked with the force of the exploding starfighter. The resilient metal struts supporting twisted a sagged under the motion of the warship, quickly giving in completely; the lower hull of the ship impacted the icy ground with enough force to cause avalanches on the distant, unforgiving peaks. Chaos reigned over the bridge of the vessel, with crew members hurled from on side of the massive circular room to the other. Eventually, the violent shuddering stopped, the sparks flying from the control panel settled down, and all was quiet.Terribly quiet.High in Deep Freeze orbit, one of Duke Exeter's officers aboard the Avenger spoke."Sir, we're picking up a massive explosion on the surface within the vicinity of the Frontier," the minifigure said."Open a channel. Now," Duke snapped, his harsh tone the only indication he ever gave of his own panic."This is Avenger to Frontier. Repeat. This is Avenger to Frontier. Do you copy Frontier?" Duke spoke.Aboard the Frontier, Hael picked himself up off the now dramatically sloped floor, and made his way to the main comm unit."This be Frontier, reading ye loud and clear, over," Hael said into the unit."Oh, thank the First Builders Hael! What on Crux just happened down there?""It were a trap, Duke," Hael said, "The Wielder knew we'd come for Sky, so she left a little treat fer us. As we speak, she's attacking Nimbus Station. We were set up.""WHAT?!" Duke gasped, "Impossible. They would have sent a distress signal."At that point, Vanda joined the conversation from the Paradox Intrigue."It IS possible that they are jamming all communications in and out of Nimbus Station.""That's all very well and good, but what about the launchpads?" Duke replied, "Surely they would have blocked those off."At that moment, a communication came in from Nexus Tower."It's Doc Overbuild speaking," the usually smiling Assembly leader said, "We have a situation. All launchpad travel to Nimbus from here is offline. Outgoing rockets get redirected back here.""Then it's worse than we thought," Vanda said."Nimbus is under attack, Doc," Duke said grimly, "And we're two hours away from saving it."
Alphos crept up the hill that led down into Race Place, and peeked into Nimbus Plaza from behind some bushes. He expected to see legions of stromling, dozens of Exodus units, and of course, the Wielder.But he saw nothing.Alphos crept closer. Perhaps they're all at the time machine, he thought. He began sneaking through the foliage lining Nimbus Plaza towards the hill leading up to the Avant Gardens launchpad. Unfortunately, he failed to notice the obviously terrified snake slithering across the ground and instead tripped over the poor creature. Alphos fell onto the stone path circling around the Faction vendors in Nimbus Plaza. What he saw took his breath away. Stromlings, Mechs, Spiderlings, all standing in perfect formation in front of their brutal leader.The Wielder. Alphos gasped. He dove back into the bushes, relieved that he had avoided crushing the now escaping snake for a second time. From deep inside the bushes, he looked back into the Plaza. He blinked. He blinked twice, thrice. He blinked, because he saw NOTHING. He stepped forward into the Plaza again. As he did so, a rippling effect surrounded him, and the horrific army was again visible."A cloak," Alphos muttered to himself. He darted back through bushes into Race Place."Alphos," Axenya said, "What did you see?""Dozens of them!" Alphos said, "Maelstrom everywhere. We need to get help from Nexus Tower."Even as he spoke the words, he was running towards the launchpad leading to the mighty Nexus Force stronghold. He stopped dead in his tracks though when a massive energy blast rained down from the sky, vaporizing the device, leaving nothing but smoking rubble in its place. The surrounding minigures began to panic."People!" Alphos shouted, "We need to do something!"Velocity Lane, the Vertigo Loop racemaster and sister of Sky Lane, stepped forward."Gnarled Forest is still recovering from the last attack, as is Avant Gardens. We're cut off form Nexus Tower. That leaves Forbidden Valley," she said, "Someone needs to go there and get backup.""How will we get to the launchpad?" Alphos said. Smiling, Velocity replied."There are secret tunnels running all the way underneath Nimbus Station, leading to all the launchpads. There's an entrance here."The Lane sister walked over a panel in the floor of the entrance of the Vertigo Loop race track. She ran her hand along it until she heard a faint clicking sound. With an elegant whooshing sound, a hidden door in the wall glided open, revealing a dark, narrow passageway leading deep underground."Any volunteers?" Velocity Lane said.
"I'll go," Axenya said quickly, "I know a lot of the ninja personally; they will help us."
Alphos tried to object, but Velocity Lane cut off first, almost as he was a racer trying to pass her on the racetrack.
"Let her go," she insisted, "You'll be of more use here. You know this enemy better than all of us."
Alphos frowned, mulling over the danger Axenya would be in if she went for the ninja, as opposed to the danger she would be in back in Nimbus.
"Okay," he said, deep concern in his voice, "But be careful."
Axenya smiled, and started down the corridor.
"You too," she said, as she disappeared into the darkness, the secret door clicking back into place behind her. Velocity Lane quickly analyzed the situation.
"Ok, if she's going to use that launchpad, we can't let anyone see her, or they'll wreck that one like they wrecked this one," she said, gesturing to where the Nexus Tower launchpad had been only moments before, "We need to keep them busy."
Alphos gaped in awe of her courage, then realized that he was on the way to concocting the same insane plan.
"If we go out there, we'll have to move quickly," he said, "We slow down, we're shot down."
"Sounds about right," the young racemaster replied, "But I'm more then ready to play chicken with some Maelstrom. Ready?"
Even as she said the words, the crowd of minifigures in Race Place heard the plodding of dozens of feet coming towards them. Maelstrom-infected heads appeared at the top of the hill marking the entrance to the area. Alphos reached for his Elite Long Sword as a crowd of stromlings dashed down the grassy slope. Exodus units hovered above the abhorrent creatures, and began shooting into the crowd below them. Now it was Alphos' turn to assess a situation.
"RUN!" he cried.
Maelstrom blaster fire bombarded the ground around Alphos. Darted away from the lethal blasts and instead swung his crimson blade at the stromlings ganging up on him. The powerful weapon smashed several of the relatively weak Maelstrom creatures at once. He knew, however, that no matter how long or hard he fought, more would take the place of the fallen. He had to escape, but how? Alphos' eyes panned across the war-sullied panorama, and came to rest on the ruined remains of the Nexus Tower launchpad. The fence that normally stood tall around it was completely destroyed, leaving nothing standing in between Alphos and the rolling green hills of Nimbus Station. He turned to Velocity Lane amidst the chaos.
"THIS WAY!" he screamed at the top of his lungs as he darted for the wrecked launchpad, a dozen stromlings pursuing him. He dove head first over the half-melted platform that formerly supported the launchpad, kicking a stromling in the face. The confused creature staggered backwards in a daze, allowing Velocity to repeat the same feat with one of its brethren. The two escapees tumbled to the ground below, and rolled to a stop amongst a legion of pine trees. They knew they couldn't stop moving though; the Exodus unit were already in hot pursuit of their targets, having either annihilated or immobilized the other unfortunate minifigures left in Race Place. After a few minutes of panicked running, Alphos believed they had lost their dark enemy in the trees.
"Now what?" Velocity Lane said. Alphos frowned. He was safe. He was well hidden. But there were others who weren't.
"We go back," he said, "We sneak down the cliffs at Red Blocks, and ambush them in Nimbus Plaza."
"You saw what they did to the others," she said, "We don't stand a chance without backup."
"Then we'd better hope Axenya gets back here with backup soon," Alphos said grimly, "Or this will be a very short fight."
Aboard the New Frontier, Hael Storm was anything if not frustrated. He had been tricked, deceived, his feelings used against him. He frowned as he looked out the frontal viewport in the bridge of the crippled warship at the massive crater left by the sabotaged starfighter.
"Officer, report," he said, "I be wantin' a status check. Gimme primary systems."
The officer he had been speaking to just shook his head.
"Blast fried our navigational systems. If it had been much bigger, the hyperdrive would've exploded," the officer replied, "Shields were only charged 50% when it went off, if it hadn't, we'd be a lot worse off. Honestly, we're lucky to still have communications active."
"Ye catch all that Duke?" Hael said.
"I did indeed, Hael," Duke Exeter replied over the speaker, "In that case, we're out of options. You'll have to stay back here for the time, while Vanda and I take the Avenger and the Intrigue to save Nimbus Station. We're running out of time."
"So be it, Duke," Hael said grimly, "Give 'em one fer Sky."
"Will do Hael," Duke said with a smile, "Exeter, over and out."
Having terminated the connection to battered vessel on the planet below, Duke Exeter turned to his crew.
"Listen up, people!" he bellowed, "Nimbus Station is a refuge! It is more than a strategic hub to us, it is a land of peace and calm in this infernal war! One we will fight to our last breaths to defend! ARE WE CLEAR?"
Everyone on the bridge of the Avenger turned to their leader and saluted him, speaking in unison.
"SIR YES SIR!" they all cried.
"Then in that case," Duke Exeter, leaning back in his seat, "We have a battle to win. Take us to the enemy!"
Without another word, the Avenger slipped into hyperspace, the Intrigue close behind.
They weren't the welcoming minifigures in the universe, nor were they generous with information, and any loyalty earned from them was hard earned and well deserved. As she touched down on the planet chunk of Forbidden Valley however, Axenya felt no apprehension as to how her request for help would be met. To be perfectly honest, she had formed good relations with the ninja years ago, and they treated Axenya like one of their own. Axenya thought back to the first time she had gone to Forbidden Valley. She was only a rank one Assembly Engineer at the time, and was eager to prove herself to her superiors as worthy of a promotion. She smiled as she thought of how Alphos and Exotus had tirelessly sliced through Spiderlings in Avant Gardens, then eventually moved on infected pirates in Gnarled Forest when they felt that they were ready. They had warned Axenya not to rush, that she should pace herself, but Axenya knew that she had the strength within her to take on a greater challenge. She wanted to slay on the most powerful maelstrom creatures she could; a dragon. Despite being warned play it safe, Axenya ventured forward into the darkest parts of Forbidden Valley, seeking this terrible foe. It wasn't until she encountered the beast face to face that she realized that perhaps she should have exercised some prudence in her decision to smash the monster. She wanted to run, she wanted to go back to Gnarled Forest and practice with her friends.
Instead, Axenya attacked the dragon head on, drawing on every shred of courage in her body in a mad attempt to silence the beast. Its fiery breath nearly cooked her alive, and its violent thrashing nearly smashed her several times. Every time it knocked her back, Axenya returned to it. Every time she felt like giving up while she still could, she persevered. Eventually, after hundreds of tireless charges at the creature, it succumbed to Axenya's forces. As the victorious minifigure stood over the smashed remains of the defeated monster, as well as its valuable hoard, Axenya heard cheering. She turned around to see dozen of ninja clapping for her, in awe of her courage and determination. On that day, she had earned more their praise and friendship. She had earned their respect.
There was no time to reminisce, however. Nimbus Station was in danger, and if Axenya didn't return with help in time, it would only be the first of several worlds to fall to the mercy of the Wielder. She pushed aside her memories and ran on.
High on a hill that loomed above the musical location of Red Blocks, Alphos pulled back some bushes to get a better view of the area below. He gaped in horror as he saw the scene of destruction below him. He knew that those whose Creation Sparks had been snuffed in the battle had been the lucky ones; the survivors would soon join the ranks of the Exodus units. From over his shoulder, Velocity Lane spoke, hopelessness and despair creeping into her voice.
"There's no honor in fighting battle you know you'll lose," she said, almost choking on the words, "If I go down, I want to go down saving lives, like my sister."
"I'm so sorry about what happened to Sky," Alphos comforted, "but there is no futility in what we're about to. We're not trying to win this battle, just slow it down. And now that I think of it, if we can get the time machine, we might able to cut off the bulk of the Wielder's power here."
"So that's the new plan?"
"That's the new plan," Alphos replied, "But let's not make a dash for the time machine straight away. Our only hope of success is catching them by surprise. Look, Red Blocks is empty; now's the best time to move."
Velocity Lane nodded, and the two minifigures began climbing down the steep cliff down into the usually cheerful place. There was nothing cheerful about it now.
Minifigure parts littered the ground, next the destroyed seating arrangement and wrecked musical instruments. No one in their right mind could have called it a battle; it was cold-blooded smashing. As Alphos landed on the ground and silently crept up the path towards Nimbus Plaza, he knew he had to win this battle, for the sakes of those not fortunate enough to see the end of it.
Swirling wind currents ripped through Axenya clothing, chilling her to the bone and threatening to knock her off the cracked stone pathways leading to the ninja's
headquarters in Forbidden Valley, a monolithic plant adorned with brightly lit huts and dojos; the Great Tree. The auburn leaves ripped prematurely from its branches by the wind showered down around Axenya as she threw her faith into a massive air current to carry her over the seemingly bottomless pit separating her from her destination. Indeed, Forbidden Valley was a place of terrible danger, but also magnificent beauty as well. Axenya landed safely on the other side of the pit, and immediately bolted up a path winding around the massive tree to the structures above. As she walked onto the flat platform above, several ninja waved at her, and while she returned the greeting, she quickly hopped onto an elevator platform that took her to the highest boughs of the Great Tree. The device took her up to yet another, smaller platform, crowning the tree. Standing in its center was a tall, well-built, and rather imposing figure clothed in red and gray robes, and holding a wicked-looking corseque; the master ninja and paradox representative in Forbidden Valley, Numb Chuck. At the sight of Axenya, the warrior's rigid posture relaxed, and a smile broke onto his covered mouth.
"My friend," the ninja said, his smooth voice gliding over the words, "What brings you to Forbidden Valley today?"
"Numb Chuck," Axenya replied, desperation thick in her voice, which was only made more obvious by her accent, "Nimbus Station is under attack. The Wielder seems to have summoned energy from Nimbus Station's past, and the Nexus Tower launchpad has been destroyed. Many have fallen already. Please help us."
Beneath his helmet, Numb Chuck's relaxed expression quickly turned to a frown. Things sounded terribly grave.
"So be it," he said decisively, "It is our duty to the Nexus Force, and to our allies on Nimbus Station. NINJA!!!!!!!!!!! PREPARE FOR BATTLE!!!"
"Thank you so much," Axenya said gratefully, "I just hope there's still something left to save."
"So remind me," Zegon grumbled, as he stood in the center of Nimbus Plaza, watching the survivors from Race Place being dragged in, "Why didn't you destroy all the launchpads? You're leaving us open to a ground assault."
The Scientist snickered as her new prisoners were laid on the ground in front of her. She rolled her eyes at Zegon's whining, but decided to answer his question anyway.
"The Nexus Tower launchpad was a crucial point of access to Nimbus Station, and the most direct access point for any in incoming troops. It had to go first. The Starbase and Alpha Station portals are under tight guard, anyone coming through them would be blasted the moment they stepped through," she paused, delighting in her logic, "There's no need to destroy the others, since Nexus Tower is the new head of communication in Nimbus System. Other worlds have no reason to communicate directly to this one any more, and therefore, no major military force will come from those worlds. Any incidental incoming travelers are blaster fodder. You'd have to be insane to try to use one of the launchpads on this end. You'd be toast."
"So basically, you've got it covered," Zegon sighed, almost wishing her plan had been flawed JUST so he could point it out, "but what if someone has already gone for help?"
"Impossible," the Scientist replied, dismissing Zegon's concerns, "Any escapees would have had to come either through Nimbus Plaza, or over one of the hills. They would have been spotted."
Zegon's back slumped. It simply couldn't be helped; the Scientist was always right. It didn't matter how hard he tried, he had never found a flaw in one of her tactics, never seen a chink in her metaphoric armor. Maybe though, if he placated her long enough, she would begin to trust him, and he would make certain that that trust would lead to her downfall. For now though, Zegon took a back seat, and watched his ally build her army.
One horrified prisoner at a time.
At the edge of Nimbus Plaza, Alphos crouched among the bushes. His Rank 3 Greatsword was slung at his belt, and he held an Elite Long Barreled Blaster in his right hand, his Knight's shield in his left. He stealthily moved forward, creeping out from his hiding space and into the open. He silently rolled across the paved stone pathway circling around the Plaza, then looked back a face amongst the bushes; Velocity Lane. Alphos made a few quick gestures with his hands, instructing her to run for the time machine once he made his attack. She nodded in reply.
Alphos turned back towards the short bush shielding him from the sinister eyes littering Nimbus Plaza. He knew he had only one chance to get this right.
"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!!!" he screamed, leaping from his hiding place and firing off his weapon. Alphos' keen aim leveled three Exodus units in the first five seconds. He heard a rustling sound behind him, and the soft footfall of a creeping minifig as well. Velocity was on her way. Alphos dove back behind the bushes, Maelstrom energy ripping through the space he had occupied mere seconds before. A crowd a stromlings was racing towards him. Alphos poked his head over the bushes again and shot into the crowd. The powerful weapon blasted through several stromlings with a single shot, but he was running out of ammo. He holstered his gun and drew his sword. The mighty blade sliced through the remaining stromlings approaching him. He raised his shield to deflect the incoming blaster fire of the Exodus units. Alphos began to sweat as he notice several of the units taking to the sky; not fearing so much for his own life as he was them discovering Velocity. He whipped out his blaster, and spent the remainder of his shots trying to distract them, gunning down two more of the mighty cyborgs in the process. The ones left untouched swooped down to the ground, in an attempt to increase their accuracy. Alphos was ready for them. As they landed on the path, he dashed towards them, flailing his sword around his body, neatly rupturing several of the units' glowing cores. He then commenced an anticlockwise run around Nimbus Plaza, getting as far away from the wounded cyborgs as he could, and with good reason. Within seconds, their unstable maelstrom cores exploded in a lethal ball of purple flame, that engulfed many of their own. Deciding he had given Velocity Lae sufficient time to reach the time machine, and that now she needed backup more than anything, Alphos made a charge for the device.
Alphos dashed up the hill leading to the Avant Gardens launchpad before the Exodus units could react. He quickly reached Velocity Lane, who was still struggling with the time machine.
"Got a gun?" Alphos asked, panting, "I'm outta ammo."
Velocity nodded, and handed him a small blaster the she kept strapped to her hip.
"Thanks," Alphos said, as he used the weapon to reduce an incoming Exodus unit to a pile of scrap metal, "How's it coming?"
"Not good," the Nimbus Station racemaster replied, "This panel's been wedged on pretty tight. As for turning the dang thing off, the controls are all fried."
Alphos' face fell with dismay. Another wave of stromlings and mechs started to climb the wooded hill.
"You'd better come up with something soon," Alphos said, "I can't hold these guys off forever."
It was at that moment that the two minifigures heard a sound. It was a sort of muffled shriek, way too high pitched to come from a stromling.
"What on Nimbus....," Alphos muttered. Velocity peeked through the small fir trees. Much her surprise, a minifigure wearing yellow and green clothing was squirming on the ground, bound and gagged. She instantly recognized him; Wenn Wuzzit.
"Wenn!" she exclaimed, reaching down to release him from his bonds, "What happened?"
"They took me prisoner," the obviously terrified minifigure said, "The Wielder.... she's trying to bring the darkness of the past to our time!"
Alphos, still gunning down the rapidly approaching enemies, spoke.
"She already did, and I can't hold them back much longer."
"THIS IS A DISASTER!!!" Wenn exclaimed, "I should've fought them off."
"You would've been blasted to pieces," Velocity said, "As it is, you may be the only one who can fix this thing."
"Of course, of course!" the Venture League time traveler said, "Anything to stop this menace!"
The menace loomed closer, and Alphos was almost out of ammunition again. He glanced back over at Wenn.
"If you're gonna pull anything, in the next 20 seconds would help," he said. Even as he spoke though, Alphos knew they would never shut down the machine in time. Reality flickered around him. For blessed moments, an illusion of peace prevailed, only to be overwhelmed by the reality of darkness. He looked down at his sword. If he was fast enough on his feet, he might be able to give Wenn and Velocity the time they needed to shut down the device. He looked down at his sword. If he was fast enough on his feet, he might be able to give Wenn and Velocity the time they needed to shut down the device. Alphos blinked confusedly. Apparently the fluctuation of the time field was affecting his thoughts as well as physical events. He shook his head, clearing the confusion from his mind.
"FIX THIS!" he shouted to his only allies, then dashed back down the hill, swinging his sword wildly as he went.
A crowd of stromlings charged towards Alphos, and were quickly reduced to bricks by his mighty blade. Next Alphos charged at a group of mechs, swiftly slicing their mechanical bodies in two, leaving them in ruins at his feet. The Scientist growled behind her helmet.
"SMASH HIM!!!" she shrieked. Five Exodus units then rocketed towards the intruder, shredding the air with their lethal blasts. Alphos nimbly dodged the blasts. Having missed their target, the units turned mid-air, and swooped down towards Alphos. Alphos dove to the ground and rolled out of their way, nicking the last passing cyborg with his sword as it went. Moments later, the unit exploded, destroying the other attacking cyborgs with it.
"You seem to like destroying my Exodus units," the Scientist said, "However, I do wonder how many of them you can handle at once!"
Mirroring her threat, 20 more Exodus units opened fire on Alphos, who dove to the right, landing neatly in front of three Dark Admiral Invaders. Knowing his new foes' power, Alphos jumped to his feet and tumbled over their heads just as the horrific creatures opened fire with the menacing cannons replacing their right arms. Now behind the Admirals, Alphos quickly dispatched these monsters, and prepared himself for the incoming Exodus units. He didn't notice a fourth Admiral approaching him from behind. Tears of unbearable pain pricked his eyes as the Admiral shot him repeatedly in the back. Alphos fell to the ground, defeated.
But Alphos had just landed in front of the original three Admirals. Instead of diving over their heads, Alphos ran. A fourth Admiral approached, one he quickly felled with his sword. The other three Admirals pursued him, readying their cannons. This time, however, Alphos was ready. He dove over their heads and defeated them from behind. As the score of Exodus units began to close in, Alphos thanked his lucky stars that his defeat had been a mere flash of a possible future. Maybe fate was on his side after all. New confidence within him, Alphos charge at the Exodus units. He slid in between two of the cyborgs, decapitating one and puncturing the core of the other as he went. The resulting explosion took out two more, but Alphos' luck was running out. The remaining creatures shot at him with all of their combined firepower. Alphos dove over one of the hedges, but a blast grazed him as he landed on the other side.
"AGH!" he exclaimed. The wound was minor, but it burned with all the fury of Crux Prime. Brushing the pain aside, he rose to his feet, but the Exodus unit had surrounded him. Knowing their target was trapped, they ceased fire, waiting for a final order to silence this pest. The concealed face of the Scientist beamed with triumph. She twirled her staff in her hand as she walked through the crowd of Exodus units towards Alphos. Alphos readied his sword.
"Welcome to the army."
The entire staff glowed, as the energy to turn its target to an Exodus unit built up within it. It never got the chance to actually infect Alphos though, for at that moment, a hyperspace window opened over the Forbidden Valley launchpad, and dozens of dragon styled rockets shot into the maelstrom tainted sky. In spite of the weapon directed at him, a smug look crossed Alphos' face.
The ninja had arrived.
The legion of tiny vessels stopped dead in the air, allowing their hooded pilots quickly jump out of their cockpits, smashing to bricks seconds afterwards. Leading the charge was Axenya, who having just disembarked from her bright orange Assembly Solarblast rocket, quickly whipped out a gleaming Elite Sword of Blocking and began slicing through the stromling hoards on the ground. Seeing his opportunity, Alphos dove towards one of the confused Exodus units, slicing it in two with his greatsword and escaping his living confines. The Scientist, now furious that she had been attacked, turned her anger on the young lady leading the offenders; Axenya. She fired a round of blasts at the warrior, that Axenya easily avoided. The ninja beside her wasn't that lucky. He fell to the ground, defeated.
"Exodus 1, 5, 17!" the Scientist exclaimed, recognizing one of her opponents, "Focus your attack on Numb Chuck! The rest of you, fall back and secure the time machine!"
The cyborgs responded quickly and decisively, but Alphos heard the command, and knowing that Velocity Lane and Wenn Wuzzit were still attempting to shut off the time machine, knew he couldn't let it happen. He tried a new tactic of his own.
"HEY!" he shouted over the roar of the battle, "TRY SOMEONE ELSE FIRST, UGLY!"
The Exodus units ignored him, and proceeded to carry out their mistress' command. Alphos ran at them, but quickly had to retreat when they opened fire on him. His wounded shoulder stung from the previous hit as he dove to the ground to avoid certain doom. And certain it seemed too, as they continued to approach Alphos. Alphos stumbled to his feet knowing that this time, they wouldn't miss. He raised his sword and waited for the fatal blast. It never came. Instead, he saw several shiny metal objects whiz through the air, embedding themselves in critical areas of the Exodus units' bodies; shurikens. Alphos departed from that battle, as he saw that a group of ninja now had the Exodus units under control. He moved on to the rest of the battle. He was just running back into the center of Nimbus Plaza, a particularly nasty looking spiderling invader in his sights, when a brightly colored energy blast zipped over his head. He spun around to see the identity of his new opponent. It was Zegon, enchanted blades drawn, a sadistic expression coating his face like a hastily iced cake. Alphos readied himself for the fury of his adversary. If he fell, he would fall fighting. Prepared for his possibly fate at the swordsman's hands, Alphos lunged towards him.
Zegon parried violently with the Blade of Light, throwing off Alphos' attack and opening his opponent for a lunge of his own. Alphos was ready; as Zegon thrust his blade forward, Alphos caught the hilt with his own blade, flinging the Blade of Light from Zegon left hand. Alphos neatly caught the weapon in his own left hand, and ready himself for the next round of sparring.
"You have skill," Zegon said, "It shall be wasted with your smashing"
Much to Alphos' surprise, Zegon produced an elegantly carved metal torch that had been slung at his belt, and held it as though it too were a sword. A flick of Zegon's finger triggered wicked flame from the torches, that shone in the sinister purple fog like a saber of fire. Zegon brought this new weapon down towards Alphos, grinning evilly as he did so. The crackling flame scorched through the air, barely missing Alphos. Fazed, but not disheartened, Alphos made another lunge for Zegon. Zegon parried accordingly with the Blade of Darkness, then brought his fire sword down on Alphos. Alphos extended his arm, hitting the metal handle of the torch with a resounding clink. Now frustrated, and sick of giving his opponent a fighting chance, Zegon directed the Blade of Darkness at Alphos. A bright bolt of energy leaped toward the young warrior, who instinctively raised a blade to block the blow.
He raised his left hand.
The Blade of Light sparked violently on contact with its opposing energy, and glowed with its own power within. A smile crossing Alphos' face, he raised the Blade of Light for a similar attack. He focused his mind on the power of the weapon, and an energy blast shot out of it. The attack took Zegon by surprise, forcing him to stumble out of the way at the last second. It was too late for him, however. Zegon had been reduced to a pile of bricks. Alphos' could have jumped for joy, but then he heard the whizzing sound of a blade racing through the air behind him. He quickly jumped aside, only to narrowly escape a stealthy attack from none other than Zegon. By now, Alphos wasn't surprised so much as he was concerned. If time was distorted in his perception to the point where he was seeing things several seconds after they were or were going happen, how could he possibly beat his opponent? He just had to hope that Zegon was affected in the same way as himself. He quickly rose to his feet and jumped back into the battle.
Deep within hyperspace, a communication from Nexus Tower reached the Sentinel Avenger and the Paradox Intrigue.
"Sir, we have an incoming communication from Nexus Tower," an officer aboard the Avenger said.
"Put it through," was Duke Exeter's reply. A shimmering ihologram of Doctor Overbuild flickered to life aboard the bridges of both warships, and the expression on his face was anything if not grim.
"Doc, status report," Duke said, "What's the situation in Nimbus?"
"Not good, Duke," Overbuild replied, "Orbital tracking has detected a sort of time-space bubble around Nimbus Station. We've tried to send people through Alpha Station and Starbase, but so far none have returned."
"The time machine," Vanda interjected, "It's been tampered with."
"Indeed it has," Doc replied, "In fact, a few minutes ago we received a transmission from Forbidden Valley. Nimbus Station is under attack by the Wielder, and she appears to be using the time machine to weaken time-space to the point where she can draw maelstrom energy from Nimbus Station's dark past. Most of Nimbus Station's population has already fallen, although Rank 3 Engineer Axenya Danexi managed to escape and call in the ninja for backup."
"So Forbidden Valley hasn't been cut off from Nimbus Station yet," Duke said, "Could we not get our people through the Forbidden Valley launchpad in Alpha Station?"
"Negative," Vanda replied, "The Alpha Station launchpads have been down for maintenance since they received some sub-space interference a few hours ago. They obviously planned this."
"I figured," Overbuild said, "But why not simply bring down all the launchpads at once?"
"They figured they could destroy any incidental incoming travelers the second they arrived," he said, "They figured that any major technical difficulties would attract too much attention. Remaining inconspicuous was key."
"Good point," Doc said, "There is some good news, however. Our scans indicate that the space-time bubble is slowing down time in its direct vicinity. This could give you the time you need to intervene. Good luck."
"Good luck on your end too, Doc," Duke said, "We're both going to need it."
Axenya, having finished with the stromlings, was now subject to the full fury of the Scientist. The evil woman blasted herself towards Axenya with the dark energy within her weapon. Upon flipping down onto the ground, she swung the malevolent crystal tipping her staff at Axenya's head, who blocked the attack with her sword, which was still covered in the stromlings' maelstrom goo.
"It would appear you escaped," the Scientist grunted through gritted teeth. Axenya furiously fended off another attack from her raging foe.
"It would appear so," she replied.
"This time," the Scientist said, a sinister tone oozing throughout her voice, "you won't escape unscathed."
Axenya, unfazed by the threat, threw more of herself into the battle. She made a swift lunge at her opponent's torso, which was parried by the jagged crystalline tip of the Scientist's staff. She was then forced to step back as the Scientist redoubled her efforts, thrusting her lethal weapon at Axenya. A few more furious lunges had Axenya's back against the Venture League building in Nimbus Plaza, a relatively short, yet respectable structure resembling the other faction buildings there. Axenya knew the next attack would hit her, so, seeing an approaching stromling, she grabbed its hand and used it to haul herself out of the way of the assault. The confused stromling was propelled straight towards Axenya former position, and was mistakenly smashed by the Scientist. The villain muttered an oath to herself, and proceeded towards Axenya, who was now back on her feet and racing back to her opponent. Again their weapons met, the sound of metal hitting crystal echoing through Nimbus Station, despite the deafening roars of battle. A thrust, a parry. A lunge, a block. After succeeding in forcing Axenya back a few meters, the Scientist backed up a few steps. Her staff began to glow evilly. The wind howled through Nimbus Plaza as four terrifying skeletal horses rose out of the ground. Each one bore a ghostly Dark Ronin as a jockey. They were Maelstrom Horseman, and Axenya had fought them before. These ones however, glowed brighter and more fiercely than any other horseman Axenya had known, save maybe for Vargas the Tormented, a horrific mounted fiend that roamed the wastelands of Crux Prime. She recognized them at once; these were the Four Riders of Maelstrom. While each of these new foes were bad enough, she new that together they were greater than their sum, especially with the Scientist controlling them. Brushing away every last scrap of fear, she raised her sword, ready for the impending battle.
At the Alpha station portal, two Exodus units stood on guard, waiting to fire upon anything that came near them. They were so focused on seeing something with legs though, that they didn't notice a small spherical object come through the portal. Before they even knew it was there, it exploded, throwing their metal forms aside and irreparably damaging their glowing cores. No sooner had they hit the ground that four Nexus Force soldiers stepped through into Nimbus Station. They were followed by another four, and four more behind them. They were here to take back Nimbus station, and each one was willing to do whatever it took to do so.
High in planetary orbit, the Avenger and the Intrigue dropped out of hyperspace. Aboard the bridge of the Paradox vessel, Vanda sat calmly in her seat.
"Preliminary scans show no other spacecraft in the area," Captain Berserk said, "Please advise."
Vanda frowned. She hoped that they weren't too late.
"Run another scan," she said, "If they're here, we'll find them."
She meant it too. Vanda was completely confident in her forces, and knew that if the Wielder were here, she would be beaten. Thinking as such, she was completely unprepared for what happened next.
Purple energy blasts shot out of empty space, striking the warship full force. Lights flickered across the ship, and sparks flew throughout.
"RAISE THE SHIELDS!" Vanda screamed, "Damage report!" Several officers started struggling with the control panels.
"Shield systems were damaged!" one officer replied, "We can only get shields up 25%! Hyperdrive is offline, and we're venting atmosphere on our lower decks!"
"Take us out of range!" Vanda said. At that moment, a holographic image of Duke Exeter shone to life on the screen in front of her.
"Vanda!" he said, "What's your status? You took a nasty shot there!"
"Not good!" Vanda replied, "Have you been hit?"
At that moment a blast struck the Avenger.
"Affirmative!" Duke replied, "But we managed to get our shields up first! They're holding."
"You're lucky then!" Vanda said, "We need to back out. More importantly, the Wielder is here, and I think she's found a way to cloak the Venture Explorer."
"In that case," Duke said, "We're in for a bumpy ride!"
Zegon was furious that Alphos had nearly destroyed him with his own weapon. He kicked his assault into high gear, flailing his flaming torch at Alphos' head, and slicing at him wildly with the Blade of Darkness. Just battling such a fearsome opponent made Alphos stronger, however. He was ready for both attacks, deflecting them both with his Greatsword and the Blade of Darkness.Turning to offense, he swung his Greatsword around in a massive arc, headed straight for Zegon's neck. He might have known that victory would not come so easily though. Zegon masterfully brought his own weapon into position, catching Alphos' attack and deflecting it into the ground. Once again, Alphos charged the Blade of Light. When their swords clashed again, a shockwave erupted from Alphos' sword, propelling Zegon backwards. As Zegon slammed into the side of the Sentinel building, Alphos let out a sigh of relief. Now he could focus on the rest of the battle. He ran gallantly towards a group of Ronin, then stopped dead in his tracks. Pain rocketed through his body. He looked down at his stomach to see a shimmering blade through his torso. He knew that this was the end for him. He took one final look at the fatal wound..... that was no longer there. He looked back at the Sentinel building, only to see Zegon's limp form no longer lying beside. He whipped his head around just in time to see the evil swordsman race towards him with his blade at the ready. Alphos fended him off, glad that he was still alive, but wishing his moment of precognition hadn't been so painful. There was no way to avoid it, he guessed. As long as it was helping him fight, that was all that mattered, not to mention the fact that the pain stopped as soon as the time flash did. Even as he fought his deadly attacker though, he became more confident in his ability to win the fight, especially with time literally seeming to be on his side. His confidence quickly turned to dismay when he saw Axenya out of the corner of his eye. The Wielder and the Four Riders of the Maelstrom were confronting her, and while she seemed to be putting up a good fight, Alphos feared it would be a short one. He knew if he tried to disengage Zegon, he'd be struck down before he could do anything. His only option was to beat his opponent first, and then help Axenya, and that was exactly what he planned to do. He fought on.
Numb Chuck was in the center of quite a battle. His ninja brethren otherwise engaged, he was locked in mortal combat against three Exodus units. He wielded his mighty corseque well against his fearsome opponents, but in close combat at least, they were evenly matched. One Exodus unit in particular proved himself especially dangerous, and Numb Chuck assumed he was their prime unit.
He was right.
Exodus 1 fought Numb Chuck like there was no tomorrow, firing his mounted blasters into the fray whenever he had the chance. Numb Chuck swung his corseque at Exodus 1's head, who clasped his menacing metal fingers firmly around the weapon, nearly wrenching out Numb Chuck's shoulder in the process. Numb Chuck wouldn't be defeated that easily though. He yanked the corseque back down, using Exodus 1's grip on the handle as leverage. He quickly titled the blade of the weapon and swiped it through the air, decapitating another cyborg in the process. He finally twisted the blade enough to release it from Exodus 1's grip, and then used it to spear the third attacking unit. Exodus 1 remained adamant. He took an anti-grav pack assisted leap over Numb Chuck's head, and rolled to a stop next to the katana of a fallen ninja. He took up the weapon, and sliced the air near Numb Chuck's head with it. Utilizing his lightning fast reflexes, Numb Chuck dodged the blade, and embedded the tip of his corseque deep in Exodus 1's glowing energy core. He quickly staggered back, waiting for the cyborg to explode in a shower of flaming purple sparks and toxic maelstrom gas.
He didn't though. Instead, Exodus 1 simply plucked the corseque from his core and threw it to the ground. Anger clearly evident in his glowing red eyes, he strode towards the now unarmed Numb Chuck. He was distracted from his target though when he heard the choked grunt of an exploding stromling behinds him. He turned around to see the elite Space Marauder who had fired the shot, followed by eleven more equally powerfully armed Nexus Force soldiers. At that moment, energy blasts rained down into Nimbus Station from orbit, devastating anything that stood in their way.
The cavalry had arrived.
The Maelstrom army started to fall to the quickly growing numbers of Nexus Force warriors. Those ninja that were left soon overpowered their opponents, and energy blasts from above quickly pulverized the larger ground targets. However, the battle was far from over. Twelve Exodus units remained, and with the exception of Exodus 1, quickly engaged the Nexus Force warriors in a last-ditch attempt to win the battle. Several Admiral Invaders jumped into the fray, and the fight quickly escalated into a flurry of flying grappling hooks and Rank 3 weapons.
Numb Chuck still had his own problems dealing with Exodus 1. He had managed to obtain a discarded katana and was now battling the menacing cyborg wielding his own weapon; Exodus 1, who swung Numb Chuck's signature corseque like there was no tomorrow. It was all the noble ninja could do to simply avoid being sliced in half, let alone actually defeat his menacing opponent.
Alphos, on the other hand, fought harder than he had possibly ever fought in his entire life. He had to end his battle with Zegon. Axenya's life depended on it. He continued to chip away at his opponent's resolve, and it was working; Zegon was tiring. He knew he may defeat Zegon in a matter of minutes, but those were minutes that Axenya might not have against the combined forces of the Wielder and the Four Riders of the Maelstrom.
Axenya herself fought on bravely and tirelessly, despite her dire situation. Any time one of the feared horsemen approached her, she slashed it energetically. When the Wielder fired upon her, she drew one of the horsemen into the line of fire. Her strategy seemed to be working too. One of the terrible beasts, known as Oni Rider Shi, made one last assault at its foe, and finally fell to the young warrior's blade.
"One down, four to go," Axenya muttered, shooting the Scientist a venomous look as she hacked at the next horseman.
"Wrong, pretty," the Scientist interrupted, "It's four against one, and you're going next!"
The Scientist rushed at Axenya, swinging her fearsome staff like a club at the girl's head. Axenya drew off her attack from the horsemen and blocked the assault with her sword. She heard one of the Riders rear up behind her, and dove to the ground, rolling under another horse's legs, dealing the skeletal beast a shattering blow to the ribs. The creature fell, its now mountless rider quickly obliterated by an enraged Scientist. Two of the horsemen now defeated, Axenya took advantage of the state of shock the other two were in. She swiftly decapitated Oni Rider Kikin, leaving a riderless beast of chaos to parade around Nimbus Station in a mad panic. Now only one remained. Axenya leaped onto the back of the last horse, stabbing its Ronin rider and charged it towards the Scientist. The shocked woman simply couldn't react in time, and quickly found herself crushed beneath the creature hooves. But then she realized she hadn't been crushed at all, when Axenya jumped onto the horse's back.... again. She charged the creature at her opponent, but this time the Scientist was ready. She raised her malevolent, glowing staff. She took aim, and fired.
The resulting blast punched a hole through Axenya's torso.
From the corner of his eye, still locked in mortal combat, Alphos saw Axenya fall from the ferocious creature she was mounted upon, a terrible wound dealt to her torso. All the blood left Alphos' face.
"NO!!" he screamed, as he dealt a fearsome slash across Zegon's knuckles, causing the man to cry out in pain and drop his weapons. Alphos didn't care that his opponent was on the verge of defeat however; all he cared for was Axenya's safety. He bolted across Nimbus Plaza like a maniac stromling loaded with quicksickles, dropping his swords out of total disinterest as he went. As he dashed towards Axenya, he didn't notice the flickering of time coming to a halt. It never occurred to him that the maelstrom creatures surrounding him were evaporating as he went. Blaster fire whizzed through the air, but Alphos didn't hear the Wielder issue her cry of retreat, nor did he see Zegon retrieve his blades and teleport the surviving attackers away. He came to an abrupt halt next to Axenya, kneeling down by her side.
"Alphos.... I....," Axenya groaned. Alphos quivered in horror.
"Don't talk," he said, "Save your strength."
He glanced around the Plaza, and suddenly noticed the absence of chaos and destruction, and the blessed void of peace now surrounding Nimbus Station. Velocity Lane and Wenn Wuzzit descending from the hill capped with the Avant Gardens launchpad, exhaustion and relief evident on their faces.
"Axenya, we won," Alphos said, "We did it!"
"I.....," Axenya said, before her eyes shut, and she lay still. Alphos could barely breathe, and was only too relieved to find out that Axenya still was. He knew she wouldn't last long though. He stood to his feet, screaming to any of the Nexus Force warriors who would listen.
"SHE NEEDS A MEDIC!" he cried, "SOMEBODY, HELP!"
At that moment, all eyes turned to the now maelstrom free sky to see a Nexus Force dropship emblazoned with the Paradox symbol come in for a landing in the center of Nimbus Plaza. Vanda Darkflame emerged from the boarding ramp of the small spacecraft, surrounded by a handful of her crew.
"Mistress Darkflame," a Space Marauder said, "To what do we owe the pleasure?"
"The Intrigue took heavy fire in orbit. We were forced to evacuate before we lost atmosphere. The other survivors are coming down in whatever we could power up in time," Vanda replied, then paused as she saw the battle had been won, "I see we have emerged victorious."
Alphos took this opportunity to speak.
"She need help," he said, gesturing to Axenya. Vanda nodded, surveying the destruction surrounding her.
"Men, take the wounded, and let's back back to Nexus Tower via Starbase," she said, then turned to Alphos, "You've done a good job Alphos. Nimbus Station can sleep safely tonight thanks to you."
"Velocity and Wenn deactivated the time machine, and Axenya summoned the ninja. I just kept the enemy busy," Alphos paused, "Axenya... she's gonna be ok, right?"
"We'll do our best," Vanda said, "The Nexus Force doesn't leave its heroes behind."
In Nimbus Station orbit, the battle had not yet ceased to rage. The Venture Explorer continued to fire upon the Sentinel Avenger, maintaining its cloak as it went. While the crew of the mighty warship put up the best fight they could, they were limited strictly to defensive maneuvers, as their cannons were useless against a ship they couldn't see. Aboard the bridge of the Venture Explorer, a particularly foul tempered Scientist watched the offenseless warship do nothing but absorb their attack with its heavy duty shields. A sinister smile began to creep back over her face. Sure, she hadn't been able to take Nimbus Station, but she had dealt the Nexus Force a powerful blow. Her ambition to attack Nimbus Station alone was proof that she was a serious contender in this war, and was a very real threat. She hoped the Nexus Force felt the same. She smirked behind her helmet as she saw the Avenger take a blow to its hull. Those mighty Sentinels with all their powerful weaponry could do nothing to her now. Better yet, she just might have smashed that pathetic little Alphos' pathetic little sidekick. It was only a matter of time before the pain in the neck himself was next.
"Head count!" she said, "I want a casualty report!"
"We took heavy losses, mistress," Exodus 1 said, "We lost all but myself and units 9, 13, 15 and 21."
"Understood," she replied, then turned to Zegon, who was still bandaging his hand, "Zegon, stop licking your measly wounds and act like some kind of a man. It's preferable to behaving like a whimpering child."
Zegon glared at her.
"Don't look at me like that, Zegon. You forget who holds the power here."
"If I had the Blade of Eternity....."
"You don't have it though," the Scientist snapped, "And until you do, and most likely even then, threatening me will prove hazardous to your health. Are we clear?"
Zegon just rolled his eyes. The scheming brat had no idea how powerful the Blade of Eternity was, he thought. He would just have to endure her until the balance of power tilted in his direction.
"Whatever," he muttered, "Now what?"
"We regroup. Gather our strength. And then," the Scientist paused, glee creeping into her voice, "Then we attack Crux Prime. The concentration of Maelstorm energy is so powerful there, that we will triumph over anyone who stands in our way. Once we control the ground forces of Crux Prime, all the forces of Nexus Tower will be unable to prevent us from corrupting the Imagination Nexus, providing the owner of this weapon I hold in my hands enough power to conquer the entire Universe!"
"You're insane.....," Zegon said, "The Nexus Force will throw everything they have at us, and we will be destroyed."
"They will throw all they have at us, and they will inevitably fall. Exodus 1, set a course for some backwater planet where we can build up our forces again. Crux Prime will be mine."
The upper levels of Nexus Tower were seldom visited by ordinary Nexus Force warriors, yet they held many important areas and utilities vital to the efficient running of the monolithic structure, and the Nexus Force itself. One such area was a massive hospital area, dedicated to restoring the health of the valiant soldiers of the Nexus Force so often wounded in battle against the Maelstrom. There were also laboratories, power systems, imagination refinement facilities and training centers as well. At this point in time however, the building's medical assets were all that Alphos cared for, as they were all that was separating Axenya from an untimely demise. As he paced outside the emergency room, Velocity Lane walked up beside him, a broad smile covering her face.
"I just heard the news!" she said. "Sky made it! She didn't go up with the missile after all."
Alphos forced a weak smile at the news, but the truth was he was simply to worried to express any noticeable relief. Velocity instantly picked up on the not-so-subtle reminder of Alphos' situation.
"She was very brave," Velocity said, "We would've all been smashed if she hadn't gotten back with help. She saved us all."
"I know," Alphos said, a pained expression on his face, "But in truth, it makes me think of the irony of it all."
"We will risk our lives to save others, and yet we are rewarded for our bravery with pain and suffering," he said, "It would never stop from sticking my neck out for someone else, but it doesn't seem just. It's just not fair. In the grand scheme of things..."
"In the grand scheme of things, it's war. We don't have a say in it. We don't have a choice," Velocity said, "I know what you must be going through; I just thought I'd lost my sister. I just hope you get the same happy ending I did."
"An ending," Alphos snarled, "What ending?! When will it ever end?! When will we be able to stop getting ourselves smashed for a war we didn't even start?!"
"It's better than the alternative," Velocity said, trying to calm the obviously angered young man.
"I know," Alphos said, breathing some of the rage out of his voice, "I just wish... it was me in there instead of her. Axenya doesn't deserve this."
"Neither do you," Velocity stated, "If you hadn't have been there, the ninja wouldn't have had anyone left to save."
Alphos just hung his head in misery and concern. He was completely powerless in this situation, and he hated that. He just wished there was something he could do.
At the edge of Nimbus System, the Venture Explorer dropped out of hyperspace, and something was seriously bothering Exodus 1. Deep within his mind, something seemed wrong. Today, he had fought as any of his brethren units had, he had slain his enemies mercilessly, as swiftly and as calculatingly as he ever had. It wasn't someone that he had smashed that bothered him though, so much as it was the young warrior that had fallen to his mistress. Something about her face seemed so familiar. It wasn't that alone. The same Sentinel he had encountered in Avant Gardens and Gnarled Forest, the one known as Alphos, the one whose life he had spared for no apparent reason, had seemed distraught when the young woman was struck down. There had been something in his voice, so pained, so horrified, that Exodus 1 could have sworn he had heard it before. As far as he remembered though, he hadn't. Ever. His very first memories were of awakening in some kind of laboratory, and of swearing his loyalty to his mistress. Nothing further in his past remained in his mind. He looked down at the deep gash that Numb Chuck had left in his energy core. He knew why the wound had not destroyed him; he was unlike his fellow Exodus units. While the rest had had their minifigure forms contorted into resilient Maelstrom-based substances, Exodus 1's body had been constructed from scratch. It made him tougher, and less unstable, but sometimes he felt it unfair that he could take more punishment than his fellow cyborgs. He shook these depressing thoughts from his head and gazed out the frontal viewport of the Venture Explorer. The massive starship was descending upon a small planet, one the he himself had chosen out of the ship's database. He knew that the inhabitants of this world would not resist them, and could quickly be overwhelmed by his mistress' forces. And despite what seemed like a twinge of conscience pricking and at the back of his mind, the dark energy swirling throughout him suppressed it. This wouldn't be a meaningless attack, he reasoned, it served a military purpose. It was for that reason that when Exodus 1 descended from the Venture Explorer's interior, he didn't hold back. He disabled every innocent and helpless minifigure he saw.
And then his mistress corrupted them.
Vanda Darkflame had been overseeing the treatment of the casualties of the previous battle, and she was anything but happy about how things were going in the Nexus Tower Medical Facility. Very few of the patients were responding to treatment; their wounds were either too great, or excessive exposure to Maelstrom energy had left in a semi-corrupted state. And while she liked to act unaffected by destruction and suffering, Vanda hated losing good minifigures as much as anyone else in the Nexus Force. At the front of her mind was Axenya. She had ultimately saved Nimbus Station with her actions, and yet could pay for it with her life. And, like anyone else with any remote sense of compassion, Vanda didn't want to be the one to inform Alphos of Axenya's condition. But it had to be done. She took a deep breath and left the ER, to hunt for the young Sentinel, who was still nervously awaiting some sort of news of his friend's situation.
Alphos saw Vanda approaching, and immediately jumped to his feet. His face fell as Vanda gestured for him to sit, the threat of impending tragedy weighing down his shoulders.
"Alphos, I have news," Vanda said, "And it isn't good."
Alphos started to feel sick. Velocity Lane, still seated beside him, rested her hand on his shoulder comfortingly.
"Axenya....," he said, "Is she....?"
"For the moment, she's alive," Vanda said, "But quite frankly, I'm not sure there's anything more our doctors can do. While we were able to treat the minor Maelstrom infection around her wound, the wound itself was to great. Any form of cryogenic stasis would just put off the inevitable. We have in in a hypersleep pod right now to slow the blood loss."
Alphos hung his head in misery.
"Are you sure there is absolutely NOTHING you can do?" he pleaded, tears pricking the backs of his eyes, "Isn't there any sort of more advanced stasis, any way you could treat her?"
"I'm so sorry, Alpho....," she paused, an idea forming in her mind, "Actually, there might be something, but it's a long shot. Do you trust me?"
"At this point, I'll do anything to save her," Alphos said determinedly, "Just tell me."
"Come with me," Vanda said, "I'll tell you on the way."
As Vanda Darkflame walked down a corridor towards one of the many laboratories on these upper levels of Nexus Tower, she related her idea to Alphos.
"Doctor Overbuild and I have been working on an invention lately," she said, "It is a device created from knowledge of maelstrom-resistant alloys and energy buffers we've been using for the storage of maelstrom energy. We've been wanting to create long term storage of imagination energy for a while now, and I think we have succeeded in creating just that."
"I can understand the tactical advantage of being able to dispatch pure imagination energy to any place in the Universe. It could be even be used as a weapon of sorts, but what does that have to do with Axenya?" Alphos questioned.
"What's a Creation Spark, Alphos?"
"Imagination energy in a slightly less pure form than that of the Nexus. Everyone knows that."
"I think," Vanda continued, "That if a few minor adjustments are made to this device, it could be used to store a Creation Spark. Axenya's consciousness would be preserved indefinitely, but..."
"But what?" Alphos said, starting to feel nervous again.
"But there's no guarantee we'll be able to get her out of there once she is in it. It would most likely require a massive burst of imagination energy. Since Axenya can't speak for herself though, Alphos, it's up to you."
"Wow, I.....," Alphos started, blown away by the faction leader's generosity. Anticipating his next words, Vanda spoke.
"Alphos, the result of this undertaking could result in a revolutionary discovery in the field of Creation Sparks, not to mention the fact that despite what you think, you and Axenya deserve this opportunity. I don't know how many of our recent battles would have ended were the two of you not there. Don't sell yourself short."
Alphos went silent for a moment, pondering on the words. He wanted to save Axenya more than anything in the world, and in the end, her life was worth the risk.
"Let's do it," Alphos said determinedly.
Axenya was quickly removed from hypersleep and placed onto a gurney, where she was swifty taken to one of Vanda's sprawling laboratories.
"Ok," Vanda said, directing her attention to the four scientists in the room, "Make the adjustments. Make them snappy."
Axenya was starting to regain consciousness. Her eyes fluttered open at the sound of the commotion going on around her.
"Axenya, everything is going to be ok," Alphos said, "Just relax for now."
"What is to become of me?" Axenya groaned.
"They can't save your body, but they think they have a way of preserving your consciousness. The only problem is," Alphos paused, impending tears threatening to flow forth, "They might not be able to get you back out."
Axenya shifted her weight so she could look directly at Alphos moaning as she did so from the pain of her wound.
"Alphos, listen to me," she said, "If this is goodbye, then I want to know that you'll be ok."
Alphos' eyes went a tad bleary at her words. All his life he'd had his friends around him, first Exotus, then Axenya. Now Exotus was gone, and the thought of losing Axenya was unbearable.
"Axenya, I...," he started, but was interrupted by Vanda.
"Machine is calibrated," she said, "We only get one shot at this."
"Wait, there's something I need to say," Axenya said softly, her accent bleeding into her words more than usual, "Alphos, I know how you took losing Exotus, and yes, I'll say it was a hard thing to go through. I want you to remember though that no matter what, I want you to be happy. It seems odd, I know, but don't mourn me. Go on with your life, and don't let the ghosts of your past drag you back. You are a hero, after all, and the Nexus Force needs you."
"I'll never stop missing you, Axenya. Never," Alphos said.
"Just try to keep a level head," Axenya stammered, her breath getting shorter and her words getting softer, "And remember that I lo..."
Axenya's eyes softly shut on the outside world.
"We're losing her!" Vanda shouted, "Turn this thing on, now!"
"Containment unit, now operational," one of the scientists said, pressing some buttons on a sleek console. As he spoke, Axenya's body was surrounded by a bright blue hue, which was slowly sucked away from her lifeless form toward the containment capsule. Within seconds, the chamber was filled with glowing blue energy, and Axenya's empty body was left on the gurney.
"Transfer, successful," the scientist said, "Looks like we've perfected the tech!"
"Hush," Vanda whispered, "Let's give Alphos some time with his thoughts."
As they filed out of the room, Alphos stood over what remained of his friend. Tears now freely flowed from his cheeks.
"I love you too," he whispered.
Alphos didn't sleep at all that night. He just lay in his little rented apartment in Nexus Tower and stared at the shining metal ceiling. He sighed. Every night he had gone to sleep knowing that in the morning, there was a smiling face waiting just across the hall to help him through the day. Now that Axenya was gone, he just didn't know what to wake up to anymore. He flung the sheet off and got out of bed. He shuffled across the darkened room to a large window looking out on the chaotic expanses of Crux Prime below. Even at this hour, battles raged on the surface of the world. He was certain that no minifigure would be braving Crux Prime alone, not at this time of the night. Now he didn't have anyone. Rage built up within every fiber of his being. He plucked his ticking alarm clock from his bedside table and hurled it against the wall. The now wrecked device tumbled to the ground in pieces. Alphos slumped back down into a chair. He knew he was never going to get to sleep now. He walked over to his closet, threw on some acceptable clothes and walked out into the hallway. Now what, he thought to himself. He decided to go check out the Sentinel Room of Nexus Tower. The place was a mecca for all manner of wild and often unreasonable trades, and either way was always filled with some sort of action. And noise. Alphos really needed noise right now.
When he reached the bustling chamber, it didn't disappoint him; it was just as loud and disturbingly busy as it had always been. Maybe here he could forget the thoughts running through his mind, maybe here he wouldn't be able to hear himself think.
It didn't work. In fact, now he was just more weary and sleep-deprived than before. He figured he be better off just heading back up to his apartment and going to bed. That's exactly where he was heading when he almost ran directly into Duke Exeter.
"Oh!" Alphos exclaimed, "Sorry sir. Guess I'm just tired."
"I'm actually glad I ran into you; not literally, of course," Duke replied, "It would seem that Paradox have been looking into the events leading up to the Battle of Avant Gardens, and...."
"They have reason to believe that the Spider Queen had no reason leave her caves, unless she was being controlled by something.... or someone. They think the Wielder was responsible for it coming out of hiding," Duke paused, seeing a look of horror and rage fill Alphos' face, "I felt that you of all people deserved to know this."
"I.... I don't believe it.....," Alphos growled, "That... that... wretched.... she took everything from me!"
"I understand your pain," Duke said, as he left Alphos' presence, "Just don't do anything stupid."
After Duke had disappeared, Alphos marched off in a fury.
"She'll get hers, no matter what," Alphos snarled, "I'll make certain of it."
Alphos sat silently upon the area of the Nimbus Station launchpad in Nexus Tower. He thought about what he knew. The Wielder has smashed his only friends, and Alphos knew that if he left things up to her, he was next. Every time he closed his eyes, the horrible image of Axenya falling to the ground flooded back to him, the sight of Exotus being pounded to pieces by falling rocks haunted him as well. To think that one person had been responsible for their untimely demises, to think that one evil woman had single-handedly destroyed his life. He wouldn't let her get away with this; he would avenge his friends at all costs.
It was then that memory shot back into his mind, something he had heard in Gnarled Forest as he sat, hiding behind the bushes. He remembered his nemesis' voice flooding back to him:
"Once we're finished here, we can use our extraordinary powers to conquer Nimbus Station. There's too many civilians there for the Nexus Force to launch a full scale attack on us. And I have some plans for Crux Prime…"
"No way," Alphos said, "She's coming here! There's so much Maelstrom down there that she'll be stronger than she's ever been!"
Alphos leaped to his feet. If the Wielder planned to attack Crux Prime, she'd have Alphos to deal with. He marched off to the Nexus Tower fighter bays. Ever since Alphos had flown in the Battle of Avant Gardens, he and Axenya had been granted personal starfighters. Now he would put his craft to use. As he walked towards his starfighter, no one questioned his presence. No one asked him where he was going at this hour, nor did they even seem to notice. That worked just fine for Alphos. He strapped into the cockpit and blasted out into foggy purple skies of Crux Prime. Determination oozed out of every pore of his body. And as he shot out towards the black of space, he found exactly what he was looking for.
The Venture Explorer dropped out of hyperspace.
Alphos gritted his teeth and threw his tiny starfighter into a barrel roll while maniacally firing the forward cannons. He had acted fast enough too; he had scored a few hits before the Venture Explorer's shields could be raised. He snickered out of pure hatred as fireballs burst out of the side of the ship, indicating the damage done. Alphos didn't have long to enjoy his little victory though, for his enemy quickly returned fire. With the Venture Explorer's shields now raised, Alphos knew he need a new plan. As lethal bolt of Maelstrom energy whizzed past him, he piloted his craft towards the rear of the enemy vessel. Alphos thought back to the Battle of Avant Gardens, and remembered that the Venture Explorer's shields were weakest at the stern of the starship. That would be his target; the engines. He propelled his fighter towards its mark with all the fury he felt for his foe, with all the rage that charred his soul deep inside. He wouldn't let them get away, not again, not after what they did. He lined his fighter up perfectly with the rear of the ship, providing him with a clean shot at his target. That was when blaster fire came at him from behind.
Alphos glanced down at his dashboard, to see that two of the infected Nexus Force fighters were closing in on him. A glancing blow struck the rear of his craft, and Alphos knew he had to call off his strike, for now at least. He pulled his fighter around in an arc and returned fire at the corrupt starfighters. Alphos' deadly accuracy ripped one of the fighters in half, sending its flaming pieces spiraling down towards the barren wastelands of Crux Prime.
"One down, one to go," Alphos muttered.
The Venture Explorer had refocused its attack too. The full force of its powerful blaster cannons were now targeting Alphos. Alphos wasn't afraid though, instead, he continued his attack on the remaining enemy fighter. A few nimble maneuvers sent the infected spacecraft following him directly into the line of the Venture Explorer's fire, and the starfighter exploded in a massive fireball. Alphos smiled, not out of enjoyment, but out of satisfaction. He would make this enemy pay for the smashing of his friends, no doubt about it. He whipped his fighter back around towards the engines. Now it was just Alphos and the Venture Explorer, and one of them was going down.
That one was Alphos.
A violent blast struck the rear of Alphos' starfighter, shaking the little craft like a rag doll and thoroughly rattling its pilot to the core. Flashing lights and warning messages erupted from the control panel in front of Alphos, and he knew that he had taken a massive hit. The crippled vessel peeled off from its previous path and sped downwards towards Crux Prime. Alphos cringed. Smoke filled the cockpit, making his eyes water. The controls seemed completely unresponsive. The starfighter punched through Crux Prime's violet tinted atmosphere and continued on its descent. Alphos thought how Exotus must have felt in his final moments.
"Looks like we'll be seeing each other again pretty soon, buddy," he whispered. The jagged peaks of the rugged terrain below quickly became visible from Alphos position, and grew larger and more terrifying every second. Moments later, the main features of Crux Prime loomed before him; Caldera Mar, Aura Mar, the Maelstrom Quarry, all whizzed towards him. Alphos glanced down at his control panel, which told him he was headed straight towards the far side of the hideous scratch in the landscape of Aura Mar known as Rivendark Canyon. Odds were he wouldn't survive, let alone walk away from the crash. Alphos sighed. It wasn't like there would be anyone left to miss him. But that didn't stop him from throwing his weight into one last desperate tug on the controls. He was less than 500m from a crushing impact.
And then the fighter responded. It lifted its nose, ever so slightly, at first, but started to straighten up, but Alphos had run out of sky. Just as the craft began to tilt upwards, a hideous twisting, wrenching sound came from behind the cockpit. The battered engines whined as if in agonizing pain. The wing of what was now a not-so-spaceworthy-starfighter-turned-bobsled hit a large rock, flipping the entire craft due to its immense speed. The fighter tumbled through the air, smashing its components against the malevolent rocks sticking out of the ground, and finally ramming into a large mountain that stood out like a deadly tooth on the otherwise flat plateau. Alphos was slammed into the wall of the cockpit as the starfighter fell from the side of the peak, back onto the ground.
The fighter lay still.
So did Alphos.
In the Nexus Tower communication facility, the same unfortunate officer who had discovered the attack on Gnarled Forest was shaken out of his nap piercing alarm tone emanating from the control panel in front of him. A vessel had appeared in Crux Prime orbit, and automatic scans identified it as none other than the Venture Explorer. A few other spacecraft seemed to be involved in a dogfight around the vessel.
"Oh my bricks...," the officer breathed, as he opened up a satellite feed of the battle on the display in front of him. The two obviously infected starfighters were quickly blown to pieces by the third, which was emblazoned with the Nexus Force symbol. He watched in awe as the friendly fighter went down to shots fired from the Venture Explorer, only to see the menacing starship fade in nothingness seconds after its foe had been dealt with.
"They're cloaked," the officer said, gasped in horror as reality of the situation hit him. He ran into the hallway, screaming at the top of his lungs.
"It's an attack!" he shrieked, "They're here! SOUND THE ALARM!"
In his mad panic, he ran straight into Duke Exeter.
"It's an attack! They shot one of our fighters down! They're cloaked in orbit!! THEY'RE HERE!" he screamed in Duke's face.
"The Venture Explorer, you mean?" Duke said trying to regain his usual, almost regal composure.
"What do you mean, they shot one of ours down?"
"I saw it! Blasted out of a dogfight!"
Duke let out a sigh of disbelief.
"Alphos.....," he said, "I told him not to anything stupid! Anyway, good work soldier, back to your post. I have to warn the others."
"And to think," Duke muttered, as he walked towards the Sentinel War Room, "I was just about to make that kid a captain. I certainly hope he's hasn't gotten himself hurt."
It was war, of course. Nexus Force warriors marched onto the charred surface of Crux Prime by the hundreds, followed by a dozen heavily armed and armored Nexus Force tanks, now trundling out of their hanger on the lowest level of Nexus Tower. Starfighters streaked through the sinister violet sky, followed two dozen Nexus Force gunships. Leading the charge of battle-ready soldiers were none other than the brave Faction Leaders themselves, and they were ready for a fight. A big one.
"Scans confirm that the Wielder has not yet landed," Vanda said, "Now what?"
"We await their arrival," Doctor Overbuild said, "And hope we can end this battle before it truly begins."
"I hope you're right Albert. Either way, this could be a very short fight," Duke said grimly.
Upon one of the apparently floating rocks littered throughout the volcanic pockmark in the surface of Crux Prime known as Caldera Mar, a brilliantly glowing orb of light appeared. When that orb disappeared, the Scientist, Zegon and eighty fearless Exodus units had taken its place. And they were ready for a fight. Immediately the Scientist plunged her staff into the ground, releasing a glowing aura of purple light. All throughout Crux Prime, maelstrom creatures turned their heads. Stromlings stood alert. Mechs prepped their blaster. Dragons hovered at the ready. The Scientist raised her staff to the air.
"TO BATTLE!" she cried.
From their position in Sentinel Point Zeta, the Faction leaders noted the instantaneous behavioural changes in their chaotic foes. They knew the moment of truth was at hand.
"TO BATTLE!" Duke Exeter bellowed.
A stromling invader strode towards Duke Exeter, flailing the lethal blade mounted to its left arm. Duke stabbed at the creature with his sword, and was shocked to see the stromling nimbly dodge his attack. This moment of hesitation left the stromling enough time to send a high kick straight into Duke Exeter's chest, knocking the warrior backwards.
"Some stromlings," he muttered, as he quickly rose to his feet and this time dispatched his foe. There was no time to focus on one single opponent. Hundreds more awaited, and they were backed up by possibly thousands more. Hael Storm roared a battle cry as he charged at a mech invader, followed by two dozen more Venture League warriors, each one armed to the teeth, most notably with either a Broadsider, Rutcarver or a Slitherstriker, the Venture League Valiant weapons. Despite their weaponry though, they were still outmatched, and the minifigures fell one by one to the forces of a cluster of stromling invaders, infected pirate invaders, and the terrifying ghost samurai known as dark ronin. Horrified at the destruction of his troops, Hael Storm barely avoided his own death at the hands of his chaotic opponents, and wildly hacked out an escape route for himself with his cutlass.
Vanda Darkflame and Doc Overbuild had their own problems. Stromlings were diving at them with all the skill and agility of trained ninja, and seemed to be learning their targets' moves as they made them.
"Fascinating," Vanda Darkflame couldn't help but say, "The influence of the Wielder alone is making them more intelligent."
"Fascinating," Doctor Overbuild growled, as he sent a stromling flying into a rock wall with one of his metal arms, "That you can find that fascinating at a time like this!"
Duke cut down an admiral invader, then turned his head back towards his allies.
"You know if you two could stop bickering, we might actually win this battle!" he roared.
That's when the Exodus units arrived.
At least forty of the crazed cyborgs swooped down through the sky, firing their cannons as they went. A row of Space Marauders stepped forward, charging their Wormholers, dastardly weapons that were basically a twisted cross between a machine gun and a chainsaw. The tiny bullets from the Valiant weapon ripped into the approaching Exodus units, shattering several of them mid-flight, but not enough of them. Three dozen of them landed safely on the ground, and began blasting through the Nexus Force troops. Duke Exeter raced into close combat with these enemies, swiftly decapitating them with his glowing blue and silver sword. He soon heard shrieks of horror; 10 maelstrom dragon invaders had just occupied the sky over their heads, led by their fearsome queen known simply as Butterscorch.
"Just what I needed today," Duke grumbled, as he finished off one of the Exodus units, "Target the dragons!"
Five Nexus Force tanks trundled forward, and trained their massive imagination-enhanced cannons on Butterscorch.
"FIRE!" Duke bellowed. Bright blue energy bolts rocketed out of the tanks' blaster cannons, striking Butterscorch with enough force to blow a small hole in the side of Nexus Tower.
It just made her angry. The mighty beast, completely unharmed, swooped down at the head, and clamped down on its cannon with her powerful jaws. The massive dragon invader then took to the sky with her prize, swinging around the tank like a chew toy, then finally tossing it to the hideously barren plains just beyond Caldera Mar. The sound of the resulting explosion resounded through Crux Prime as the vehicle made contact with the ground with earth-shattering force. Then she started breathing fire. Giant plumes of flame rained down on Sentinel Point Zeta, decimating the forces. Hael Storm, seeing that their tactics were obviously failing had a new plan.
"CALL IN BOMBER JETS FOR THEM DRAGONS!" he yelled into his wrist mounted comm unit, "AND YE BETTER MAKE 'EM SNAPPY!"
And while the hideous lizards posed the greatest hazard from above, there were still 25 Exodus units coming at them the noble warriors.
The bomber jets roared through the skies of Crux Prime, led by a lethal starfighter escort. The moment they were within firing range of he dragons, blasts were exchanged. Blaster fire ripped through the air at the scaly beasts, but bounced harmlessly of the resilient hides.
"This is Crux Leader to bombers," the head fighter pilot said into his intercomm, "Bombs away."
In response, the bombers parted with their explosive cargo. Two gleaming missiles kicked away from each bomber, and headed straight for the cluster of dragon ahead of them. Several met their mark, and three of the eleven dragons perished in a cataclysmic explosion.
"On past Caldera Mar and back around," Crux Leader commanded, "We'll hit 'em again from behind."
As they neared the volcanic blister, Crux Leader noticed a high concentration of maelstrom on the surface, and his on-board scanners picked up high levels of maelstrom energy. Levels that could only have come from one thing. He opened a comm channel to the Faction Leaders back at Point Zeta, failing to notice a sickly purple beam striking down at him from orbit.
"This is Crux Leader to Nexus Leaders," he spoke, "Wielder has established base in Caldera Mar. Please advi..."
He was cut off as the powerful beam struck his starfighter, the increased maelstrom concentration on Crux Prime enabling his attacker, the Venture Explorer, to corrupt the tiny vessel and its pilot within in a matter of seconds. His fighter peeled of course, doubling back around, and then lining up its cannons with his former allies. What was now a mere stromling within the cockpit fired. Blaster fire ripped into the remaining Nexus Force craft, vaporizing some, and crippling the others. One bomber jet was led directly into the Venture Explorer's line of fire, and was quickly corrupted. Together the infected vessels and their inhumanly nimble pilots annihilated the remaining fightercraft and made a beeline for Sentinel Point Zeta. The bomber jet fired its missiles.
On the ground, nothing but chaos seemed to be prevailing. The dragons were still a major problem, and the onslaught of the terrifying Exodus units continued. The four remaining Nexus Force tanks were easily outgunned.
"WE NEED TO PUSH FORWARD!" Duke bellowed, "SO LONG AS WE STAY STILL, WE'RE VULNERABLE!"
"TO WHERE?" Doc shouted.
"ANYWHERE WE CAN!" Duke replied, "GET THOSE TANKS MOVING!"
The forces began marching further forward, hacking and slashing down their opponents as they went. It wasn't easy. More and more Nexus Force warriors were falling. Then all of a sudden, a transmission came through the Faction Leaders' comm units.
"This is Crux Leader to Nexus Leaders," a voice spoke over the intercom, "Wielder has established base in Caldera Mar. Please advi..."
Hideous tearing and grinding noises filled the other end of the line. Duke shuddered.
"I guess that's made up our mind for us!" Duke yelled, "PUSH FORWARD TO CALDERA MAR!"
As they marched at of Sentinel Point Zeta, the warm glow of Caldera Mar loomed ahead, along with their fearsome enemy. It was then that the ground forces noticed a painfully short firefight in the sky, followed by the release of two sleek, and equally destructive missile from a bomber jet that glowed with a sinister purple hue.
"RUN FOR COVER!" Vanda screamed. The missiles rocketed towards Sentinel Point Zeta, leaving a lavender-tinted smoke trail behind them. The Nexus Force troops couldn't possibly escape in time.
The twin explosions echoed through Crux Prime.
What was once Sentinel Point Zeta was now nothing but a field of half-melted tank components and smashed Nexus Force warriors. The Nexus Tower warp pad was now just a smoldering ruin. At the far end of this landscspe of death, an almost intact tank remained, although flipped on its side by the blast. Behind it, the last remaining warriors had miraculously been sheltered from the blast; those warriors being the Faction Leaders, and 12 Elite Nexus Force troopers. Doc Overbuild groaned.
"Who's dead?" he muttered, as he rose to his feet, "Sound off, if you are."
"Very funny," Vanda grumbled, as she too stood.
"Y'know, I'm startin' to wish you hadn't had me transported to that Deep Freeze launchpad, and left my to freeze on the New Frontier instead," Hael remarked.
"We COULD send you back," Vanda threatened.
"Enough," Duke commanded, as he brushed the dirt off his normally gleaming armor, "We're all that's left now. This battle is for us to win, and us alone."
One of the Elite Troopers, a Sentinel Space Ranger, stepped towards Duke Exeter.
"With all due respect, sir, we don't have the numbers," he said, "We'd be smashed the moment we stepped into Caldera Mar."
"Then we get smashed," Duke stated, "But the fact remains that the bulk of Nexus Tower's military force had just been annihilated, and we are ALL that is standing in between the Wielder and control of the Imagination Nexus! If we must die for our cause, so be it!"
"I agree," Vanda said, "We give up now, and we give up on everything we've been fighting for all these years. Aerial patrols obviously haven't spotted us yet, or else we'd already be smashed. Now is the time to move."
Doc and Hael nodded in agreement.
"This won't be over until one or both sides are smashed. We have no alternatives left. Let's move," Duke said, "TO THE ENEMY!"
With that, they picked up their scattered weaponry and dashed towards Caldera Mar, each one echoing Duke's battle-cry.
Standing atop one of the thick rock pillars protruding out of the molten core of Caldera Mar, the Scientist watched the culmination of the remaining Nexus Force troops at the edge of the behemoth crater with a malicious glee. She raised staff to the sky.
"TAKE THEM ALIVE!" she screamed, "I WANT THEM TO WITNESS THE DETRUCTION OF THEIR PRECIOUS NEXUS FORCE FIRSTHAND!"
The Exodus units gathered in the caldera snapped to attention, and nodded in unison. Zegon drew his blades.
A clicking sound emanated from the Exodus units' blasters as they activated a previously unused stun functionality in their weapons. Then they took to the sky.
Watching soaring cyborgs from the edge of the caldera, Duke Exeter held his sword in the air.
"ATTACK!" he roared, and the troops roared into action. The lone Space Marauder present used to Wormholer to gun down several of the approaching Exodus units, backed by a Space Ranger, a Daredevil and an Inventor. Their tactic was extremely effective against their enemy, but only for a moment. The Exodus units descended onto the mysteriously floating rock islands scattered throughout the Caldera, commenced with a melee approach. Their clawed metal hands made them highly superior to any ordinary minifigure in hand to hand combat, and their speed on the ground was unrivaled, making it difficult for soldiers possessing ranged attacks to target them. The moment the units were within range, they fired their blasters at the Space Marauder and the small ground accompanying him. The blasts hit their mark, instantly knocking the warriors into a deep state of maelstrom-induced unconsciousness. That's when the last Knight and last Samurai jumped into action, led by Duke Exeter. The rushed their enemies, swords drawn and at the ready. The Knight quickly hacked down one of the Exodus units, the Samurai following suit with another two. A group of 10 units had now ganged up on Duke, and they stabbed at him rapidly with their claws. Duke was too fast though, or at least his sword was. With one swift swipe of his sword, he decapitated three of the units standing in a row, while blocking the piercing, groping attacks of the others with his shield. The other Faction Leaders had also assembled similar melee strike team, each of which were hacking through waves of Exodus units and dark creatures of the maelstrom. The Sentinels managed to clear their rocky platform first, their victory was short-lived. Twin blasts of energy rocketed through the Knight and Samurai, smashing the both of them instantly. Duke recognized the blast as having only been able to come from one person, the previously anonymous swordsman that spent his time following the Wielder around in her destructive rampages.
And as he gained a better look at the man's face, Duke Exeter suddenly recognized his opponent.
"Zegon?!" he gasped, "YOU!"
"I've been waiting for this moment, Exeter," he growled, "I've been waiting for it for a long time."
Duke Exeter's fingers clenched all the tighter around his elegantly forged sword and shield, in anticipation of his foe's attack. Zegon crossed his twin blades in front of him, taking up an offensive stance.
"It's over, Duke," he said, "Any last words?"
"Indeed," Exeter retorted, "It's over for you."
As he said the words, Duke Exeter raced towards Zegon, sword held high. He brought his glowing blue and silver blade down smartly towards Zegon, who clumsily fended off the swift attack.
"It would appear that your obsession with mystical nonsense has cost you your natural talent, Zegon," Duke commented through gritted teeth, "Your technique has become sloppy."
Zegon emitted a bellow of sheer rage, and threw himself towards Duke, slashing wildly as he went. Duke held up his shield, easily deflecting the heaviest of the blows, whilst parrying the lighter ones with his blade. Zegon thrust the Blade of Light forward, but Duke casually knocked the attack away from his body. Duke thrust next, only to have his sword caught between Zegon's crossed blades.
"The end is nigh for you, Exeter," Zegon growled, "There will be no escaping this time."
"Your right, Zegon," Duke replied boldly, as he sent another blow towards his opponent, "Only it's you that won't escape."
"We'll see," said Zegon, as he swung his blades at Duke's head, neatly removing a few hairs as they glided over the warrior's scalp. In answer to the attack, Duke nimbly performed a series of backflips, kicking Zegon smartly in the chin as he tumbled backwards toward a different platform. He crossed the gap between the platforms in mid-air, not caring for the semi-solid molten rock filling the caldera below. Landing a safe distance away from the edge, Duke rose to his feet and waited for Zegon to make the next move, which he did. Zegon raised his blades, and sent sparkling bolts of lethal energy towards the object of his hatred. Duke dove out of the way, allowing the blasts to slam into the jagged rock spikes behind him.
"Any more magic tricks, master?" Duke snarled.
A small droplet of blood trickled down Alphos' forehead as he lay motionless in the cockpit of his crashed starfighter. He groaned.
"What happened?" he grunted, as his eyes fluttered open. In that second, it all came back to him; the dogfight, the Venture Explorer, the crash.
"Ugh," he groaned, "I've gotta get outta here."
In the shining glass of the cockpit, Alphos noticed his wound. He'd obviously hit his head on the control panel.
"First order of business, first aid kit," he said to himself, as he reached underneath his seat. He produced a small travel case with a large red cross on the front of it. Contained inside were some bandages, bottles of antiseptic, a pair of scissors and some emergency rations. Alphos took out a small bandage, wrapped it twice around his head and secured it with a gauzy plaster.
"That should do it," Alphos muttered. He put the kit back underneath his seat, and pulled a lever designed to manually release the cockpit. It was stuck on tight.
"Come on," he urged, as he put more of his strength onto the lever. Finally it moved, and the airtight seal around the glass bubble was broken. This was easily pushed up and out of the way, allowing Alphos to scramble out of the fighter. He swung his legs to the ground, and gingerly put his weight onto them. He was aching all over, so he had no idea if he had actually broken any bones. He slowly took a few steps, and had no problems.
"Guess that's one good thing," he said, as he walked to the edge of of the cliff he'd crashed on. Rivendark Canyon was directly below, but what worried Alphos most was he was completely cut off from the rest of Crux Prime, since he had no way to bridge the canyon, let alone survive the drop down to the other side.
That's when he had an idea. Each Nexus Force starfighter had a number of spare parachutes, parachutes that Alphos hadn't had time to use, in this occasion. Every parachute was attached to its passenger by means of four individual cords, each one about five meters long, and there were two parachutes in Alphos' starfighter.
"It'll be a long shot," Alphos muttered to himself, but still returned to his fighter and retrieved he parachutes. He unsheathed his trusty Knight's Greatsword and cut the cords loose from the 'chutes. He then tied all eight separate into one long, continuous rope. He tied on end to a fuel line on his fighter, then use his sword to remove a metal pipe from the inner workings of the craft. He tied the other end of the rope around the middle of the pipe, then smiled in satisfaction at his job. He then retrieved his shield and helmet from a small storage compartment in his fighter, donning his helmet, and slinging his shield on his back. He looked down at the unnervingly quiet battlefields of Aura Mar below. A maelstrom horseman invader was wandering near the edge of the canyon.
"That'll do it," Alphos said. He took a few steps back from the edge of the cliff, pipe in hand, then ran forward and threw the pipe like a javelin. It was the perfect length, running out of rope right over the skeletal horse's neck, and lashing itself tightly around it. The horse cried out in panic, and tried to bolt, but couldn't. Giving one last tug on the rope for security, Alphos picked up another length of pipe, and placing it over the rope and holding it with both hands, glided down the line to the rest of Crux Prime.
To see Caldera Mar at that point in time was to see a scene of utter chaos. Exodus units shot through the air, blasting at Nexus Force troops, who were being swarmed by stromling invaders and various other maelstrom nasties as they jumped from platform to platform.
Doc Overbuild's strike team, consisting of an Engineer, a Sorceror and himself were having a particularly hard time. The onslaught of twisted creatures of darkness was slowly but surely overwhelming them, and the Assembly Faction Leader wasn't sure how much longer he could last against his enemies.
"GET TO THE SIDE OF THE CALDERA!" he yelled to his men, "THEY CAN ONLY ATTACK FROM ONE DIRECTION THEN!"
A quick nod from the warriors demonstrated their acknowledgment, and they made a dash for a platform with a large rock wall behind it. As they leaped over a gap, an Exodus unit hit its mark, striking the sorcerer in the back with an energy blast. The Assembly soldier was knocked unconscious, and fell onto the unbearably hot, and frighteningly thin layer of crust that made up the floor of the caldera below. Overbuild and the Engineer made it safely onto the platform, and resumed their fight; Overbuild wielding various battle wrenches, and the Engineer carrying a Serratorizer, the Assembly Engineer Valiant Weapon. Stromlings shattered before them, but it was the Exodus units that posed the biggest threat, and they felled the Engineer seconds later. Now in a state of panic, Dr. Albert Overbuild started fighting with sheer instinct. He plunged one of his wrenches into a stromling's head, and used it to vault of the crowd that was swarming him. Vanda Darkflame and Hael Storm were fighting on their own platforms, and Doc planned to join them. It was his only chance.
His last glimmer of hope faded though as he saw the situation before him. Hael Storm's team was falling to Exodus unit fire, followed by the Venture League leader himself. Turning to Vanda Darkflame, he was horrified to see that she too had been overpowered. That left only Duke Exeter, locked in mortal combat with the fearsome swordsman.
Dr. Overbuild took not another two steps before he too was knocked into a deep, maelstrom-induced sleep.
"Don't try to play on my old sympathies, weakling!" Zegon bellowed, as he fired twin blasts ever closer to Duke's head before they were knocked away by the latter's shield.
"I see you no longer recognize sarcasm, Zegon," spat Duke, as he launched a fresh attack on Zegon. He leaped from one platform to another, dodging the attacks as he went, finally arriving back on Zegon's platform for a new melee assault.
"DON'T SMARTMOUTH ME!" Zegon roared, "Not after you personally had me thrown from the Nexus Force Academy!"
"Because all you wanted to be known as the teacher of the Sentinel Faction Leader!" Duke screamed, "It was a power trip! You were just going to use it for your own selfish benefit anyway!"
"You'll smash for that," Zegon snarled, unleashing his full fury on Duke. He repeatedly slashed his blades wildly at Duke, who blocked them successfully with his shield, then took a few odd stabs back at Zegon.
"Once, there was a part of me that wanted to believe that there was still good in you," Duke remarked, as he continued the fight.
"Now I just want to see you smashed for what you did" Duke replied, as he swung his blade high over his head like a cleaver, only to have his blade blocked from it's target by the shimmering Blade of Darkness.
"Still holding a grudge, I see," Zegon growled, as he took a swipe at Duke's legs.
"I would have forgiven you for what you did to my sister!" Duke roared, "I thought you'd changed! But when you tried to conquer Gallant V, I knew that you were nothing more than a worthless traitor! And to think I nearly gave you a third chance at the Academy! You make me sick, Zegon!"
"Fool you THRICE....."
"AAAAAAAAGH!!!" Duke cried, running towards his long-time foe. His anger seethed out of every pore of his body. The problem was, he was TOO angry.
Too angry to focus.
Zegon dealt a powerful blow to Duke's shield, knocking the legendary warrior backwards. Another slash ripped the shield from Duke's grasp. Duke retaliated valiantly, but a high kick from Zegon sent him sprawling on the ground, his sword falling from his hand and clattering to the ground just out of his reach. Zegon raised his swords to the sky, ready to smash Duke, but then he stopped dead. An Exodus stun blast had struck Duke, then another clipped Zegon on the shoulder. Zegon tumbled to the ground, moaning in pain. The menacing figure of the Scientist loomed over his semi-conscious form.
"I SAID I wanted them ALIVE," she said.
The maelstrom horseman at the end of Alphos' makeshift rope didn't stand a chance against its captor, who hit the ground at a sprinting pace, drew his sword and quickly smashed his opponent. Alphos' grim expression made way for a small smile at this first little victory, but still knew that it would be short lived if he didn't keep moving. An infected Ape invader was lumbering towards him, and well knowing the strength of his foe, Alphos readied his sword for a fight. The mighty beast stopped a few meters away from Alphos, and proceeded to pick up loose rubble off the ground and throw it at the young Knight. Debris sailed through the skies in an attempt to disable him, but Alphos was too quick on his feet. He nimbly navigated a path through the rocky projectiles, and came face to face with the chaotic beast. A few well-aimed slashes and stabs finished the creature, reducing to nothing more than a pile of shattered bricks.
It was odd, Alphos thought to himself, that the ape hadn't been more of a challenge. The Wielder was almost certainly somewhere on the surface by now, and thinking as such, all the maelstrom beasts should have been much stronger.
What Alphos didn't realize was that the menacing figure was putting all her concentration into making the denizens of Caldera Mar nigh on unstoppable.
His thoughts of confusion were converted to those of survival however, when a group of stromling invaders came his way. As he sliced through the dark creatures with his sword, he noted that once again they were as easy to defeat as ever. They weren't even receiving the intelligence "boost" experienced by other maelstrom creatures in proximity to the Wielder.
So why wasn't Alphos relieved? Obviously the Wielder wasn't on Crux Prime. He could just run back to Nexus Tower to get patched up, and let the rest of the Nexus Force handle Crux Prime.
Only that was what worried him. There wasn't another single being of imagination as far as the eye could see.
Yet he still felt as though he was being watched.
On the barren floor of Caldera Mar, Duke Exeter's eyes slowly fluttered open. He looked around; his hands were tied to a long metal pole driven into the ground, that looked like it had been salvaged from one of the destroyed Nexus Force tanks. His fellow faction leaders, alone with the elite troopers, had been bound in the same manner, and were scattered in groups of four around the caldera, the faction leaders being grouped together.
"We were wondering when you were going to wake up," Vanda said dryly to Duke.
"Ugh," Duke replied, "What happened up there?"
"That's what we be wantin' to know," Hael remarked, "I couldn't help but overhear that you have a history with that man."
"Trust Hael to be eavesdropping," Doc chuckled, despite their situation.
"It was," Duke paused, "a long time ago, back on Gallant V. When I was but a squire of about eighteen years old, in Zegon service. I was his apprentice. He was by far the greatest swordsman the kingdom, and most likely the planet, had ever known. He trained me well, up to a point."
"Go on," Hael coaxed.
"One day, we received word that one of the neighboring kingdoms was planning an attack on us. We would have been far outnumbered, and quickly beaten. Our King was considering surrender, but Zegon had a better idea. He had heard tell of a mystical object possessed of fantastic power, one that could easily turn the tide of the war. He received permission to search for it, and did so with the aid of my sister and myself. All did not go well," Duke took another short break, obviously resting form the dredging up of painful memories, "We found the ancient citadel containing the object. It was postively loaded with traps, but we managed to navigate them successfully. We finally reached the item: a strange, glowing crystal ball, crackling with all manner of chaotic energy. I should have noticed the gleam in his eye then, I should have known he couldn't be trusted, but I didn't! He took up the ball in his hands, with no regard to the traps being set of with its removal. The entire citadel began to crumble, so he used the power within the device to teleport HIMSELF out, and no one else! I ran for all I was worth, taking my sister by the hand a running for the lowest level, dragging her behind me. I ran as fast as I could, but not fast enough. As I crossed the threshold of the citadel entrance, the ceiling fell behind me, smashing my sister. Zegon could have saved us all, but he didn't. And that wasn't the last of it."
"By all means, go on," Hael remarked.
"Roughly ten years later, our King gave me a very important mission. I had by that time risen to Knight status, and I was regarded as one of the best in the King's service. Our kingdom was under attack once again, but this time, not by any one nation. Rather, the threat was one crazed man who had been hunting down ancient relics of incredible power, and planned to use them to take control of the kingdom. That man was Zegon, and I was tasked to hunt him down. I tracked him, day and night through the lush forests of our homeland, and eventually I found him. He was nothing like the man I once knew him as. His time in solitude had made him all the more selfish and pigheaded and the harrowing challenges he had overcome had turned his long uncut hair prematurely white. I knew he was a threat, and I was ready to do away with him once and for all, as he stood before me on that day. But something stopped me. He looked deep into my eyes, and told me he was doing this to save the kingdom, that our King was corrupt, and he planned to sell us all out to our enemies for his own benefit. I WANTED to believe him, and that's what he was counting on. He took my trust, my moment of hesitation, and he attacked me. I fought back gallantly, leaving him with a nasty scar. He escaped though, and in an act of pure retaliation, he razed one of our villages to the ground. I swore never to forgive him, and never to let my own personal feelings ever obstruct the path to the greater good ever again. Eventually I rose further up in rank, and received that title of Duke, not too long before I was found by a certain group of adventures bound for the Imagination Nexus."
"That it?" Hael asked.
"Not quite," Duke replied, "A few months after the war began, Zegon showed up at the Nexus Force academy, although his stay was brief. I knew we needed strong fighters to win this war, and Zegon seemed to have changed over the years, acting as if he honestly wanted to help. I was wrong. I soon found out that he was only in it for the power, and had him thrown from the Academy, as ungracefully as possible. I didn't tell you about it. I felt as though you didn't need to know."
On one of the rocky platforms high above, the Scientist held her staff to the air.
"Exodus units! Rise! Seek out every last living creature on this rock, and destroy them!" she screamed.
Somehow, Alphos knew that he had to push on. Something was wrong, and he had to find out what it was.
A group of Dark Ronin Invaders approached him, and Alphos quickly slew them. Another group of Pirates approached, and were just as easily dealt with.
Their level of difficulty was disturbingly easy.
Alphos continued his run through Aura Mar, hacking and slashing at all manner of dark creatures, until something unexpected happened. He was attacking a brutish Maelstrom Ape Invader blocking his path, when a bolt of purple energy whizzed past his shoulder. Alphos whipped around to see the shooter; and Exodus unit.
"So much for the Wielder being gone," Alphos grumbled, as he leaped into action. He ran at his new opponent, sword drawn. He swung his weapon in a great arc at the cyborg's head, but a swift dodging maneuver on the part of the menacing super soldier left the attack as a failed one. Regrouping its senses, the unit launched a barrage of fire at the young Sentinel Knight, who held up his shield to block most of the incoming attacks while he dove away from the rest. As Alphos got to his feet though, something slammed into his shoulder; the ape had partaken in the apparently species-wide habit of rock throwing, and a stray stone had slammed into Alphos. Pain shot through Alphos' upper body, but he ignored it, and simply took it as a reminder that the fearsome primate was still a primary threat to his survival here. He threw himself back into his attack.
The Exodus unit continued his assault as well, sending showers of lethal energy rocketing towards Alphos. But failure was not an option for Alphos, who once again dodged the attacks, and managed to thrust himself closer to his opponent. Discarding his ranged approach, the Exodus unit reached out and grabbed the blade of Alphos' sword with his claw-like hand and ripped the handle of the weapon out of Alphos' hands. Now unarmed, Alphos tried slamming his shield into the Exodus unit's face, who merely absorbed the blow and knocked Alphos to the ground. Alphos desperately tried to scramble to his feet, but the monstrous cyborg put one of its own feet on Alphos' stomach, pinning him down. The twin blasters mounted to the unit's back trained themselves onto Alphos chest.
Shots rang out.
A pair of eyes watched on as a lone minifigure battled for his life against a maelstrom ape invader and an Exodus unit. As the fight raged on, something seemed very wrong in the mind of the observer. He had seen minifigures smashed before, that was for certain, but something was different about this one in particular. He recognized the minifigure's face; a young man by the name of Alphos, one he had only laid eyes on recently, yet felt as if he'd known him for years. The looker on wanted to help, but knew he couldn't. Something was compelling about the young warrior's facial expression as he fought though, something so familiar, it was uncanny.
The watcher saw Alphos' being struck by the rocks, he watched him dodge the blaster fire, he saw Alphos' sword being wrenched away from him, and finally the young warrior himself being thrown to the ground and pinned down.
And then he remembered EVERYTHING. Who watched
He remembered a fearsome battle with the Spider Queen in Avant Gardens, he remembered years spent in the Nexus Force Academy, he remembered the long lazy days of his youth back on Morcio, he remembered his friends' initial disappointment at his choice to be a Paradoxian. He remembered times and places so far removed from the here and now that they seemed like a lifetime ago, and yet ever relevant to the moment. And he knew that his next action would decide the life of Alphos. As the blasters of the menacing Exodus unit trained themselves on Alphos, the observer took aim as well. And when shots were fired, it was the Exodus unit who fell.
The shooter was Exodus 1.
The shooter was Exotus.
As the Venture Explorer slowly descended from orbit, all those inside Nexus Tower were in a state of panic. With the Faction Leaders unresponsive, immediate control of available forces went to their second-in-commands(Bullet Mullet, Jett Moonshot, Augie Ninewells and Meyer Muckrake) who were now gathering for an emergency meeting.
"What are we going to do? The Venture Explorer has no purpose here now that Crux is taken, so why is it descending from orbit?" Meyer Muckrake questioned.
"No doubt they are moving in for an attack on Nexus Tower itself. If their maelstrom-based weapons penetrate our ground based shields and so much as STROKE the Nexus, our war is lost," Augie Ninewells commented.
"Seconded," Jett Moonshot said, "So what do you suggest we do? What would the Faction Leaders do?"
"We throw everything we have at them," Bullet Mullet said gravely, "The Creation is repaired, correct?"
"Almost entirely," Augie replied, "But we can rush it out now."
"Good," said Bullet, "I propose we bring the Avenger and the Creation into defensive positions around the tower. We hold off the Venture Explorer long enough for the leaders to come up with something. All who agree say I."
"Excellent," Bullet Mullet said, "prepare for battle."
By the time the warships had taken their position around the tower, the Venture Explorer was already in its own position, and an aggressive one at that; its forward cannons were aimed directly at Nexus Tower. Bullet Mullet attempted to open a connection.
"This is Bullet Mullet of the Sentinel Avenger," he said, "Power down your weapons and move away from the Tower or we will be forced to destroy you."
A semi-robotic face appeared on the other end of the line.
"We will not move, and I assure you that the destruction you promise will be returned," the face, that of an Exodus unit, said.
"Fine," Bullet Mullet said, as he cut the communication, "Mutually assured destruction it is."
"Alphos....." Exotus murmured. He ran over to his to his friend, who had quickly risen to his feet, sword in hand, and an safe distance from the angry ape. Before Exotus could approach any further, Alphos took a defensive stance.
"Why did you shoot one of your own," Alphos demanded, "Answer me!"
"I... I could let you die," Exotus replied.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, it's me, Alphos. It's Exotus."
"You're lying. My friend is smashed."
"No, you don't know the whole story," Exotus said, "After our battle with the Spider Queen, my body was destroyed, but she took me in. She kept what could of me alive, while she constructed a new body for me. This one. She brainwashed into being her servant and made an army in my image. Don't you get it? We were the guinea pigs! She didn't want to smash us! If she hadn't taken me, she would've taken you instead!"
"Why should I believe you?"
"Because, Alphos," Exotus pleaded, "I had several chances to smash you, but I didn't. Something inside me told me I couldn't. I couldn't see halfway past my nose, but I knew that much. I was the one that release the escape pods from the Venture Explorer, the ones that saved Gnarled Forest. I was the one who spared your life in Avant Gardens, when you were on the ground in front of me. And when I saw Axenya go down in Nimbus Station, something told me that what was happening was very, very wrong. She is ok, right?"
"They couldn't save her, so they found a way to put her Creation Spark in a sort of stasus. Whether or not they can get her out depends on how much imagination the task will require."
"I'm.... I'm so sorry, Alphos," Exotus said, "But you're not friendless yet. Trust me."
"As Alphos stared past the cyborg's visor, into his one good eye, Alphos saw true sincerity, and truth of spirit. Truth that simply couldn't be faked.
"Exotus.... I never thought I see you again," Alphos stammered, as he gripped his now mechanical friend in a rough hug, then went solemn again.
"Wait a second," Alphos said, "What about the Wielder?"
"I wish it was sunshine and rainbows, buddy, but it's not. She's holding the faction leaders and some elite troops in Caldera Mar, and she gonna try to corrupt the Imagination Nexus. Everyone else is history, or at least walled up in Nexus Tower. The tower's ground based shields make it impossible for her to make a ground assault, but she has troops stationed right outside to stop anyone from getting out. Aerial assault is the tower's weakness, and she plans to exploit that. Nexus Force will probably send at some ships to take down the Venture Explorer, but I'm sure you've already seen that they won't be much of a match for it. Basically," Exotus concluded, "We're all the Nexus has left."
"So be it," Alphos said, "We need a plan."
A wave of starfighters hurtled through the sky towards the Venture Explorer, energy weapons blazing and the two Nexus warships Avenger and Creation close behind. As the first shots were exchanged, fiery explosions ripped through the air, leaving smoldering fighter debris to tumble to the wrethed battlefields of Crux Prime below. And while panic and haste was all that existed aboard the Sentinel and Assembly ships, the crew of the Venture Explorer were calm and emotionless. Exodus 23 was leading the attack.
"Prepare the forward cannons," she commanded lifelessly, "Divert power to rear thrusters and charge to full capacity."
The other Exodus units aboard gave a quick nod, and got to work at their control panels. The menacing weapons at the front of the ship started to emit a sickening purple glow indicative of the power they contained.
The crew of the Creation were not amused.
"Sir, we're getting an energy buildup from the forward weapons!" one officer said.
"Target their weapons!" was Augie Ninewells' reply, "We might be able to take them out in a chain reaction! Bring the fighters 'round to do the same!"
There was, of course another problem. The Venture Explorer's rapidly growing squadron of corrupted starfighters was launching a fresh attack on the larger vessels, and their superior shields allowed them to fly straight through those of the Nexus Force. An explosion ripped into the hull of the Creation.
"Sir, some enemy starfighters have breached our shields! They're taking us out from the inside!"
"Call off the main attack and shoot down those fighters! We'll be no good to anyone once this ship goes down!" Augie bellowed. Another blast shook the entire vessel.
"NOW!" Augie yelled.
Alphos and Exotus ran. They knew they had to reach Caldera Mar as soon as possible, or the consequences would be dire. As a group of stromling invaders rushed towards them, Alphos and Exotus smashed them easily. As a cluster of Ronin approached, Exotus blasted them down. Their only fear was that they were not traveling fast enough. They swiftly reached the southernmost edge of Aura Mar, which branched into Studburst Pass, and the Maelstrom Quarry, both of which connecting to Caldera Mar, but the latter filled with the mysterious Skeletons of a world known as Ninjago.
"Let's go through Studburst Pass," Alphos said, "It'll be faster."
"Shh!" Exotus said, "You must be quiet. If any of the other Exodus units see us together, we're ruined."
"Okay," replied Alphos, "But let's keep up the pace, nonetheless."
So the two friends slunk quietly through Studburst Pass, pausing momentary to note an obviously terrified food vendor known as Heimlich Stewblaster. They ensured his safety in his current position and continued to slink to their destination. Exotus chuckled to himself as they went.
"Did you see the look on old Heimlich's face when he saw me?" he said, "He nearly jumped out of his skin!"
"Yeah," Alphos said, "Just like in third grade when that creep dumped me in the trash can, and you scared him away."
"Exotus to the rescue," the cyborg chuckled, "Always helps to have a tough guy on your side. But hey, look who's the warrior now. You've become a real hero, Alphos."
Alphos paused, flattered and rather taken aback by his friend's comment.
"Do you think," Alphos queried, "that they can undo what's been done to you?"
The smile on Exotus' armor concealed mouth faded, as the reality of his situation slapped him in the face for the tenth time since his memory returned.
"Nothing short of a more minifigure-looking robot body would help me, pal," Exotus said glumly, "For the time being, I'm stuck this way."
Alphos expression also changed at Exotus' response, but there was no more time for reflection now.
They had reached the edge of Caldera Mar.
And what they saw struck terror into their hearts.
Alphos and Exotus could see the Venture Explorer locked in mortal combat with the two Nexus Fore vessels high above their heads, but that wasn't the worst of it. Standing at the ready upon every platform of Caldera Mar were a few dozen assorted maelstrom creatures. In the actual Caldera below, the faction leaders and their elite troopers sat bound to posts in groups of four, each group guarded by two Exodus units. Perched upon the center platform was the Wielder herself, her staff glowing with a violet fury.
"Well this is bad," Alphos said.
"I know," Exotus said, "but what's important is that we maintain the element of surprise."
"I'll fly you down to the Caldera, where you can release the prisoners, while I take out the Wielder myself. She'll never see it coming."
"What about the guards?" Alphos queried. Exotus glanced around the surrounding area and spied a blaster rifle belonging to a Nexus Force guard. He retrieved it, and handed it to Alphos.
"Ok, if this is going to work, we need to take out all of the guards at once," Exotus said, "If they have enough time to react, they'll make our position."
"Ok, there are eight guards down there, so we take four each?"
"Yep. Should be easy with these," Exotus said, gesturing to his blaster, "You'll just have to try to keep up."
"Got it," Alphos said, with a smile creeping across his face, "Speed is our only ally for this one."
"And stealth," Exotus replied, "Now take aim, and stay in shadow. Just get the prisoner to their weapons."
"Sure thing," Alphos said, then raised the blaster rifle, "On three. One, two, three!"
Blaster fire rained down on the caldera, and the guards quickly fell. Exotus scooped up Alphos under his arms.
"You ready?" Exotus said.
"Yep. Now let's kick some brick."
Exotus jumped feet first into the caldera, using his anti-grav pack to break his fall as he went. He gently set Alphos down on the ground, then darted up into the air.
Alphos was ready for this fight. He ran over to the imprisoned Faction Leaders, sword drawn. A few quick slashes cut their bindings, and the noble warriors quickly rose to their feet.
"Your weapons are over there!" Alphos shouted, "Just go!"
"You deserve a medal for excellent timing, Alphos!" Duke shouted, "Now free the the troops!"
Alphos darted over to the next group of prisoners, quickly freeing them in the same way. Again he directed them to their weapons, and again he continued on his way. He was just about to free the second group of troopers when a gleaming energy bolt ripped past his head.
"You," Alphos spat, "To what do I owe the displeasure?"
"Call me by my name, Alphos, your Faction Leader knows it well enough."
"I couldn't care less," Alphos said, "All that matters is that you're going down."
Alphos made a fresh dash at Zegon, thrusting his greatsword as he went. Zegon was ready, however, and no sooner had he deflected Alphos' attack did he launch one of his own, swinging his fearsome blades in wide arcs sufficient to decapitate a maelstrom dragon invader. By now, maelstrom creatures had begun to flood into the caldera, ready to battle their escaped foes, but Alphos had no time for them. He dove to the side and rolled out of the way of Zegon's attacks, then jumped back to his feet in time to make a quick lunge for his torso. Zegon would not have that. He brought his swords back in a massive backswing when he heard the sound of something metallic. He sung himself around to find himself face to face with none other than Duke Exeter.
"Free the other prisoners Alphos!" Duke bellowed, "I'll take Zegon myself!"
As the two swordsmen engaged in battle, Alphos did what he was told. He ran.
As chaos broke out in the caldera below, Exotus flew up to the platform supporting the Wielder.
"Exodus 1, what have you learned?" she snapped.
"It would appear we have a visitor, and he's releasing the prisoners," he replied.
"No, REALLY?!" she yelled, "Get down there and destroy him!"
"Yes mistress," the cyborg replied as he eyed the Wielder's staff up and down, "Alternatively....."
Exotus dove for the weapon, completely taking the Wielder by surprise. His metallic hands clasped around the long handle, and he tried to rip it away from its owner. Stunned, the Wielder yanked back with all her might.
"WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?" she screamed.
"Why am I doing this?" Exotus bellowed in his semi-robotic voice, "I'm doing this for all the minifigures that you've tortured, and smashed and turned into one of me! I'm doing this for the Nexus Force!"
"Exodus 1, YOU TRAITO..."
"DON'T call me that!" he shouted, "My name is Exotus!"
"In that case, EXOTUS," she mocked, as she struggled for control of the staff, "You must know that you will have no use for a name once I through with you!"
Upon saying the words, she let out a roar of anger and pushed Exotus back with all her might, causing him to topple over and fall flat on his back. In this moment, the Scientist pushed her staff up against Exotus' neck, pinning him down. With a quick, fluid motion, Exotus gathered his strength and thrust the staff off him, forcing his opponent backwards. Seeing his mistress' peril, an Exodus unit flew up from below, charging its blasters mid-flight.
From the fiery cauldron below, a shot rang out. An energy blast ripped through the air into the Exodus unit's back, causing an inevitable chain reaction that resulted in the small explosion of the cyborg.
Alphos had fired the shot, but he had no time to enjoy his little victory; a crowd of stromling invaders was closing in on him from behind. Hearing the thunderous footfall, Alphos turned to face the cluster of dark creatures, unleashing a volley of blaster fire onto them with his rifle. His aim nigh on flawless, and the invaders were all felled with a shot each at the most(since one blast actually went through one stromling and smashed another). One challenge, down.
At least a couple thousand more to go.
Two horseman invaders were changing towards Alphos, led by a dark ronin invader capable of striking fear into the heart of even the most fearless of ninja; a battle hardened chaotic warrior known simply as Grim Daisho. While Alphos had heard tell(and experienced first-hand) that Grim Daisho was a difficult enemy to face, he knew all too well that this creature's effectiveness would be exponentially increased under the control of the Wielder.
"I've faced this guy before," Alphos muttered with a touch of sarcasm, "How hard could it be?"
He drew his sword and rushed towards the ronin, landing a blow firmly on its glowing purplish-pink chestplate but withdrawing out of range when Daisho took a swipe at him with his katana. Alphos knew he couldn't waste too much time on him though; the horsemen were circling around him, preparing to fight. One mount finally lowered his fearsome scythe-tipped lance towards Alphos, releasing an easily deadly blast of maelstrom energy. Alphos sidestepped the blow easily, but not before the skeletal horse pounded the ground with its tainted hooves, releasing a maelstrom enhanced shockwave that knocked Alphos to the ground. And that was only the first of his problems; there were Exodus units coming for him.
A cluster of Nexus Force starfighters swarmed the Assembly Creation in a mad attempt to shoot down the corrupted vessels attacking the massive warship. The Avenger had also called of its primary fighter attack in an attempt to rescue its sister ship, and it was working; the fighters were slowly being defeated. This exactly what the crew of the Venture Explorer wanted however, for even as the Nexus Force officers enjoyed their little victory, Exodus 23 had the cannons trained on Nexus Tower, and was almost ready to fire.
In the tireless struggle between Exotus and the Wielder, Exotus drew the staff a little closer to towards his body. The crystal tipping the weapon glowed.
"Cannons are charged to 100% capacity," an Exodus unit aboard the Venture Explorer said. Even as the words were spoken, Exodus 23 seemed deep in concentration.
"Hold fire," she said.
The Avenger's starfighters, having eliminated the threat to the Creation, plotted a course back towards the Venture Explorer, weapons blazing. Aboard the Avenger itself, confusion abounded.
"Mission Commander Mullet, sir," one officer said, "The Venture Explorer's cannons are charged to full capacity, and they have a clear shot at the Tower, but they're not firing."
"They're baiting us," Bullet Mullet said, "Concentrate all fire on their engines. We'll have to expend their shields."
Every gun on the Avenger hummed to life at that command, all with the same target programmed into them. Dozens of bright blue energy bolts leaped towards the rear of the Venture Explorer, striking its shields repeatedly. The bombardment of energy in a single was too much for the shields to sustain, and a portion directly above the engines went down.
The Wielder pulled her staff closer to her, and once again the crystal glowed.
As the Venture Explorer rocked violently with the blow to its heavily armored engines, Exodus 23 snapped to her senses. The entire warship was pushed further from its target.
"FIRE!" she said.
The cannons mounted to the front of the Venture Explorer spewed forth incredibly powerful blasts of maelstrom energy, but with the battering of the ship, the blast didn't hit Nexus Tower.
They punched a hole right through the front of the Avenger, and out the other side.
Alphos had to move quickly. As another skeletal horse reared up on its hind legs crush Alphos, the young knight rolled to the side and leaped to his feet. A few well-aimed stabs felled the undead beast, followed quickly by its ghostly rider. Alphos then nimbly raised his shield as the approaching Exodus units released a barrage of blaster fire, then turned to deflect a heavy katana blow of Grim Daisho's. The remaining horseman charged his beast at his opponent, who responded by diving to the ground next to the horse, sword drawn, which essentially removed the maelstrom creature's legs. The rider was thrown from his mount, where he soon met Alphos' blade. Now it was just Grim Daisho and Exodus units to face.... in this part of the caldera, at least.
Alphos bravely ran towards Grim Daisho once again, this time swinging his sword around his head like a pair of nunchucks. The tactic worked; Alphos was able to land several blows to the Dark Ronin's helm, before eventually having to step back in order to avoid being smashed by the befuddled creature. The bashed Ronin let out a few ominous grumbles under his misty purple breath, it didn't take a stromling interpreter to tell Alphos that either the creature was cursing him out, or actually putting a curse on him. Alphos didn't care. After taking a few seconds to regain his strength, he threw himself back into the fight with relentless force. Grim Daisho thrust his gleaming purple blade at Alphos, whose powerful parry met the Ronin's equally powerful blow with such force that neither bblade was throw from the other; they stood there, blades locked, like two ancient warriors engaged in a spiteful battle to the smash. Alphos was the first to act. He removed his sword from the path of his foe's and quickly sidestepped to avoid being impaled by his opponent's blade. Instead he attacked Daisho from his momentarily vulnerable side, and succeeded in perform a wide swipe that sliced off Grim's left arm. A stray energy blast from the sky reminded Alphos that the Ronin invader was not his biggest problem though, and so after dealing his damage, Alphos stepped back from Grim Daisho, threw his sword and shield to the ground and pulled the Nexus Force sniper rifle off his back. Raising the powerful weapon to the sky, Alphos gunned down the first of the two attacking Exodus units, and winged the anti-gravitational booster of the other, leaving the cyborg to spiral out of control and eventually strike the mountainside with explosive force. Seeing Alphos already occupied, Grim Daisho approached once again. But having defeated the two attacking cyborgs, Alphos was far from being easy prey. Noticing the Ronin's approach, Alphos swiveled on his foot and leveled the barrel of the rifle with Grim Daisho's head. A few quick shots reduced the ghostly warrior to a smoldering pile of bricks. Of course Alphos knew that the Ronin would just rebuild somewhere else on Crux Prime, a power granted him by Baron Typonus, and shared exclusively with the other head maelstrom invaders on Crux Prime, but Alphos didn't care. Daisho hadn't rebuilt in Caldera Mar, and that was all he cared about.
Alphos suppressed a smile at his success in spite of himself; another five Exodus units were making a aerial run for him.
In the half-vaporized bridge of the Sentinel Avenger, Bullet Mullet couldn't believe that he was still alive.
"D...damage r...re...report!" he stammered. A surviving officer, still seated at his console, grimaced at the data on his screen.
"We were lucky," he said, "Blast missed our engines and hyperdrive, but it took our anti-grav outta commission. We're going down!"
Even as the minifigure spoke, Bullet Mullet felt the vessel slowly losing altitude. Obviously the anti-gravitational systems weren't completely offline, just maimed. They weren't going to keep the warship airborne though.
"Full power to navigational thrusters!" Bullet bellowed, "Tilt up her nose! We'll set her down in the wastelands beyond Caldera Mar! And get a casualty report!"
"24 smashed, 89 missing!"
"BRACE FOR IMPACT!"
Bullet Mullet cringed. He wondered how it would feel when the warship touched down. Would the force of impact collapse the bridge, crushing himself and everyone else near him into a fine minifigure powder? Or would the crash rupture the engines, or worse, the hyperdrive, setting off a devastating explosion. As the navigational thruster began to do their job and tilt the nose of the vessel upwards, Bullet Mullet breathed a sigh of relief, realizing that he wouldn't be crushed.
No, he remembered, I'll probably go up in a fiery explosion.
He squeezed eyes shut and waited for the impact. The massive warship, as broad as Nexus Tower itself, and with more destructive capability than a hundred maelstrom dragons, finally lost its anti-gravitational systems, a mere 5 stories off the flat, barren plains beyond Caldera Mar, and all aboard felt it happen. Bullet squeezed the armrests of his chair as hard as his sweaty hands would allow.
"For the Nexus," he muttered, as a shattering blow the rear shook the entire ship. The heaving vessel's front end struck the ground with equal force, as the Avenger continued to grind forward, mashing its lower levels into scrap.
And finally, the ship lay still.
Blasts pitted the soft volcanic rock beneath Alphos' feet as the Exodus units raced towards him. Alphos dove to the ground and rolled out of reach. Seeing that their target could evade their blaster fire indefinitely, the Exodus units went in for a more personal approach. As Alphos jumped back to his feet, the cyborgs landed in a circle around him, blasters at the ready.
Among the ready blasters was Alphos'.
Alphos made a dive for the Exodus unit he was facing, slamming the rifle butt into the side of the cyborg's head. The creature roared in pain, then fell to the ground in a smoldering heap after Alphos fired a shot to finish it off. Stunned by the quick assault, the remaining Exodus units hadn't reacted. They quickly came to their senses once Alphos spun on his heel and blasted several holes into another cyborg's chest. Three now remained, and they took to the sky once again. Alphos carefully followed them via the sight of the rifle, but the soon disappeared from sight.
A few seconds later, two out of the three Exodus unit made another aerial run for Alphos. The energy blasts from their weapons pulverized the ground, breaking through the thin rocky crust and exposing the molten rock beneath. Alphos had no choice but to run, the lethal energy blasts hot on his tail. Much to his dismay, the third Exodus unit reappeared, and landed on the ground about ten meters from Alphos.
He was trapped, but kept running.
The blasts rained down closer and closer behind Alphos' heels, and he could feel the heat coming off the molten rock that was now bubbling to the surface. He saw the Exodus unit that he was bolting towards ready his blasters. He kept running.
When he finally reached the Exodus unit, he planted his hands firmly on its shoulders, and used all the speed he had build up to vault himself up and over the cyborg's head. Clearing the metal skull of the creature, Alphos tumbled to the ground behind the cyborg, who was quickly destroyed by the other two Exodus units, being that they failed to respond to their target's tactic in time. Shocked that they had smashed one of their own, the remaining two Exodus units hovered in the air for a few seconds, idle. That was all Alphos needed to pull the blaster rifle slung around his neck into a comfortable firing position. Both cyborgs exploded in a ball of flame; Alphos' blasts had ruptured their unstable cores.
"Game over for them," Alphos muttered. Having eliminated his attackers for the time being, Alphos glanced up at the platform where Exotus and the Wielder were still struggling for control of the staff. Alphos knew he had to help. He ran to the nearest Venture League transport bouncer and jumped on.
Zegon was still locked in combat with Duke Exeter, and both warriors knew that they were only one false move away from being smashed at the other's hand. Zegon had leaped and thrust and dove at Duke Exeter, but each of his assaults had been masterfully blocked, as were Duke's attacks by Zegon. In a moment after a short clash of blades, the two of them stood silent, sizing the other one up.
"If I do say so myself,"Zegon commented, "I certainly taught you well."
"That's what makes me the one best qualified to defeat you," Duke replied with a snarl.
"It's also what makes me best qualified to defeat YOU!" Zegon bellowed, and took another dive towards Duke. He carved the air with his blade as he raced towards his former apprentice, desperate to smash the noble warrior. Duke wouldn't have it. He casually tossed Zegon's attacks aside with his shield, then dealt him a high kick to the gut that sent Zegon sprawling into the ash covered caldera floor. The hot ash got into his eyes, causing his eyes to run. As he staggered to his feet, the whole world was a glowing molten blur around him, the heat radiating off the lava dripping off the caldera walls making Zegon all the more hot and uncomfortable.
"I hate volcanoes," Zegon muttered to himself, "The light isn't supposed to come from inside the ground."
But as he blinked his eyesight back to normality, and threw himself back into the fight wight Duke, something about the words he had just said seemed very familiar to him. As he fought, he played it back in his head.
"The light isn't supposed to come from inside the ground."
"The light isn't supposed to come from within the ground."
"Where the light comes from within the ground."
"Where the light comes from within."
"There you will unlock the powers of Eternity."
Zegon nearly dropped his swords.
"How blind I've been!" he exclaimed, as he dealt a small gash to Duke's left arm. He looked down at his blades, and only then did he notice that were enshrouded in a strange golden hue.
"It's here," he said, "It's HERE!"
Too far lost to greed to bother to finish off Duke Exeter, Zegon released a blast of energy that cracked open the ground between him and his opponent, leaving the wounded Exeter unable to pursue.
"Come back here and fight like a man!" Duke bellowed. Zegon just shrugged it off. Somewhere within Caldera Mar was the Blade of Eternity, and the next time he and Duke Exeter met in combat, the two of them wouldn't both be walking away from it.
Exotus was still madly wrestling for control of the staff. Even with his superior strength, the Wielder's resolve and determination was nigh on unstoppable. The Wielder had managed to twist herself behind Exotus, while still holding the staff. She quickly forced the handle up and over Exotus' head, catching it underneath his jaw in such a position suitable to choke most minifigures. Exotus' metal plated neck prevented this from happened of course, but pushing the staff away from his neck was now doing pushups.
The Wielder hung on with all her might, dragging the staff backwards. Exotus pushed as hard as he could though, and succeeded too. He ripped the staff away from his neck, flipping the Wielder over his head in the process. The Wielder expected this though, and landed on her feet, quickly grabbing the staff in new positions and turning to face Exotus once again.
"Why do you even bother to resist?!" Exotus said, "You know that you made me stronger than you!"
"That's EXACTLY why I resist!" the Wielder snapped, "I MADE you!"
"You made me a monster."
The Wielder screamed with anger, then twisted the weapon upward. Again the staff glowed. From out of the sky, a massive blast ripped towards Exotus, who barely avoided it before he was vaporized along with half of the platform they were standing on.
"And this is why you won't win!" Exotus yelled, "You cheat!"
Alphos had just bounced up onto a nearby platform from the caldera below, and was now jumping from platform to platform towards his fighting friend.
If Crux Prime were ten times as loud and chaotic, it would form a perfect description of the Assembly Creation at that moment. Officers ran madly about the numerous decks of the vessel, diving towards gun turrets and whatever other weaponry they could get their hands on. Technicians worriedly scurried about, waiting for the next enemy blast to give them something to fix. Aboard the bridge of this, the last remaining spaceworthy Nexus Force warship, Augie Ninewells looked like he had been dragged through hot coals, dunked headfirst in an Olympic swimming pool and hung out to dry. In short, he was strained out of his mind.
"How does Doc Overbuild manage?" he muttered to himself.
"Sir, we have confirmed crash of the Sentinel Avenger, shall we search for survivors?" an officer asked. Augie frowned. Leaving the crash site unsearched could mean the end of many valiant minifigures, but pulling off from their current position risked the goal of the Nexus Force itself; to protect the Imagination Nexus at all costs.
At all costs. Augie hated those words. They sounded so cruel, so callous, but he knew they held meaning.
"No," he replied sternly, "Stay on target. We must stop the Venture Explorer at all costs."
Even as the reply came, an energy bolt leaped towards the Creation, striking the vessel's shields full force. The strength of the blast rocked the entire ship.
"Damage report!" Augie cried.
"Shields at 10%! We can't take another!"
"ALL NON-ESSENTIAL PERSONELL TO THE ESCAPE PODS! BRACE FOR IMPACT"
The cannons at the front of the Venture Explorer glowed with their sickly purple energy, building upp enough power within them to take out the Creation once and for all. Augie knew this was the end. He cringed, and waited for the final blow.
It didn't come.
Zegon was beyond excited. If the Blade of Eternity really lay somewhere within Caldera Mar, he would find it, and when he did, he would become the most powerful being in the Universe. There was only one problem; Caldera Mar was massive compared to one sword that was probably buried anyway. How would Zegon find it?
The glow. The Blades of Light and Darkness had glowed ever since Zegon had reached Caldera Mar, and that was probably the key to finding the Blade of Eternity. Zegon almost cackled with mad glee. He held the Blade of Darkness in front of himself, and walked towards a rock pillar in the center of the Caldera. The strange glow enshrouding the weapon became duller, and less obvious.
"Wrong way," Zegon said. Clearly, the blade wasn't in the center of the caldera, or even in its opposite wall. He turned 180 degrees and recommenced walking. The glow soon returned to its former strength, and as Zegon continued towards the nearest wall, it became brighter.
"It's behind the wall!" Zegon exclaimed frustratedly. The problem with the Blade of Eternity being behind the wall was a simple one; the caldera floor itself was like a island floating on a sea of magma, and a thick layer of lava flowed down the caldera wall(from internal dikes) and between the small gap between wall and floor at all times. In short, anyone trying to get behind the wall would end up as one thing, and one thing only.
"There has to be a way," Zegon muttered. Putting the obvious issue aside, he decided to determine exactly where behind the lava wall the weapon was. Erring on the side of caution, he walked along the wall in the direction the any sane megalomaniac would; away from the fighting faction leaders and Nexus Force elite troops. Sure enough, as he paced along the ground, the Blade of Darkness glowed brighter.
Zegon stopped dead in his tracks. He quickly took a step backwards, and the weapon in his hand once again regained what was by now, a near blinding glow. A wide smile crossed Zegon's face.
"It's here!" he said, "It's behind HERE!"
As Zegon held his blade towards the caldera wall, the lava curtain covering the rock face slowly seemed draw aside, as if by magic. And while the hot molten rock parted slowly, Zegon was quickly able to glimpse what was behind it; a dark, rocky passageway.
Battle raged in the bottom of Caldera Mar, with no sign of stopping anytime soon. In fact, the stromling hordes and Nexus Force warriors seemed equally matched. Duke Exeter, having had his battle with Zegon cut short, ignored his wounded arm and ran back to his fighting comrades.
"I hope none of you have gotten yourselves smashed yet!" he cried as he came closer. Hearing his cry, a pair of stromlings broke of from the main pack, but Duke quickly reduced them to bricks with his sword.
"We handled things JUST FINE without ye!" Hael Storm remarked, as he too finished off another couple of stromlings.
"We don't seem to be getting anywhere!" Duke said, "We need to end this!"
Vanda was obviously getting frustrated.
"Well how about you come up with a plan to end things that doesn't involve as ending up smashed?!" she snapped, "In the meantime, help us with these stromlings!"
Duke wasn't going to start a fight now. He nobly jumped into the fray, hacking and slashing at the stromlings. A group of mech invaders approached, and were soon dealt with. Pirates and admirals came next, but they fell as well.
"Guess we just might win this thing after all!" Doc Overbuild commented. It would seem he spoke to soon, however; at that moment, out of the thin, barely solid crust of the caldera floor, came one, two, three, four, ten, thirty, at least four dozen dark ronin invaders.
"I hate when this happens," Doc snarled. The ghostlike creatures swarmed the Nexus Force warriors. Within seconds, the Elite Adventurer and Shinobi fell to their blades. A few more seconds saw the demise of the Engineer and Space Ranger.
"RETREAT!" Duke cried.
That time it was Duke who spoke too soon. At that moment, all of the ronin stopped dead in their tracks(if they made tracks). Then they slowly backed away.
"What in Imagination's name...," Duke murmured.
Exotus, with a massive heave, finally wrested the staff out of the hands of the Wielder, knocking her onto her back in the process. He then spun it in his hand, so its tip was facing downwards. He then drove the staff home, repeatedly trying to hit his fallen opponent in the skull. The Wielder was too quick though. She quickly clutched the handle, and in a single fluid motion, pulled herself to her feet with the weapon, driving the crystal tip in a huge arc and gashing Exotus' face behind his visor as she went.
"AGH!" the cyborg cried, as he violently shook the staff in an outburst of rage. The Wielder's hands slipped from the handle, the force of the vibrations once again knocking her to the ground, falling on her face this time. Not wishing for her to escape again, Exotus planted one of his heavy metal feet on her legs. Just as he aimed the crystal tip at the Wielder's back, Alphos jumped onto the platform.
"Exotus!" Alphos cried.
"Stay back, Alphos," Exotus said, then hardened his tone as he directed his speech at the Wielder, "THIS is for making me into a monster!"
He unleashed a flowing burst of maelstrom energy into the Wielder's back. She groaned.
"THIS is for the countless minifigures you tortured and smashed!"
Again he unleashed a current of maelstrom energy into the Wielder, and she writhed in agony. Already her fingers were beginning to turn a shade of purple beneath her gloves, and she could feel blotchy maelstrom breakouts appearing all over her skin. She started heaving herself over the edge of the platform, but the weight of Exotus' foot on her legs prevented her from moving quickly.
"ZEGON!!" she cried, "HELP ME!"
Zegon stood on the floor of the caldera in front of the entrance to the passageway he discovered, well in view of the platform the Wielder was. He glanced back and forth at the platform the Wielder, his ally, his partner, was struggling on, and the passageway before him, the entrance to everything he had ever desired. What came next was no decision at all to Zegon.
He gave the Wielder a quick and rather obnoxious salute, and stepped into the darkness.
"TRAITOR!!!" she screamed. At that moment, Exotus felt it appropriate to deal the final blow.
"THIS IS FOR THE NEXUS FORCE!"
He unleashed one last torrent of energy in the Wielder, sending enough maelstrom energy into her body to transform her old minifigure features into those of a stromling.
And then Exotus collapsed. With her last remaining strength, the Wielder hurled herself off the platform, and tumbled onto the barren floor floor of Caldera Mar, where she lay still.
Completely, and utterly, still.
Exotus' lay in a semi-seated position, with his robotic hands propping him up. He coughed and spluttered.
"Exotus....?" Alphos said, "Wha.... what's wrong?"
With his free hand, Exotus gently tilted the visor attached to his helmet upright, revealing the maelstrom-tainted wound that had been dealt to him by the Wielder.
"Oh my bricks..." Alphos gasped, "You're hurt!"
Alphos instantly turned on his heel, frantically trying to spy some medical assistance for his friend.
"Alphos, don't bother," Exotus said, as his face began to turn a shade of purple, "It's too late."
"What do you MEAN it's too late?! Don't give up now, not after everything you've been through!"
"Alphos, it's too late. I can feel it."
"What do you mean FEEL it?!"
Searing pain shot through Exotus' body, as the infection continued to spread. He writhed in agony.
"I MEAN," Exotus said through gritted teeth, "I can FEEL it happening. I'm being infected."
"You'll fight it again."
"It's different this time, Alphos. All that time, I remained sentient. I retained enough of myself to know who I was deep down. This is the last straw. It will corrupt my soul itself. Ha."
"Why are you laughing? This isn't funny!"
"The irony. It's because I was special. Because my body was built from scratch. I wasn't a mutated maelstrom manifestation like the others. It's what takes their very souls, what makes them evil to the core, and now I'm finally gonna be one of them. To think," Exotus paused, "That she made me like this, made me special, and that's exactly what brought about her downfall. Circle of life, I guess."
"Exo, don't talk like that, we'll get help!"
"Alphos, smash me now. I don't wanna be one of them. Not now," he groaned, as a vein of maelstrom crawled across his face, "Not ever. Just smash me and get outta here."
"Thank you Alphos," Exotus said, as his eyes started to close, "Thanks for helping me remember one last time."
As Exotus' eyes shut, Alphos looked down at the snipe rifle in his hands, tears now rolling down his cheeks. He glanced at the crystal staff, the source of all this pain.
"Maybe I can do away with all this evil once and for all," Alphos spluttered. He reached for the terrible weapon, but another hand reached it first.
A metal hand.
Exotus' eyes snapped open.
And his eyes were now dark crimson in color.
Exotus jumped to his feet, smacking Alphos off the platform with the back of his hand as he went. The knight tumbled to the ground, landing in a crumpled heap on the caldera floor. Exotus raised the staff to the air, and it glowed with its typical violet hue.
"CREATURES OF DARKNESS, RISE!" he roared in a new, harsher semi-mechanical voice. Every stromling, every mech, every spiderling, pirate and ronin and every last Exodus unit turned to face the speaker.
"I AM EXODUS PRIME," he bellowed, "I AM YOUR NEW MASTER NOW. YOU WILL OBEY ME, AND ONLY ME, OR ELSE YOU WILL BE DESTROYED."
The faction leaders, having smashed the idle ronin surrounding them, gaped in horror at the spectacle before them. Hael Storm instantly leveled his elegantly designed pistol at the cyborg, not bothering to consider that his target had been their ally. He pulled the trigger.
The hardened imaginite-infused tungsten bullet bounced harmlessly off Exodus Prime's helmet.
"THE NEXUS FORCE WILL FALL TO THEIR KNEES," Exodus Prime continued to shout, "ALL WHO WISHES TO SEE THAT DAY, FOLLOW ME NOW."
Every maelstrom creature in the caldera stepped forward.
"YOU HAVE CHOSEN WISELY."
Again the staff glowed, this time even brighter. Aboard the Venture Explorer, machinery was tossed around the ship, attaching to new panels and soldering themselves onto new technology that morphed from maelstrom tendrils protruding through the ship's hull. A bright flash came from the hull of the Venture Explorer, and a bright white light flashed through Caldera Mar. Every single maelstrom creature had disappeared, along with Exodus Prime. Still idling in front of Nexus Tower, the Venture Explorer's engines roared to life, hurling the ship away from Crux Prime. The faction leaders just stood there, stunned.
"Thar's always a bigger fish," Hael muttered.
When Alphos' eyes finally opened, he was in a blurry world of white and gray. All kinds of hustling and bustling could be heard going on nearby. After blinking multiple times, and becoming aware of the sensation in his limbs, he realized that he was in a bed in some kind of hospital. His head throbbed painfully.
"Ugh," he groaned, as he groped around his forehead to discover a large bandage covering that area. As he touched that area once more, he discovered that is wasn't hurting so much from the concealed wound, or possible concussion.
It ached with betrayal.
Alphos knew that Exotus himself never would have struck him. No. Exotus was lost to him. It had taken all of his friend's willpower to overcome the corruption that ran through him, and now that he had been dealt the final blow, Alphos knew that Exotus could never fight his way to the surface. A silent tear dripped down his face. He had lost his best friend, again. This time, he didn't even have Axenya to comfort him. He was surrounded by smiling faces, allies, comrades, but he still entirely alone. His face hardened. He wouldn't be beaten down again. He wouldn't weaken himself with sorrow; that was exactly what his enemies would want. He reached over and pressed a small red buzzer, to call someone to his room. A doctor promptly appeared, his balding head covered by what little gray hair he had left and a somewhat absent minded, yet cheerful expression upon his face.
"Doctor...?" Alphos queried.
"Doctor Stepford," replied the doctor brightly, "is my name. I see you've come to."
"Yes," Alphos stated curtly, "Am I ready to leave? I feel fine."
"Oh! Hmm. I see. Let me just give you a final check over," Dr. Stepford replied, "Hmm. Ah! Yes, Duke Exeter sent for you. He wishes to know of your condition. Also wanted me to tell you that their holding some kind of service for someone."
"Service?" Alphos said.
"Yes. Hmm. Yes, I believe that was it. You should run along then. Just take it easy for a week or so, you'll be fine."
"Thanks," Alphos said, throwing off the bedsheets and grabbing his clothes and gear.
"Just tell me if you start to feel dizzy. Hmm, yes. Tell me if you fell dizzy," the Doctor said, as Alphos crossed the threshold of the room.
"Will do," Alphos said, as he disappeared down the noisy, busy hallway.
Alphos strode down the majestic hallways of Nexus Tower, on his way to the room set aside for the Paradox faction, where the faction leaders were gathering, he had been told. He wondered exactly what they were doing, and why they wanted him there. <p class="MsoNormal">"Guess I'll find out," he muttered under his breath. Upon going through several rather disorienting teleportation systems, Alphos arrived in the heart of the Paradox room, where Duke Exeter, Hael Storm, Doctor Overbuild and Vanda Darkflame stood solemnly around a small gold plaque on the wall. Despite having their backs turned to the teleporters, Duke Exeter seemed to know that Alphos had arrived. <p class="MsoNormal">"Exotus was a good minifigure, Alphos," he said softly, "I don't know if anyone has told you what he has become, but I know that he gave his life to save us. All of us. He saved the entire Nexus Force today, and should be treated as the hero he is." <p class="MsoNormal">"I know what happened, and yes, I agree," Alphos said. <p class="MsoNormal">"He was a fine warrior. I am proud to have such a warrior among Paradox's ranks," Vanda commented. <p class="MsoNormal">"Tis a true shame that we must now face him in battle," Hael said. <p class="MsoNormal">"I…I," Alphos stammered, groping through the air for the words, "I don't want his name associated with any more pain or suffering. Even if I can't get my friend back, he doesn't deserve to have his name dragged through the mud for things he is doing involuntarily." <p class="MsoNormal">"What is your point, Alphos?" Duke queried. <p class="MsoNormal">"My point," Alphos said, grim determination turning his face to stone, "Is that I'm going to spare my friend, OUR HERO, of that fate," then glancing down at his sword, "One way, or another."
<p class="MsoNormal">Zegon didn't care about the shrieks of pain that came from his former ally as he walked down the dark passageway. She had served her purpose. He didn't need her anymore. He whipped one of the torches he had retrieved in Gnarled Forest form his belt, lit it, and walked on.
<p class="MsoNormal">The tunnel itself looked like it had been melted out of the rocky earth itself, and that didn't make Zegon feel any more comfortable. Already he could smell the acrid odor of sulfur, and numerous other gases associated with volcanic activity. He shuddered. He told himself to stay focused on his prize though, and he kept walking.
<p class="MsoNormal">As he continued, he noticed that a bunch of rocks had blocked the tunnel. He shook his head, half piteously, half mockingly, as he spied a skeleton, rusty sword still in hand, trapped underneath the cave-in. He raised his arcane weapons, and vaporized the blockage in an instant. A light was now visible up ahead. What Zegon saw when he got closer unsettled him, to say the least. The tunnel opened up into a massive cavern, with a pit filled with magma forming its floor. The walls of the cave were lined with hundreds, possibly thousands, of minifigure skeletons, dressed in armor from almost every era of recorded history. A painfully narrow rocky protrusion bridged the magma lake, leading to the other side of the ancient cavern. On the other side was a wide ledge, decorated with two pedestals that looked like they held Zegon's torches, and a massive wall carving with three handles, fit to hold swords, upon it. From the opposite side of the cave, Zegon spied the inscriptions carved into the wall beneath the handles.
<p class="MsoNormal">The first one said "The Blade of Light".
<p class="MsoNormal">Another read "The Blade of Darkness".
<p class="MsoNormal">The third said, "The Blade of Eternity."
<p class="MsoNormal">"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" Zegon cried, a mix of pure rage and dismay erupting from his vocal cords.
<p class="MsoNormal">The Blade of Eternity WASN'T THERE.
<p align="center" class="MsoNormal" style="text-align:center">To be continued in….
<p align="center" class="MsoNormal" style="text-align:center">POWER II: DAWN OF ETERNITY