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His footsteps echoed throughout the massive, floating shards of rock that made up the perilous bridge across the heart of the Maelstrom. They clinked across the rough stone with a horrid, metallic sound that seemed to writhe like a dying flame every time the man's plastic feet hit the ground.
Below him was the vast expanse of nothingness. A steep drop into the ever-waiting maw of the monstrous, aphotic, violet vortex that was the cause for the Universe's terrible problems: The Maelstrom. The fruit of the labor of one who could only be named as the Darkitect. The Destroyer. The Dismantler.
The man continued his path, down the dangerous trail and deeper into the abyssal roots of Crux Core; the home of the Darkitect.
He wore armor as black as coal that had died down a century before, the only light visible being the glowing red embers deep within the shadowy recesses of his helmet, flaming circles that once must have been eyes- and, of course, the dark crimson emblem on his terrible, sharpened shield: a scarlet scorpion, ready to strike and pour its venom through its victims, throttling them with its ever present pincers.
The man also sported a pitch black cape, also emblazoned with the demonic insignia. And at his waist was a scabbard. An obsidian sheath that held a terrible blade, one crackling with corrupted energy and dark power.
But the most prominent asset on the shadowy Minifigure was what surrounded him; a dark, purple aura that curled from his armor in smoky wisps that seemed to absorb all the life around the man…
Then, the chilling clinking of his metallic boots came to a halt, and the embers beneath his helm flared to life as crackling flames.
He had arrived at his destination: the center of Crux Core… the heart of the Maelstrom.
Ahead, the jeopardous bridge opened into a great chunk of floating land. The ground had been crystallized into a hardened form of corruption that coated the shattered shard of the lost world of Crux. Cracks littered the floating chunk of land, and they often spewed the same, smoky aura that surrounded the shadowy figure. Sizzling Maelstrom goo poured from the edges of the chunk in an almost never-ending, thick, and monstrous waterfall that was lost as it vanished into the oscillating abyss below it.
But the most terrible thing was right in the middle of the miniscule island: a throne.
It was carved with terrible pictures of helpless Minifigures being smashed by half skeletal beings with glowing scarlet orbs as eyes, and malevolent blades as hands. And emblazoned on the backrest was the carving of a massive tower with a great nexus flowing from the top. A tower that was almost completely destroyed, with what was left crumbling and being blown out of existence by massive warships that circled it from the skies. And high above, watching it all, was a skeletal face looking out from a massive swirling whirlpool in the sky.
But that wasn't the worst sight. Not by a long shot.
On the throne sat the Darkitect. He sat hunched on his seat, one gnarled, gloved, plastic hand holding a long, shadowy, Maelstrom crystal topped staff. A great, dark cape swirled around him, covering most of the throne and flapping against the stale, poisonous wind. A large, aphotic top hat crackling with wisps of pure corruption sat on his head, set so low in his head that you couldn't see his face.
He was staring into an orb that stood on a pedestal engraved with carvings similar to those on the throne. The ball swirled with a purple flame in the center, and the air around it rippled as if it was generating heat- but it was colder than an ice cube in space during the Frostivus Season.
The Seeing Stone, the reason the Darkitect always knew when to strike- a present given to him by the Ronin of Forbidden Valley, allowing him to peer into dreams.
Then he looked up, showing a pair of glowing, blood red eyes and a scarlet, evil, skeletal smile. "Have you done what I asked?"
He moved his crimson lips, but his voice seemed to come from every direction, crashing down on the dark Minifigure who had just entered with a force powerful enough to shatter glass, churn seas, and paralyze even the bravest of warriors. The mere movement of his mouth sent cracks etching through the ground.
The armored man before him fell to his knees with a reverberating 'CLANG!', and let out a few pained, ragged breathes. "Y-yes, my lord. All Stromling attacks have receded and the bulk of our troops have amassed at Vulgar Main. The N-N-Nexus Force b-believes that they-they are winning, my lord."
"Good… very good."
The Minifigure kneeling before the Darkitect screamed before he was knocked to his back with the force of the words emitted from his master's mouth. He desperately crawled to his feet, gagging for air with the effort of moving.
"Now… now w-what shall I do, m-m-my l-lord?"
The Darkitect smiled widely, sending more small cracks meandering through the terra firma beneath him. "I have a more subtle mission for you now."
The man screamed, but his master continued, "The Nexus Force has a new ship. One they call 'The Venture Explorer'. It is an exact replica of the Venture Koi, the original ship that… brought the Four Explorers to Crux."
He looked down to see if his minion had registered what he said.
The man was writhing on the ground like a worm in the sun.
"Did you hear me?"
"Aaagghh!" The Minifigure gagged, before managing an agonizing nod.
The man was sent another yard backwards, his throat numbing with the effort to keep yelling out in pain.
The Darkitect then continued once again, "It is an exact replica, but it has been refurnished. It is now far more powerful than the original, and is being used as a transport ship that brings new Minifigure recruits to Avant Gardens to become true Nexus Force warriors. The Explorer can withstand almost a month of constant bombardment, and its weaponry can obliterate most of our ships. This isn't good for us. The Nexus Force's numbers are amassing by almost three dozen per day, and, even though we outnumber them, they outgun us. For my plan to take even greater action, I need you to eliminate this threat."
The armored man gulped and nodded once again,
"I need you to capture the ship, make sure no one escapes, and bring the captain to me."
The Minifigure stood up, wincing in agony, "Who is the captain, my lord, and where is this transport ship?"
Baron Typhonus grinned evilly, "The cruiser will be passing over the Maelstrom in about three days, after returning from a trip to Nimbus Falls. The captain is known as Sky Lane."
The Beginning of the EndEdit
Bob simply loved his job; he loved everything about it. The Venture Explorer's wonderful, ever intriguing design, the constant voyage from young Minifigure homeworlds to the beautiful, forested, planetary chunk called Avant Gardens, and, of course, the fact that the transport cruiser was impenetrable. He loved the Nexus Force, meeting new recruits and showing them around the wonderful ship, teaching them the ways of the mystical element: Imagination. And he loved the Venture Explorer's fearless captain… Sky Lane. He had loved her since they had first met, when they were ever so young… but she only treated him as a friend. Her eyes never stared at Bob's ever smiling face, for she always gawked at another boy, a haughty showoff who could think only of himself…and his heroes: the Sentinels. Epsilon… Epsilon Starcracker.
"Um… excuse me, sir?"
Bob snapped out of his mental discussion to see a young man- around 16- with a short, blond rat's rest on his head. He was smiling brightly, obviously excited about what was to come. Every Minifigure longed to join the Nexus Force.
He wore a black Space Jacket, the usual outfit for new recruits travelling from their homeworld to Avant Gardens. But his smile only slightly hid the dark circles under his eyes: he was obviously still drowsy. All Minifigures were put into sleeping capsules when they boarded the Venture Explorer, to keep them fit for the end of the three day trip so that they would be ready to start their training as new recruits. This one must have been one of the first to get up.
Bob smiled, "Yes, err", he bent down to see the youth's nametag, "Turnip, what can I do for you… oh, wait, you wouldn't know! How about I show you around this wondrous ship, and then we can get to Imagination!"
The teen nodded vigorously, his short blond hair flapping from side to side and slightly covering his bright green eyes. He easily blew the hair out of the way and shook his head again, "Yes Mister Bob!"
Turnip eyed his guide carefully, taking in every detail that could be seen in the little man; there wasn't much to him. His pants were completely blue, with absolutely no texture whatsoever. His shirt was the same, except it was red in color, and his skin, well, it was yellow, like everyone else's. On his face was what looked like a plastered smile, and he had black pinpoints as eyes (Not to mention he was completely bald, with nothing but a stud at the top of his head). All in all, he was completely ordinary.
Bob smiled once again. He loved how everyone knew him, yet he wasn't famous. It was a wonderful, subtle type of admiration.
"OK then… let's get a move on!" He put his arm around the Minifigure's shoulder just as a girl with a long, black ponytail and a dark blue version of the boy's jacket came running up the steps towards them.
"Uh… Turnip? Who's this?" She asked nervously, stepping back so that she tumbled down the metallic stairs. Turnip and Bob raced to her aid
"Ginger! Are you okay!?" Turnip leaped down the stairs just after Bob put this Ginger into a sitting position, patting her soothingly on the head.
"Obviously!", she snorted, hopping to her feet and dusting herself off (Which wasn't necessary, because Bob took pride in the cleaning crew onboard). She scowled at Turnip- who was obviously her brother- then turned and gave a radiant smile to Bob, "I am so pleased to meet you, Mister Bob!", she shook his hand vigorously.
Their helper laughed, "Pleased to meet you too, ma'am!"
Ginger blushed, "Oh please, don't call me that, sir."
Bob giggled, "Oh please, don't call me sir!"
The two burst into laughter as Turnip edged towards Bob, "Uh, Mister Bob. You shouldn't trust her. She's dangerous. Handy with the wooden sword."
Bob snickered again, "I'm sure she is. And I can see just by looking at you that you're quite the adventurer."
This time, it was Turnip's turn to blush.
"Well", Bob started, "We'd better get a move on! Before more Minifigures start to wake up. Then it's really rush hour, and you don't want to see the traffic when dozens of Minifigures come running in to learn about Imagination."
He put his arms around the two younger recruits and proceeded to show then around the ship.
"Up this hover-platform is the Control Room. There, Sky Lane pilots the ship…" Bob trailed off, and his eyes glazed over as he said the captain's name.
Turnip stepped on his foot.
"What else?" He looked rather proud of himself.
Bob shook his head before continuing, "To your right is the door to the Engine Room. The engines are what power the Venture Explorer. That's where most of the maintenance is done. Below us, through that door to your left, are the kitchens and the dining hall. You wouldn't want to miss a meal before getting ready to kick those Stromling's plastic rears!"
Turnip and Ginger followed their guide; awed expressions on their faces as Bob lead them around, showing them every nook and cranny of the majestic ship.
Soon, they returned to their starting point, the place where the siblings had first met Bob. It was a platform, with stairs leading up to if from behind and from the front. On either side, three metal pedestals moved up and down as some sort of obstacle course, and, right in the middle of the platform, was a holotable (Where Bob could track everyone who boarded the ship to make sure they were okay).
"Alright! Now, we begin the main attraction of joining the Nexus Force. Everyone has Imagination when they are built, but they don't know how to use it from the beginning. The Nexus Force grants access to the mystical- almost mythological- powers of this wondrous element. I will teach you how to harness and use Imagination to build your way through-"
He was cut off as all the lights on the ship flickered. Bob turned to see the hologram on his table turn off, then turn on again. Something was wrong.
Suddenly, there was a great jolt and Bob, Ginger, and Turnip were knocked from their feet. They heard screaming in the upper stories of the ship as the staff and the many engineers began to frantically try to find out what was going on.
Bob heard the shattering of glass as many of the sleeping capsules were torn from their perches and sent crashing down to the floor, resulting in even more screaming.
He stood up, holding the hands of the horrified siblings he had just gotten to know and mumbling soothing words into their ears (One's that, of course, he didn't believe. Neither did they).
"Why now. He didn't tell me it was happening already." Bob said in a hushed whisper so that the two frightened Minifigures at his sides couldn't hear him.
Then he heard an engineer yell out in terror, and everyone followed his gaze to the massive window on the side of the ship that served as the observation deck.
In unison, everyone cried out and frantically ran in every direction, yelling, "Get the rockets! Escape! Escape!"
A familiar voice called from the intercom, "This is the captain of the Venture Explorer, transport ship of Minifigures and Rocket Modules. You must not panic. I repeat, this is your captain speaking, don't panic! Everyone, get your rockets immediately! If you are without sufficient Imagination or rockets, others must help you off this ship; you will be instructed on Imagination when you land on Avant Gardens! Sky Lane, out!"
Bob, a tear running down his ever-smiling eyes turned to face the window and saw a horrible sight: A swirling, purple vortex with two ginormous eyes and an evilly laughing mouth clearly visible- the Maelstrom.
Chapter 1: Tension of Avant GardensEdit
Twenty Four Years Later
Avant Gardens. Arguably the most beautiful world in the Universe. Its fleeting, pine forests swayed in the breeze, spraying their bright, evergreen needles onto the ground to make a wondrous, uneven texture on the bristling, grassy ground. The sky was the bluest sapphire you'd ever see, with almost no clouds in sight, and a surplus of birds often more exotic that the swarms of parrots and starlings of Gnarled Forest.
The hills were put up like the waving sand dunes of a desert, just colored a dazzling emerald in color and littered with a vast variety of trees.
Epsilon Starcracker smiled at the perfect nest of a racket tailed drongo, admiring the detail of the twigs, straw and leaves, the color of the eggs- just as he kicked the Stromling behind him to the ground.
Before the infected Minifigure could recover from the shock, Epsilon spun around and shot it in the face with his zipgun. The creature mumbled something to itself before slumping to its knees and shattering into a dozen, smoking bricks.
"Such a beautiful world, ruined by worthless minions of the Maelstrom… typical." The Sentinel scout grumbled, turning around and blasting an unsuspecting Mech in the eye. It flailed its arms, hopping on one leg before it was taken in the chest by a firecracker.
The robot exploded, and a new Nexus Force recruit laughed in delight. Epsilon scowled, "They always smash the ones that I make incapacitated. You can never find a proper Sentinel these days."
"Why so grumpy?" A patched up Minifigure with red hair that stuck straight upwards snickered from behind him.
Epsilon jumped back, startled by the voice, "WISP! Why do you have to keep vanishing from your post, appearing next to me, and scaring me out of my brave ol' wits?" The Space Ranger spun around angrily, and was met by… nothing. Scratching his helmeted head, he muttered something under his breath and went back to staring at the drongo's nest.
"Beautiful. The bird's eye for detail is marvelous. Would make fine Stromlings, if you ask me; could make better tanks than Stromlings could anyway."
Epsilon Starcracker clamped his hands on his mouth to prevent a startled yelp from escaping his lips. "Wisp. I'm serious; next time you sneak up on me, I'm going to blast your Spark out."
There was a crack like lightning slamming into a soda can, followed by a billowing purple smoke. The Space Ranger gagged, his eyes stinging as he began coughing incessantly. The dark violet smog soon receded, and, in its place, was the Minifigure that Epsilon had called Wisp.
He wore a gray jacket that was held together with dark red belts, topped off with half-tarnished clamps. The section right below his chest, around his belly, was covered with long, beige bandages that wrapped around him as if he was a mummy. There was a dried of spot of Maelstrom close to his belly, obviously showing of the remains of a nasty encounter with some infected being.
A scarlet bandana covered half of his face, completely hiding his mouth and making a strange contrast to his slightly purple- yet mostly crimson- hair. His right eye was plastered by another bandage- one that looked like someone had taken it off their finger and slapped it on his face. He stood hunched, one hand rightly grasping his plastered belly. And on his left shoulder, there was an emblem: a tiger's eye in the middle of a black and white tornado. The sign of the Paradox, the most mysterious of the Nexus Force's four Factions.
But all that wasn't the strangest thing about the Minifigure. What was really unusual was his hands; they were a dark, swirling sort of violet and emitted a shadowy purple smoke.
The man- who was obviously a Scientist- patted Epsilon on the back to stop the scout from coughing. "Yes, I agree that my teleportation skills are a bit rusty. I only practice them, what, twenty times a day?"
Epsilon laughed a hoarse laugh that sounded more like a bark, "And yet you don't even know how to toss a shuriken properly."
"Yes, but I'm handy with the blaster. You, however, smash Stromlings so slow that new recruits have to do it for you."
"Oh shut up, I'm better with firepower than you'll ever be. And get back to your post, look at all those newbies who are completely lost and don't know what to do."
The Scientist smiled, "They'll all just come back to you, you know."
"Well, why don't you lead them to me?"
The Paradox Minifigure scowled before vanishing in another blinding flash of earsplitting smog. He appeared a few seconds later at his post, right outside a massive building made out of mostly gray bricks, with a great surplus of chimneys and Paradox insignias. The next flash knocked the startled new recruits backwards, but the Scientist obviously didn't notice. He simply introduced himself as Wisp Lee, head Paradox researcher of the Avant Gardens Project, and sent them off to the waiting Epsilon Starcracker.
"I hate that guy." Epsilon snarled, once again, under his breath.
"Uh… Ma$t£r W1$p?" The voice sounded metallic, like the creaking of old and rusty cogs.
Epsilon turned saw Wisp Lee turn to face one of the Mechs guarding the entrance to the large Paradox building. The robot was large, as least twice as tall as a normal Minifigure (And thrice as wide). It had one eye right in the center of its curved head that blazed with an inner blue light, and its body was painted mostly white, with the exception of the few black of silver bricks- along with the telltale orange signs of plastic rust.
"Well? What are you looking at?" The scientist said hotly, nursing his belly with both his hands. Then his remaining eye brightened, "Oh, I know…"
He kicked the guard Mech next to him, causing him to hop around, squeezing his foot in pain.
"What. Am. 1. L00k1ng. at?" The Mech blankly responded, before gurgling, "N££d. Spar£. Paaarrrrrrrrt$."
Wisp snickered, already foreseeing what was to come.
The Mech teetered on one foot, spun around, its eye whirring and its arms flailing, before it fell apart.
"Uh oh! PRDX-4's not going to like that!" Wisp chuckled, "Next time you give a recruit a weapon, tell him to tell PRDX-4 up at the Picnic Area that his brother fell apart again… then maybe the newbie's weapon will have a more… challenging opponent!" The scientist hollered over at Epsilon.
The Sentinel scowled, "Hey, that droid's a Paradox agent! You can't just go around smashing your men!"
"Yeah, you have a LOT of Faction pride in you!" Wisp put a little too much emphasis on the word 'lot'.
"Ha-ha." Epsilon murmured blankly, clearly not understanding what his half Maelstrom infected friend had said, causing the Scientist to shake is almost completely shrouded head.
The Ranger went back to admiring the bird's nest and kicking curious Stromlings, while Wisp trotted over to the entrance of the massive building.
"The Paradox Research Facility." He smiled. The Paradox was extremely proud of the newly renovated facility, for it had taken a long time to clear the place of the Maelstrom, and longer still to rebuild it.
The Research Facility had once been a majestic place, but had been destroyed… because of him. Wisp looked down sadly, reminiscing the terrible moment when the… the monster has escaped. And how it had been defeated- defeated but not smashed. That sacrifice had ruined Wisp.
But he had survived. And almost thirteen years ago, the monster- the Queen of the Spiders – had finally been smashed after its escape.
Wisp Lee looked up and grimaced, stepping forward and typing in the secret combination on a panel next to the sealed, plastic door before him. There was a small BEEP!, and the portal opened with a slick, sliding noise, causing freezing cold steam to vent from the inside of the facility.
"Home sweet home." He whispered sadly, and walked in.
Chapter 2: Duty Comes FirstEdit
The sun rose over the great hills of Avant Gardens, and with it came light. And, of course, a break from the freezing nights that Minifigures had to endure here.
Other than Frostburgh, Crux Prime, Deep Freeze, and maybe Starbase 3001, Avant Gardens was the coldest world in the Nimbus System, closely followed by Forbidden Valley.
Epsilon Starcracker slowly opened his eyes, and then drowsily shut them again when he was blinded by the contrast between his closed lids and the blazing ball of fire high in the sky. He turned over in his sleeping bag, and was met by the face of a Stromling.
"Whoa!" He yelped, hopping to his feet just to fall back down because of the fact that we was rather incapacitated in a sleeping bag.
Shocked, the Stromling leaped backwards, landing on both its legs and the hand without the glowing violet blade. Its eyes were bright red, and it had hair much like Wisp Lee's, sticking straight up. But it was different. It was nearly black, with the faintest trace of purple, and it was emitting a dark violet smoke. In fact, its entire body was doing that.
All the way from the right side of its shoulder to its left hip, it didn't have the plastic skin that all other Minifigures had; for those parts were completely skeletal. A rib cage, also almost completely black, oozing with Maelsrom Goo that dripped to the ground, causing the grass below it to shrivel and die occupied that area. Its right leg was also completely bony, with plastic, skeleton toes digging deeply into the ground around it. And its left arm was tipped by not a hand, but a three foot blade. The crystalline sword curved menacingly, also dripping with the terrible, chaotic substance that oozed about on its bones.
All in all, it was a completely normal Stromling.
Thinking fast, Epsilon slammed his hands into the ground to get a proper hold. He then rolled around, keeping his iron grip in the grass and weeds below him, using his momentum as an advantage against the stunned, corrupted Minifigure.
Then he let go, sending him oscillating at the Stromling. He knocked it from its feet, sending it sprawling onto the ground and yanking off its skeletal leg.
As the creature desperately pulled itself towards it fallen leg, attempting to regain it and stick it back onto its socket, Epsilon Starcracker preformed a perfect backflip, leaping upward and kicking the sleeping bag off his body.
He landed on the ground in a barrel roll, stopping mere inches from the Stromling to spin around on one hand and kick the creature in the face before expertly hopping to his feet in exactly the same movement.
Dazed, the Stromling attempted to stand up with one leg, but it knew it was too late.
Epsilon pulled a blaster from a hidden compartment under the ground that served as his post, aimed, and fired.
The flaming blue stud whizzed from the weapon's barrel, lighting the grass below it on fire before it smashed into the Stromling's chest. Wide eyed, the former Minifigure was sent hurtling into the Outpost Console behind it.
It slammed into the machine, causing a slight fizzle of energy as the console exploded, sending rubble and what remained of the Stromling spinning far behind Epsilon.
"I'll fix that later." The Sentinel mumbled to himself before trotting back to the open trap door. From within, he pulled another blaster, strapping both of them to the belt on his waist. The zipguns were larger than the ones Space Rangers usually had, and each held a menacing bayonet below the barrels. He also pulled out three modules, two identical ones that looked like great robotic arms topped by rocket boosters, and one that looked a lot like a metal backpack covered in air vents and buttons.
The Sentinel held up his hand, and his gloved, plastic palm began to glow a bright blue. Miniscule spheres that could have passed for Will-o-Wisps swirled around his hand, connecting into larger balls that danced all along his arm. He raised another hand, and the same thing happened.
Then, all of a sudden, what looked like wisps of the purest blue meandered from his hands, crawling through the air towards the three modules on the ground before him. When the wisps touched the pieces, all three of them were lifted into the air, spinning around each other.
There was a blinding sapphire flash, and all three had been connected, one of the rocket-arm like modules on each side of the metallic bag.
Epsilon smiled to himself, "The power of Imagination."
The glow around his hands vanished as quick as it started, and he proceeded to picking up the contraption he had just built and slinging it around his shoulders. He grinned contently, pulling a lever on his back.
Flames erupted from each booster, and the Space Ranger slowly floated into the air. He laughed, loving the feeling of the wind lapping at his face, causing his hair to fly straight upwards…
Then, all of a sudden, he heard a beeping by his arm. The Sentinel sighed, turning off the rocket-pack and falling back to his feet. He looked at his arm, where he kept his communicator safely strapped. He clicked the 'Answer' button and spoke into the receiver, "Yes boss?"
A voice blasted through the communicator full power, causing Epsilon to stumble backwards, "I need you, soldier. I need you now. Everything else can wait; I don't care if your post gets overrun. Just get over here!"
Epsilon snarled something under his breath before turning the communicator off. "Yeah, yeah Strongheart."
The Sentinel dug into the trap door, this time pulling out a neatly polished blue helmet. He easily donned it, and then kicked the door to the secret stash shut.
He pulled the lever on his pack again, and was off.
A few minutes later, he saw his destination: The Sentinel Encampment.
The Space Ranger switched the 'gears' on his boosters, allowing him maximum speed against the power of the wind blowing in the opposite direction than he was heading. He rocketed towards the gate, an archway blocked by a large bus that was connected to metal ropes that pulled it up and down when Minifigures wanted in. The guards stationed there would make quick work of any minions of the Maelstrom who also wanted in.
Epsilon looked down and eyed a Stromling menacingly.
The Stromling waved back, looking rather happy with itself.
Epsilon sighed sadly. It must have been a new recruit who had just been infected by the chaotic powers of the Maelstrom, and turned into a Stromling, but not yet lost his mind. This was pretty obvious, since it was wearing a darkened and a corrupted version of the Space Jacket new Minifigures wore, and on its arm was a spear, a weapon often given to newbies by… Epsilon. This kind of thing happened too often, and really dealt a savage blow to the Sentinels, who were tasked with protecting those who couldn't protect themselves.
Sadly, with Epsilon's gaze on the former Minifigure for just a moment, he forgot about the truck that served as the Sentinel Encampment's gate.
He looked up, and, eyes wide, mumbled, "Oops."
Meanwhile, inside the encampment, the guards, hearing a 'knock', readied their rifles.
"Rico!" One mumbled to his partner, "Raise the truck."
The guard next to him, the one called Rico, nodded uneasily, running towards the large metal wheel next to the gate. He grabbed one of the many handles and pushed downwards, forcing the wheel to slowly spin around, and, in turn, pull the metal ropes that held the truck and pull it upwards.
Rico wiped the sweat from his brow, "Grit! I did it!"
Grit- Rico's companion- nodded his approval, and then put one of his two plastic fingers on his rifle's trigger.
There wasn't anything there, other than the multiple Stromlings roaming around the field- Stromlings who obviously didn't know that the way into the camp had been opened.
"There's nothing here!" Grit said to his partner.
"You sure?" Rico replied, slowly being pulled up by the wheel, which was desperately trying to spin back into its normal place.
Grit nodded, "Yes, I'm absolutely-"
He was cut off by a little shard of glass that fell to the ground from the truck.
"What?" Rico pressed, not noticing that he was being pulled higher and higher- and the truck was going lower and lower.
"Something's in the truck!", Grit scrambled backward, aiming for the windows, "Rico! Come here! Now!"
"Right-o!" Rico let go of the wheel to help his companion.
The metal circle then took action, propelling back into place with uncanny speed. Rico was knocked into the sky screaming, and the truck fell back to the ground, forcing Grit to leap out of the way to avoid being crushed.
Grit's gun flew from his hand and landed, trigger first, on the ground, causing a flaming bullet to shoot from the barrel, over his head, and straight into one of the ropes that pulled up the truck. The rope snapped, causing the truck to swirl to the right, slamming into Grit and knocking him into a wall, all while leaving a massive gateway open for a Stromling attack.
In the meantime, Rico was oscillating in the sky practically yelling his lungs from his saliva-spewing maw. A few second later, he landed head first on a wall far to the right of the camp- a wall that was under construction. The impact of his helmet sent the site crumbling down, making another open hole.
After about a minute, Rico sat up. "I'm okay, I'm okay, don't worry about me!"
"Oi! You smashed it again you mad man!" A Minifigure who had just awoken from the commotion, leaping from the warm, flat rock that he had been sleeping on.
"Fitz, I said I'm okay!" The Sentinel guard murmured again before passing out.
And in the cacophony, the frantic guards had awakened their boss.
The door-like flap of one of the multiple tents that lined the inside of the encampment flew open, and a man walked out.
Grit looked up from the ground, "Oh! Mister Strongheart!"
"Get up, soldier", the man snarled, "Explain yourself!"
He glanced disgustedly at the two wide open holes in his perfect defense.
"Umm… well… err… there was a bang, and… ehrm… glass fell… we could see who was there… Rico learnt to fly… and… err… well… I dropped my gun, aaaand… you came."
Beck sighed, "What did I do to end up with you guys? The guards I had ten years ago were perfect. Too bad they were the first to be sent to investigate the Spider Queen Crisis."
Grit stamped his right foot into the ground and saluted, "Sir, I agree with you, sir!"
Beck pushed past him, "What did I do to deserve you indeed."
He then looked up at the truck, and squinted through the window, "Ah! I see Epsilon has come!"
Chapter 3: Orders are OrdersEdit
Grit looked up in petrified amazement.
"Wha- where, sir?" The guard mumbled, more to himself that anyone else. He instantly regretted the notion when he received his boss' venomous glare. "Sorry." Grit whimpered, biting his lower lip and taking sudden interest in his plastic feet.
Far behind, there was the crashing sound of shattering glass and someone yelped in pain. Soon, the explosion of what must have been a firecracker resounded in the same place, followed by the earsplitting result you get when an improved scythe of whirlwind gets too much armor polish.
Klaus Zett crawled out from his booth, muttering something vile under his breath. He was wearing a breastplate that was colored half in blue and half in white. The same pattern showed on his shirt and pants, the only difference in color being the small yellow pads that were fastened on each shoulder. The vendor also wore a white helmet, shaped much like the kind you would find on the head of an intergalactic miner, except for the fact that it had a black visor that covered most of his face (If you could call it black, stained with the remains of a hundred melted quicksicles). All that was left was his mouth, which was half covered by an overlarge communication receiver.
"Zett! What are you up to now?"
The vendor looked up hotly. However, he quickly cooled down when he saw who had spoken.
"Ah! Becky! How ya doin' on tis fine, fine day?" His smile was far too wide, showing off more than one silver tooth.
His boss seemed to seethe in anger.
"Becky, eh? HOW many times will I have to tell you NOT to call ME BECKY!?"
Klaus raised an eyebrow, "What? You're name's Beck, so I call ya Becky. Mah name's Klaus, and ya call mah Santa; reason: unknown."
Beck Strongheart sighed, "Santa Clause. You're name's Klaus. I'm amazed you didn't get the reference."
Klaus Zett barked something that might have passed for a laugh, "Oh, you're funny. Since when did I give presents? I'm a vendor for Builder's sake!"
The leader of the Sentinels of Avant Gardens scowled, "Forget it. Just get me Epsilon."
"Forget it. Just get meh Epsilon.", Zett mocked, "Well where on Avant Gardens is 'e? And there's such thing as a communicator!", he tapped his headset's receiver a little too violently.
Beck clenched his fists, "You can't call someone in a coma."
Klaus seemed to raise his eyebrows under his helmet, "Coma? You're vague."
Beck pointed upwards, "Look through the window in that truck."
The vendor looked up and grimaced, "Can't see a thing, the sun's in my eye line." He grumbled, reaching behind his booth and grabbing what remained of a half-shattered bottle of notion potion.
Beck's body went rigid with rage, "Oh… I'm going to…"
There was a loud 'BANG!', and Beck Strongheart closed his eyes, trembling in anger.
"GRIT!" He roared, leaping in a one eighty degree arc to face his guard.
Grit jumped upwards in surprise, dropping his rifle, one again on the trigger. The guns recoil hit him in the plastic toes and he helped in pain.
Beck was on him in seconds, needing someone to take out his anger on.
"WHAT ARE YOU SHOOTING AT!?"
Grit gave a hurt expression, and Klaus laughed behind his boss.
"Hey, Becky. Look to your left."
Beck was about to turn on the vendor for taunting him again, when he noticed what was going on.
Stromlings, dozens of them, and at least five Mechs, were taking interest in the fact the 'gate' was open.
"Ohhh boy…" Beck stepped back, his face contorted in a silent snarl.
Everyone in the camp braced themselves.
"EVERYBODY! MAN THE DEFENCES! GET THAT BUS BACK IN PLACE!"
Everyone in the camp, noticing the danger that was upon them, didn't argue. They all rushed to the bus and began to push it back in place. Klaus climbed through one of the windows and into the drivers, seat, attempting to drive it.
He looked to his right and nearly flew out the bus in shock. Klaus look through the window.
"I've found Epsilon!"
But that was not the least of Beck's worries now; the Stromlings were getting too close.
He sighed and tromped back to his tent to gather his weapons.
He didn't get far.
Chapter 4: BetrayalEdit
Bob opened his eyes. He hardly noticed that he was on his knees, kneeling on a cold stone surface, in front (If he was in front), of something dark swirling around him. He scarcely registered the monstrous laughing that pounded into him, wilting him like a sick rose in a blizzard.
He felt only pain. Only anguish. Only hate.
Tears spluttered half-heartedly from his bloodshot eyes, trailing down his face like oil that wished only to stay in the ground. His visage was contorted, his mouth open in a silent, tormented scream.
"Why?" Bob gagged, weakly slamming his numb fist into the icy terra firma around him. "Why?"
He looked up as he heard the familiar clinking of boots, resounding in a terrible sound that resembled the writhing of a dying flame.
Only one person could make footsteps like that.
"Go away!" Bob sobbed slamming his other hand into the ground and bending his head downwards, allowing his tears to slowly dribble to the ground in a fashion much like a candlestick under a flamethrower. "Please."
The footsteps stopped right in front of the tormented Minifigure's sagging head.
"Look up, child." The mocking voice sounded more like the scratching of flint than something that would come from your throat.
"Never." Bob whimpered, turning his head away for no apparent reason.
The expected blow hit earlier than Bob had anticipated.
The once plain old Minifigure felt a choking sensation, a prickling feeling all over his body, before he was sent hurtling backwards. Aphotic tentacles seemed to slash all about Bob, lifting him up and attempting to yank him into pieces. What felt like fire seemed to burn in his insides, sizzling at his Creation Spark with an unimaginable kind of pain.
Bob fell to the floor, his mouth opening and closing but not uttering a sound.
Then the voice came again, "Let me tell you again; Look at me."
The man put a menacing spacing to his last three words, and it seemed that the very air that the radius of his voice reached seemed to twist and turn in terror.
Suddenly, a tentacle apparently made from shadows shot from the ground and pulled at Bob's rounded chin, forcing him to look up.
In front of him was a frightful sight. A man clad completely in black, spiked armor peered menacingly at him like a cheetah would peer at a gazelle, with eyes appearing as nothing but two flickering flames under a monstrous helmet.
And in his hand was a sword, sizzling with the dark energy that had just been used against Bob. The blade resembled a scimitar, opening into two, razor sharp tips. Massive amounts of Maelstrom energy pounded at the very air around the sword, and it looked as if the thing had a mind of its own.
The scimitar looked as if it was grinning malevolently at the defenseless Minifigure before it.
If the man had a face beneath his helmet, it also seemed to smile.
Bob shook his head painfully.
He was replied with the ends of a scimitar at his throat.
"Y-y-ye-yes i-it's wh-wha-what I-I wan't! B-b-but-" Bob lay down on his stomach, fists clenched, and sobbed into his arms. "I-I can't d-do-o i-it! I can't! I… I won't."
"Oh", The man said soothingly, "But you will love how it goes. The screams, the people running around and bumping in walls, oh, it's lovely. The havoc gets into your bones. Soon enough, it's a habit!"
"NO! Please… please, don't make me do this. I b-b-beg of you. Please. I cannot. She…she- I…" Bob hesitated, but the glistening in his eyes had given away too much.
The man seemed to grin again, "Don't worry. You can- you will- do it. After all, you're nothing but a slave- and slaves must please their masters."
The evil knight was right. He couldn't care… about anything. Not even her.
He had to do it.
It was right.
Chapter 5: Scattered GravelEdit
The racket tailed drongo put the finishing touches to its nest, and then chirped in delight as one of its batch of three eggs gave a little rattle. The great bird hopped from one food to the other in excite, ruffling its feathers to make a good impression to its newborn.
There was a resounding crack, and a tiny, sharp plastic beak broke the surface of its shell and began its life in a new world.
Little did the drongo know that the crack had nothing to do with the hatching of its child…
A rock as big as both his fists squashed together slammed into the back of Beck's head with immense power; he was unconscious in seconds.
The Sentinel general's limp body stumbled forward before falling head over heels, landing on his face with a sound like an airbag after colliding with a hardhat. The Minifigure stopped moving completely, but the fact that he wasn't in pieces clearly stated that he hadn't been smashed.
There was a slight rumbling as three more boulders rocketed from the ground, spraying grass and small pebbles in every direction. The trio whizzed across the ground like meteorites, shaving the grass off in a clean line before shooting upwards in a wild but precise arc, uprooting a bush but hitting home. All of them hit a Stromling who had managed to get into the camp with the power of an asteroid.
With a crack that echoed across the hills for miles, the creature's arm flew off of its socket. Shocked, the Stromling began to scurry to retrieve its lost limb- but it wasn't quick enough.
The next two came whizzing from below the infected Minifigure, slamming into its chest and face. In seconds, the monster had been reduced to rubble.
Klaus Zett peered from the window again, his eyebrows seeming to shoot up in surprise under his helmet.
"What on Crux was tha-!?"
Before he could finish his sentence, he felt a massive lurch, sending him crashing through the bus' windshield with a shocked yelp.
It is a well-known fact that ever since Minifigure's were first built, they've always wished that they could fly. One Minifigure got that wish.
Sadly, in the short period that Klaus was airborne, he wasn't at all excited.
In fact, he was screaming his head off- literally (My Minifigure standards, that happens pretty often).
As he was flung across the sky, he looked down, and was met by something far more terrible than heights- there were two Stromlings below him.
Two Stromlings that seemed to be grinning as a helpless, 'flying' Minifigure plummeted into their hooked hands.
Before Klaus could say any last words, the world had gone black.
**** Beck Stronheart's eyes shot open and the Sentinel sat up, holding up his pillow in a defensive position. Noticing the absurdity of what he had just done, he replaced his pillow and relaxed once again. Then something struck him. "Where on Crux am I? What's going on?" He thought aloud, slowly sitting up again. He was in his tent- that was for certain. The tattered blue canvas was unmistakable, and no one else had as many maps and battle plans taped to the wall as him- but… something was wrong. How had he gotten in here? Who had brought him in here? What happened with the Stromlings? All he remembered was something hard hitting his head with an unimaginable force, and- blackness… But what had hit him? "Morning." Beck leaped to his feet, hardly registering the friendly tone of the voice, pillow in hand once again. He was met by the steady gaze of a man clad in black.
Chapter 6: The Maelstrom SpyEdit
His footsteps echoed through the confined, closed off metal halls of the Paradox Research Facility of Avant Gardens, their sounds ricocheting off the walls like some sort of clinking sonar.
He arrived at a section of hall where the walls suddenly turned into an extremely thick glass, nearly unbreakable. These were holding back all sorts of terrible Maelstrom beings that were under experimentation by highly trained Paradox Scientists.
Wisp Lee smiled. One day, the Paradox would know how to once again purify those who had been infected by the evil, corrupted essence of the Darkitect, finally vanquishing the Universe of his dark powers.
But that day, no matter how much he wished it, wasn't today.
All research had been temporarily postponed because of some unnatural Maelstrom readings on the world.
Every scanner had gone haywire with the immense concentration of corruption that had somehow arrived on Avant Gardens. Concentrations that rivaled Crux Prime itself.
Wisp Lee ignored the constant howling of incapacitated Maelstrom dragon chicks, the powerful slams against the glass that shuddered the entire building as multiple angry apes pounded at the transparent walls.
He had only one thing on his mind at the moment.
At the end of the hall, the Paradox Scientist arrived at a sealed, porthole-like door. After mumbling something under his breath, there was a click and a little slit in the wall opened and produced a small panel. He typed something into it, and then pushed it back into its small cubby.
There was a resounding creak as the massive metal door slid open, revealing multiple other portals that also creaked and the showed the way, opening upwards, downwards, horizontally, vertically, or even all four.
After a few minutes waiting for everything to open, Wisp stepped through the gate, arriving at a massive room with ceiling so high you could only fathom where they ended.
A necessary illusion, only for precaution. If you wanted to join Paradox, the number one rule was that you had to be paranoid.
If you weren't too taken up with the mostly fake ceiling, you'd notice the even more dazzling things that surrounded the place. It was filled with massive pipes that started on the floor and shot up all the way to the ceiling, meaning they weren't that tall if you didn't have illusions everywhere.
Multiple panels filled with buttons lined the walls, along with a gazunder or two (With large curtains, of course), all being worked by the massive amount of scientists.
Wisp walked past all these towards the pipes. From afar, they'd look like the kind of cylinder that carried Maelstrom goo- but if you got close, you'd know that they were transport terminals.
He passed multiple ones, some labeled 'Armory', ones plastered with the words 'Library', many engraved with the characters, 'Chemistry Room', and quite a few saying, 'Necessary'.
Soon, the scientist arrived at a nearly invisible pipe labeled, 'TCR', for 'The Control Room'. He stepped right though it (Which would be strange to most outside of the Nexus Force, or even outside of Paradox), and vanished.
Wisp Lee appeared a few seconds later on the highest tower of the Research Facility (Which from outside looked more like a massive chimney).
A few more Minifigures who were a part of Paradox turned to face the newcomer.
"At last!" A fellow scientist in great, bulky armor sighed happily, patting Wisp on the back with a force that would have knocked the unwitting clean out the window (Most- including Wisp- and learned it the hard way).
Wisp Lee turned to inspect the man. He was wearing goggles on top of his helmet, and his mouthpiece looked more like mandibles than a breather. On his back were strapped four Dark Spiderling legs that looked a lot like extra arms, and all along the man's waist were the weapons of fallen Stromlings.
"Arms Director!" Wisp gagged, nursing his sore stomach.
The man laughed, "Only because of you, my friend!" The armored scientist then turned to face the others, "Let me introduce Wisp Lee, Head Researcher of Project Ima-"
He was cut off by a rather grim looking Sorcerer. "I think we know who Wisp is, Panos. And not even a Stromling wouldn't know Project Imaginate."
The scientist- an obviously jolly man- laughed again. "Can't take a good joke, can you?" He moved to pat the sorcerer on the back, but the man raised his Doomslicer menacingly, "Okay, okay. You can't take a joke."
Wisp Lee limped off and shook hands with the sorcerer. "I'm so glad you could come, Silas!"
The spellcaster- who must have been known as Silas- nodded back and replied in a voice like Maelstrom goo sliding down gravel. "An honor."
Wisp quickly backed away when he met the man's smoky violet, unblinking gaze. "Now.", he continued, "What's going on? I heard about the energy readings, and I must say you've got my attention."
Panos the Arms Director gave a hearty giggle once again. "That's something rare!"
The sorcerer turned his head to face him, and Panos quickly shut up.
"Here's the story", Silas growled, tearing his eyes from the Arms Director and setting them on an uneasy Wisp, "Yesterday night, something strange happened."
"What?" Wisp gasped, too intrigued to notice the Minifigure's steely gaze.
"The Spiderlings went mad. Absolutely insane. They were crashing at their cells all around the Facility, and soon, everything we've been studying went totally crazy, falling teacup over tea-kettle to get out."
Wisp frowned. He knew things like that would be strange, but he couldn't see how it was dangerous. Silas caught his expression and continued.
"They seemed to grow a little more sentient. One ape even managed to escape." Wisp gasped, but Silas didn't stop, "The creature was quickly destroyed with security, and we ray shielded all the cells."
"But that isn't all. At first, we didn't know what was going on. But know we know, even though the answer is still very vague."
The sorcerer stepped over the central control panel and hit a button. A hologram materialized, and Wisp noticed that it had been extracted from one of the security cameras the day before.
What he saw nearly knocked him out cold.
The hologram showed that, right outside the door into the facility, there had been a Minifigure. The ground all around him had somehow rotted away, all the grass had simply wilted and died. And the terra firma had sprouted about a dozen black tentacles that swayed all about the man.
The Minifigure himself was covered by a flapping cloak and hood, completely covering any features. But the telltale purple mist that surrounded him said too much.
"A Stromling." Wisp mumbled, more to himself that anyone else.
Panos, for once, seemed to turn suddenly grim, "Not just a Stromling. That's someone who had the influence to make everything corrupted hysterical. It's one of the Darkitects finest men."
Wisp opened and closed his mouth in shock. But now, only one question was in his mind.
"Where'd it go?"
"Into the former Paradox Mine."
Chapter 7: The False NemesisEdit
"Ah!" Beck Strongheart laughed in delight as he saw the man before him, "Rocco Sirocco! It's wonderful to see you again!"
The Sentinel made to pat his old friend on the back, but the ninja easily sidestepped and tripped him.
"Haven't lost any of your natural guile, I see." Beck growled under his breath, spitting into the packed earth beneath him.
"Good to see me? Were you blind for a while, Sentinel?" The man's voice was subtle, extremely quiet, yet growled with a rumbling that could create an avalanche.
"Blind? Ha!" Taking it as sarcasm, Strongheart raised his hand in a high two, grinning widely.
The ninja glanced inquisitively as the gesture, then, as quick as an asteroid rocketing to the desolate surface of Crux Prime, snatched the hand, twisted it, and, one eye closed in a sort of un-opening wink, inspected it.
Beck gasped in pain as he was spun around, trying desperately to pull his hand from his friend's grasp.
That was as possible as burying your hand under a mountain, then attempting to pull the entire thing upwards and toss it to the moon.
The Sentinel gave a massive heave, and then stumbled forward, falling to the ground in a jumble of legs, arms, and hatpins (Don't ask me where they came from). When he got up again, he was missing a hand.
"Oi! Rocco, this isn't funny, alright! Nobody, I repeat, nobody, treats a Sentinel- especially me- like that!", then, as an afterthought, he roared, "SALUTE!"
The ninja- who was still standing in the mantis position, inspecting the wiggling, bodiless hand- suddenly stood to attention, and, mockingly, saluted… with Beck's hand.
The Sentinel sighed, knowing that he couldn't harm the man before him with words. "Alright, I give up. Just please give back my hand."
He was replied in a way you could only explain as 'slapping yourself'.
Once everything was well and done, Beck, not being able to hold back his pride, spoke again. "What did you mean by 'Were you blind for a while'?"
Rocco looked up, seeming to raise an eyebrow under his hood. "I've been here for a while."
Beck smiled triumphantly. "Where, eh?"
Rocco probably returned the grin, even though his eyes stayed as stony as ever. "Let's just say you were hit in the head by something I threw at you."
The Sentinel gawked. "Why you-"
He was cut off as, seemingly out of nowhere, a stone appeared in front of his face.
"Yikes…" Beck pushed the rock away (Resulting in the cracking if his knuckles), and inspected his guest a little closer.
Rocco Sirocco had been an initiate in the ways of Spinjitzu, a mystical form of fighting that surrounded you in a whirlwind, helping you to fight and move more proficiently.
Spinjitzu was divided into sections, or elements. One was fire, one was earth, one was water (Often depicted as ice), and one was air (Often depicted as lightning). Rocco's robes were black and he wore a badge that depicted a golden stone dragon's head.
He was a practitioner of the ways of earth.
Or once was.
He was obviously no longer an initiate. His robes were no longer emblazoned with merely a badge, they showed off a beautifully intricate pattern of a dragon, its head starting at his chest, and then ending at his legs with the tail. A dragon of earth.
"I see you're back from the Gauntlet!" Beck laughed, sticking his hand up again. He quickly hid it behind his back when he noticed what he was doing.
Rocco nodded. "I am no longer an apprentice to Grand Master Cole- I'm now an Earth Spinjitzu Master."
The Sentinel laughed again. "How'd that happen? Last I saw you- my, ten years passes quick- you had forgotten your scythe at the Monastery!"
He was met by three more menacingly hovering stones.
"I am now a Master, a Dragon Rider." He steadily said again, before turning and walking out of the tent.
Beck muttered something under his breath. "My, my, what did I do to deserve that Minifigure as one of the Avant Guardians, I'll never know."
He stalked out of the tent, searching for something to take out his anger on- something that wasn't Rocco. His eyes landed on a pile of rubble on the far wall.
"Fitz!" He roared, startling the Sentinel Engineer (Who had been gratefully sucking on a quicksicle), "Fix that wall!"
Before the Minifigure could object, Beck yelled at him again. "And get to it! 'Cause you're getting Epsilon out of the truck and fixing it next!"
Fitz Vanderbuilt, the steam jetting out of his non-existent ears clearly visible, saluted (Resulting in the remains of a half-melted quicksicle to stick onto his forehead), then stomped to the ruined wall, tearing bricks from the ground and sending them flying as if he was a professional discus thrower, even stepping on the face of a still unconscious Rico.
He looked like he wanted to pick up a Doberman by the tail and swing it at a couple of Stromlings.
Which, to the dog's yelping surprise, is exactly what happened.
Chapter 8: Beyond the BoundariesEdit
"So… what was I called for?" Epsilon Starcracker yawned, stretching at if he had just slept for half a day (Which he had).
Beck Strongheart shot him a venomous glare that could have churned a bucket full of crocodile milk. "If you remember, the general always- I repeat- always, talks first."
"Sorry sir!" Epsilon hastily apologized, knowing otherwise than to make his boss angry.
Strongheart nearly slapped himself (But he was careful not to, because his hand was still numb and 'irresponsible'). "Are you deaf or what?"
"Sorr-" Epsilon was cut off by an infuriated Beck.
The Space Ranger stumbled backwards in shock, tripping on one of the small pebbles that were still there from Rocco Sirocco's entrance and landing with a plasticized 'clunk' on the grassy ground. He almost said 'Ouch!', but quickly thought otherwise.
Before Epsilon could regain his drowsy footing, he was knocked another few millimeters back as his boss roared, "SALUTE!"
Hastily, the Space Ranger obeyed, hitting himself sharply on the left eye as he did so. Epsilon winced, crinkling up his non-existent nose, but Beck had already lost interest in him.
"Now," Beck said, "Down to business."
He opened his mouth to continue, but was cut off by what sounded like more of a squeak than a question. "May I talk now?"
Beck ignored the last word and restarted. "Long story short, Dark Spiderlings have begun to crawl past the expanses of the Maelstrom Mine."
Epsilon Starcracker raised his eyebrow, sticking up a hand and opening his mouth to speak.
He was met by Beck's 'the look'.
"Only about thirteen of those foul arachnids have done so, but, nevertheless, it is very rare. One new recruit was smashed… another infected and turned into a Stromling." The Sentinel leader continued, grimacing as he spoke through the last sentence.
The Sentinels were tasked with protecting those who couldn't protect themselves. A Maelstrom victory like this, no matter how small, would hurt even the most valiant of warriors deeply.
Epsilon thought back on the infected Minifigure he had seen before his crash, but wisely held back from informing his general. A few seconds later, Beck started talking again.
"I'm afraid a hoard might develop soon, and we cannot risk a group of Spiderlings bursting from the mine and wreaking havoc in the vicinity. They will be exterminated easily enough… but I'm not sure we can promise that any younglings will survive. I have sent Melodie Foxtrot back to her former post at the entrance of the mine to protect the cave opening from the main Spiderling cavern. Venture League scout Kit Wanderware is exploring the deeper expanses of the area, and both are reporting regularly. I just hope it's enough."
Epsilon sat wide eyed and gawking. Sure, the situation wasn't that bad, but what worried the Ranger was that it had never happened before.
If things had never occurred, you could be sure that something was wrong.
But there was something that he had to ask.
"Sir- ehrm, am I allowed to speak now?"
Beck snorted and nodded, rolling his eyes.
Epsilon sighed in relief. "Thank the Mythrans. That was torture."
The Sentinel general raised an eyebrow. "Is that all you wanted to ask me?" He frowned disapprovingly.
"Yes, well… no… well…" Epsilon looked around for some help. If he didn't think of something soon, he'd be having a nasty meeting with a roll of duct tape.
Beck gritted his teeth, clenching and unclenching his fists.
The Space Ranger opened and closed his mouth. "Uhhh.", then he got it. Epsilon grinned at how smart he was. "What do you think is causing this?"
Now it was Beck's turn to smile, resulting in a very content Epsilon. "I was hoping you'd ask that. Well, we contacted Paradox this morning to see if they had noticed the strange happenings. They had, and they think they've found the culprit."
Epsilon scratched his head quizzically, but, before he could ask another question, his general continued.
"Using their security, they found a person outside their Facility at the time Spiderlings came out. Inside, every Maelstrom creature was going berserk. This Minifigure, however, wasn't any normal Minifigure. It was a man in a cloak, Maelstrom energy generating off him in a way that would have made you think the Facility had blown up a second time."
Epsilon raised an eyebrow again.
"I want you to find and smash this man."
"WHAT!?" The Space Ranger cried, "That's suicide! This guy has the potentiality to make everything infected go ballistic, and you want a mere scout to kill him?"
"You may NOT speak! I never gave you permission! Shut up and keep listening!"
Epsilon could have punched Beck in the face.
Wisely, he didn't.
"I want you to go to Melodie and Kit. Work with them. This guy's bound to come up sometime- and when he does, I want you to be ready. All three of you will take him, and you'll have over two dozen fully trained Sentinels at your back."
Epsilon relaxed, numbly smiling in relief.
"Now, salute, and begone!"
"Sir yes s- wait, am I allowed to speak now, sir?"
Beck Strongheart felt like administering a good spanking.
Chapter 9: Patrolling the MinesEdit
"Shhraaiiathh… sshhiiirriiaathhh… rrreeesssiissstthhh…"
The horrid, spidery voices echoed through the vast and shadowy tunnels of the former Paradox Mine, the sounds crawling along the jumble of stone as if they too moved on eight nasty legs.
Maelstrom goo oozed from the high stalactites, staying connected to the spiked ceilings until the wicked droplets of pure evil landed softly on the ground, creating a nigh impenetrable prison of darkness. The ground erupted in rare but sudden puffs of scalding, violet mist that vented upwards like miniscule, toxic volcanoes packed with nothing but steam.
Melodie Foxtrot hated the place. Of course, being a Sentinel, she wasn't near the horrid feelings of arachnophobia- it was just the remains of the Mines that sent shivers up her synthetic spine. Unlike the Paradox Research Facility, this place hadn't been cleaned up.
Why? It simply couldn't be cleaned up. You can't really bring a mop into a place that you can hardly walk in- especially if, over the years, it's gotten worse and worse.
Now, the inner chambers of the caves were simply impassable, leaving a perfect sanctuary for the Maelstrom; possibly better than the lower trenches of Crux Prime.
And, after nearly twenty years of freedom, Melodie Foxtrot had been appointed to guarding it again.
Some job, the Sentinel thought grimly, unsheathing one of her imaginite daggers and tossing it into the air. She switched her wrist-com to show the time and sighed, absently catching the knife by the hilt and dropping it back into its scabbard.
It was 1:62, Avant Gardens time. Almost twelve minutes past Kit's arrival time.
Kit Wanderware, Melodie's only companion on this dreary venture, had been tasked with lurking deeper into the Mine and attempting to map it out for the Nexus Force, watching out for any suspicious activity in the meantime.
But now he was close to thirteen minutes late; he had probably found something suspicious.
However, even though she knew it was right and knew that her friend was in danger, she couldn't get herself to brave the menaces of the deeper tunnels. After all, she was a Sentinel. She was trained to run in and start smashing, not to stand around patiently for a Spiderling to walk by and then hop six meters to another rickety ledge.
Melodie turned sadly and looked sidelong from her crouching position behind a small rocky outcrop. Her back to the opening into the Mine, she could clearly see the main entrance into the caves, about sixty meters away. She could also see the entrance chamber, a nasty expanse of stony clearing that was filled with Stromlings.
Former Paradox Scientists and Security Droids marched about on their dark duties, overseen by a few Spiderlings- the small amounts that were permitted by their arachnid superiors to venture beyond the boundaries of their shadowy home.
The Nexus Force often sent newer recruits into this area, as it was one of the more challenging but not so deadly of the training grounds on Avant Gardens. A few Spiderlings were no problem, and at least fresh Minifigures would learn what horrid adversaries they were.
All Melodie could do was hope that Kit was safe- and if he wasn't, whatever had got him wouldn't come to get her.
Then, all of a sudden, a hand touched her lightly on her shoulder.
Her daggers were unsheathed in mere seconds, the Sentinel, ducking, spinning, sticking out her leg, tripping her new adversary, back flipping, kicking him or her in the face, using her momentum to leap forward and grab the things throat with the legs, and pointing both knives sharply at the things face in a single movement.
Below his helmet, Melodie knew that Kit Wanderware's eyes were bulging in shock and horror. The Sentinel let go of the startled Minifigure in relief, barrel rolling off of him and hopping back to her feet.
"What were you doing? You scared me!"
Kit snorted. "Ha! You scared me more like it!"
"Why couldn't you have started humming or whistling or simply yelling, 'Melodie! I'll be there shortly!'?"
The Venture League scout raised his visor, revealing dark circles under his eyes and a horrid scar running down his left cheek. "Oh, I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to startle you!", he said in mock apology, "I just didn't want to make so much noise that you'd be startled not only by me, but by a few hundred Spiderlings. Scold me when you have the words 'Rest in Pieces' above your plastic skull, will ya?"
Melodie sighed, admitting her defeat but not admitting her slight loss of status. "Fine. I never did like working with you map brained Ventures anyways."
Kit didn't seem to notice. "Speaking of maps", he said in a more joyful tone, "Look at this!"
He handed her a roll of parchment, and Melodie quickly unrolled and inspected in, using her slight control over Imagination to lift the daggers from her hands and slip them back into their scabbards.
It was a map, and a good one at that.
"I stayed in a little longer, because the belly of that beast is simply filled with nothing but candy! You should have seen the crystals in there!", Kit suddenly lost his vigor, "Well, Maelstrom crystals of course. But still, it was quick a sight… no matter how dim!"
Melodie rolled her eyes, and then caught something to get back at her partner with. "You stayed longer? Defying the orders of General Strongheart himself?"
"Beck told me that, if I found something important, I could stay longer."
"Crystals are important?" Melodie snarled back, not letting her sudden triumph fall from her (Tight) grasp.
"Well…", Kit mumbled, allowing one moment for the glory-hungry Sentinel, "It was interesting."
"HA!" Melodie could have danced (Even if she didn't know how to).
Then, all of a sudden, the sound of a constant stream of lasers being fired reverberated through the cavern.
"Wha-?" Foxtrot started, but was quickly cut off as a Maelstrom Mech's clockwork eye hit her sharply on the back of her head.
The wonderful sound of startled Stromlings running around in shock and Spiderlings attempting to gain control filled the small cave room, causing Melodie, even if she was annoyed at the projectile to the head, to smile.
When she turned, however, she quickly grimaced.
Only one Stromling remained, but its body was shot out from between the rest of it. The creature looked down in amazement, noticing that its chest, belly, and hips were gone, and then tumbled to the ground in a heap.
"Did I miss anything?" Came a familiar, gruff yet overly haughty voice.
"Sometimes, I hate the General's decisions…" Melodie growled, her hands grasping the hilts of her daggers till her two, smooth knuckles went white.
Epsilon Starcracker grinned at her in return, blowing the smoke from his two zipguns. "Hello to you too!"
Chapter 10: A Stationary EscortEdit
A few hours later, the depressing oozing of the stalactite fluids was interrupted by expert marching. Metallic boots clinked across the plasticized grasses of Avant Gardens and dozens of legs shuffled across the hilly terrain, not stopping for any rest.
Melodie Foxtrot looked up nervously. Sounds like that didn't happen often, especially in Avant Gardens, which was one of the more peaceful worlds.
"What's going on?" She mumbled, more to herself than anyone else. To her dismay, Epsilon heard the words.
"Aww, that's adorable. Are you worried?", The Space Ranger completely ignored the fact that he had been very frightened when he first heard the news of the hooded Stromling.
Melodie snorted her distaste at the man, and then turned to walk back through the still empty and utterly Stromling-less cave clearing, heading to the entrance.
Kicking pebbles along the way, the dagger wielding Minifigure stepped into the fresh air of Avant Gardens and inhaled enough air to inflate a zeppelin.
She smiled. The foul, apathetic air of the Mines was horrid to breathe; it clogged your thoughts in a thick and oozing jam that seemed to drip sluggishly from your ears- it made the intake of air an almost choking experience. Sometimes, Melodie even forgot it was air, and held her breath for a dangerously long time contemplating what would happen if she finally gave in to a ragged gulp of the deathly gas.
Sadly, Melodie's bliss was quickly interrupted when she heard the whoosh of air by her nonexistent ear and the solid thud of metal against stone.
Shocked, the Sentinel spun around, both her dagger flying into her hands as she did so. Behind her was a blade imbedded halfway into the hard stone wall of the outside of the cave.
The kind of blade that Stromlings often had attached to their arms. A blade that had been cleanly sliced from the arm of whoever possessed it.
Melodie suddenly remembered the ominous marching that resounded through the grassy planes of Avant Gardens, and silently turned, holding her breath in a mixture of horror and excitement.
On one of the swaying hills, a person became visible; a Stromling.
The creature stumbled forward, tripping headlong in the grass. Frantically, it attempted to regain its footing- but it couldn't. It was missing an arm.
Melodie looked sidelong at the sword imbedded in the rocks behind her and smiled. The marching wasn't being made by an organized troop of Stromlings.
It was made by a score of… Sentinels.<p style="text-align:center">****
Epsilon Starcracker grinned as the troop of Sentinels entered the cavern.
"Dirk!", he cried, dropping his zipguns to the ground and unslinging his jetpack, "My man, I haven't seen you for a while!"
The man he had called Dirk, probably the leader of the band, laughed in reply, probably smiling widely under his helmet. He charged forward, taking the unwary Ranger in a massive bear hug and lifted him from his feet in what sounded like a gagging fit. The Knight replied in a voice that sounded so mechanical that you could have sworn it was emitted by a droid, "Good to see you, my old friend! How's it goin'?"
"Greeaat…" Epsilon coughed in reply, his eyelids fluttering over his bulging eyes and his hands rubbing his forehead to get rid of his dizzying illusions.
Nothing could make you more vulnerable to your surroundings than one of Dirk Manleigh's infamous embraces.
Melodie Foxtrot looked at the bulky Knight before her again, still enthralled by his appearance. Of course, she had seen him multiple times, but his armor simply hated to disappoint.
Multiple Minifigures around the Universe had been given prototype armor for testing. Almost a decade ago, Project Valiant had started, a workshop that the Faction Leaders had started to turn the tides of the war against the Maelstrom.
Their first creations were called 'Valiant Weapons', massive arms that were so heavy that they could only be held with both your hands and all your strength. The weight was worth it, though, for the weapons were an amazing success.
Over the years, the Faction Leaders continued Project Valiant, adding more armor and weapons to the display.
Dirk Manleigh, a former Faction Representative of the Sentinels who, along with his cooperatives, had been put into a secret group known as the Avant Guardians for help the war's cause more than simply standing around, had been one of the first to be blessed with the new gear that had been released.
And you couldn't blame Melodie for gawking.
The former rep and present Knight wore the most magnificent of armor. The bottom layer of his plastered clothing seemed to be chainmail shaped to look like the scales on a dragon, tipped with a dark golden that gave a little punch. He wore a beautifully embroidered belt designed to look like a leather coiled snake, and right below his neck was a moderately large armor plating shaped as a golden oak leaf.
Over that, he sported some very fine shoulder pads indeed; for pointing downwards were two scaled down dragon heads made of gold and silver wielded together with red imaginite for the eyes. The dragon's ornamental horns rose up in a curving arc that stopped by the Knight's armored throat, serving as a beeline for the eye to arrive at the man's helmet.
The helm was amazing. Its general shape looked like the well-known third rank Sentinel Knight armor, but that was the only resemblance. Two great golden oak leaves sat on each side of the helmet, partially covering the Minifigure's eyes. If you could see the eyes, of course.
Covering his lenses was a thin visor that glowed in a dazzling blue- the extra addition was probably to magnify things, find an enemy's weak spots, and could probably even serve as a foe-finding GPS and com-unit.
Dirk's mouth was concealed by a dark grey oxygen mask (Explaining the Minifigure's near-robotic voice), obviously allowing him to travel into more Maelstrom infected areas. The visor and mouthpiece completely covered his face, giving total protection, but that wasn't everything.
Being held up by two hinges over his head was another visor- one that looked like the thing a medieval lancer would wear. It was topped not by a plume, but by a shimmering sapphire eagle- the emblem of the Sentinels. This extra visor could obviously be pulled over his heavily armored face for extra protection.
At the Knight's waist was a beautiful, imaginite incrusted scabbard that held a Sentinel greatsword- obviously a new design. All Melodie could see of the sword was the hilt, which was curved much like the bottom of an umbrella, ending in a small golden dragon head. She couldn't fathom why anyone could have use for a completely curved hilt, but she was sure that is wasn't just made to look pretty.
Then there was his cape. Attached to his wondrous shoulder pads, the dark blue garment emblazoned with the emblem of the Sentinels flowed downward, waving around him like an ocean in a thunderstorm. Slung easily on his shoulder was another awesome sight; his shield.
It was no longer the standard, mostly squared shield that she was used to seeing. This one was a massive semicircle, as least as large as any other of the parallelogram defenses, but far more dazzling. It was painted with a blue and gold eagle, striking from the sky, with mountains and a setting sun behind it. And the curved part of the shield was covered in metal feathers.
Dagger sharp metal feathers.
And then, of course, there was the Powerjouster. One of the original Valiant Weapons created by the Four Faction Leaders, but Powerjouster was used only be the most skilled of Sentinel Knights. A massive lance tipped by a deadly blade and a flag that waved even when there was no breeze, it was a dangerous weapon- especially if it was being held with only one hand, as was the case with Dirk.
Melodie Foxtrot's mind was rather numb, but she knew that her stodgy days as a sentry in the caves had just gotten a lot more exciting.