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Her head swirled with maelstrom energy, so powerful, so think, so malevolent, that all memory of her prior life was a blur. As she staggered across the barren landscape of Crux Prime, her drooping head gazed down at her infected body. Her clothes had been reduced to rags around her. A solitary violet-tinted tear crept down her twisted, maelstrom-corrupted face. She was someone important once. She had a purpose, a mission. Now all she had was ruin.
Something drove her on, however. Whether it was fear of what lay behind, or desire for what lay ahead, not even she herself was sure. All she knew was that she had to get to Nexus Tower. They could help. There was still enough left of her former psyche to know that they could help.
If they didn’t smash her first.
The strain in her legs was overwhelming; she had walked around aimlessly for goodness knows how long. She tried to groan, but instead a low, disjointed grunt came from her almost non-existent lips. As she forced herself forward, she wondered why she had to get to the majestic headquarters of the Nexus Force, why something within her even desired to, but she kept walking. It was better than doing nothing.
All sense of time had parted from her fogged up mind as she wandered; she felt like mere seconds had passed when in reality, she had been hobbling through Crux Prime for hours. She suddenly found herself to be remarkably exhausted. After making a final struggle to stay upright, the stromling finally collapsed.
She collapsed right in front of the teleportation station leading into Nexus Tower.
Alphos Brightstar sat still on his bed in his brand new, incredibly spacious apartment in Nexus Tower, gazing at his Rank 3 Sentinel Greatsword. He wouldn’t need it anymore, in fact, he would be completely re-outfitted for battle with all the latest Sentinel equipment. He would be treated with respect, honor, and given command of his own unit of Sentinel warriors.
Alphos was being made a Captain.
And he couldn’t have felt more miserable.
“What did I do to deserve a promotion?” Alphos muttered to himself, “I can’t take two steps without someone I care about getting hurt. Putting me in charge of more people is just gonna result in more tragedy.”
It was times like this that Alphos wished that he still had Axenya by his side, to comfort him, reassure him, tell him that he would do a good job, but that could never be now.
Alphos had watched Axenya fall in battle, and Alphos felt with every fiber of his being that he could have saved her. That, and his friend Exotus’ bold sacrifice on Crux Prime were exactly why Alphos didn’t want the job. It would only result in more pain and suffering.
Alphos’ ceremony was starting in 10 minutes, and he knew he would have to get there quickly, but not to accept his new rank.
He had to get there to tell them to call it off.
Duke Exeter stood impatiently at a delicately carved pedestal of marble, stationed at the head of a large hall within Nexus Tower. An elegantly groomed minifigure dressed in a tuxedo stepped out from behind a large red curtain behind Duke Exeter, and whispered in the legendary warrior’s ear.
“Private Brightstar would like to speak with you, sir.”
“CAPTAIN Brightstar. That’s why we’re here right now,” Exeter corrected.
“That’s what he would like to speak with you about.”
Exeter bristled at the response, and turned towards the silent array of seated minifigures before him.
“I’ll be back momentarily,” he said, and with that, stepped behind the velvet curtains. Alphos was standing before him, grimly waiting for what came next.
“Why aren’t you out on stage?” Exeter snapped.
“I…. SIR, I can’t accept this promotion.”
“What do you MEAN you can’t accept it? Why couldn’t you?”
“Because Sir, I don’t believe I’m fit for the job.”
“Not fit, rubbish! You’re one of the finest warrior I’ve ever seen, you’ve demonstrated bravery, ingenuity and initiative at every turn! I can’t think of a soldier I’d rather surround my men with!”
“To get smashed?!” Alphos yelled his emotions spiraling out of control, “Because that’s all that ever happens to people around ME! You might as well send your men to fight the Baron himself, they’d stand a better against him than they would beside me.”
Duke sighed sadly, and shook his head.
“Alphos, listen to me. I know you’ve lost friends, I know that not everyone has escaped the battles you’ve seen alive. Such is the cost of war. No victory comes without a loss, be it loss of life, or the mere resources required to win the battle. The truth is, Alphos, that the Battle of Nimbus would have been lost if you had not held the enemy off while Private Danexi retrieved backup from the ninja..”
“Exotus never would have been able to defeat the Wielder AND free all of the prisoners in time, and the number of Exodus units and stromlings you faced during the Battle of Crux would have smashed a half dozen of my best elites….”
“NOT TO MENTION, that I don’t even think that Exotus would have overcome the corruption within him had you not been there. Alphos, I’m obviously not going to force you to accept this position, but I just want you to give this a try. I trust you. Trust me.”
“Ok,” Alphos murmured, “I’ll give it a try.”
“That’s a good soldier. Now let’s make you a Captain,” Duke said, “Tomorrow you meet your new unit.”
It was a perfectly typical day at Nexus Tower for Vanda Darkflame, who went about her numerous duties as Paradox faction leader with her usual cunning and decisiveness. Even with as much foresight as she had though, she could not have possibly anticipated what was about to happen. She was walking casually down the massive corridor connecting the Paradox and Assembly rooms on Nexus Tower’s public floors, when she saw a group of her own scientists run towards the elevators leading to the ground floor. One of them glanced over his shoulder, and upon spotting Vanda, strode towards her, with a stern air that exuded urgency.
“Mistress Darkflame,” he said, “Come with us. We’ll brief you on the situation on the way down.”
“I am your LEADER,” she said commandingly, “You will brief me now.”
“Of course, Mistress,” he replied, “A few minutes ago, one of our scouts found a stromling collapsed on the threshold of the tower.”
“Strange that it was collapsed, but why is this one so special?”
“A quick glance told us that this was no generic spawn of maelstrom. This is an infectee.”
Vanda drew in a sharp breath. Infected minifigures were extremely rare, as normal maelstrom protocol dictated that battles were won and enemies smashed on sight. What small percentage of stromlings that were infected minifigures reached that state rarely, most often due to uncontrollable burst of maelstrom energy, or physical exposure to liquid maelstrom. Stromlings very rarely bothered to infect anybody.
Of course, Vanda reasoned, the chance to study an infected minifigures would prove invaluable. If the secret to cleansing minifigures of infection could be uncovered, hundreds, no, thousands of lives could be spared. It could be the very secret to ending the maelstrom as a whole.
“Get it to my lab,” Vanda ordered, “NOW. I’ll be there prepping my equipment.”
“Yes Mistress,” the scientist said, and he hurried on his way.
A few minutes later, the unconscious stromling lay strapped to table in Vanda’s lab. Numrous camera-like devices hovered over its body, taking high-definition images of its infection. Other machines scanned it for any sign of imagination energy. What those machines discovered gave Vanda a shock that could fell a stromling Ape.
The stromling’s Creation Spark was almost completely untouched by maelstrom.
Part V Edit
Chaos. Torment. Anguish. All this and more shall soon befall the Nexus Force, Exodus Prime thought to himself, from within the thick walls of his makeshift base on a small planet beyond the sea of fragments of what was once the planet Crux. He gazed around at the inside of his headquarters; great pillars carved from dark grey stone held the ceiling of his new base 20 meters above his head, which was in turn carved with scores of tiny pictograms portraying the Nexus knows what in some ancient forgotten language. The walls of the structure were coated in an equal number of carvings, but what was most impressive about them was that they were made of solid marble. Obviously the place was some kind of forgotten palace, perhaps designed by the First Builders themselves. Exodus Prime smiled wickedly from behind his ebony helmet as he thought of how the multiple control panels and other electronic sensors had sprouted out of the ground and walls at his command, his staff channeling his own imagination energy through the chaos of the maelstrom to create anything he desired, and his desire didn’t stop there.
He strode over to one of the yawning mouths that were the windows of the headquarters, each one wide enough to allow ten minifigures standing side by side to view the outside world without obstruction. The view from the particular window was awe-inspiring, to say the least. A barren plain extended out from the base of the palace to where it met a turquoise sea, a panorama almost as striking as that of the heaped, snowcapped mountains that could be viewed from the building’s rear. It wasn’t the raw beauty of nature that caused a robotic cackle of sinister mirth to erupt from Exouds Prime’s lips though; in the plains below, thousands of stromlings operated thousands of pieces of machinery to fit together thousands of equally complex components.
Those components were fitting together to form three maelstrom warships, and each one upon completion would be twice the size of the Nexus Force vessels that had been so crucial in the defeat of the Wielder a few weeks before. Exodus Prime knew that his enemy had nothing that could stand in the way of these crushing vehicles of war, and few soldiers willing to try.
“The Nexus Force will fall,” he muttered in his cyborg’s monotone, “And then I will rule this Universe.”
Immediately after the Battle of Crux Prime three weeks previous, an enraged Zegon paced back and forth along the wide platform in the Temple of Eternity. Anger coursed through his veins themselves. The Blade of Eternity was gone, and with it, all his dreams of glory, power, and most importantly retribution on his enemies. Surely it was still out there, SURELY a weapon that powerful could not simply be destroyed. He had to find it. Maybe the temple was just another test. Yes, Zegon reasoned, Anything’s possible.
He went back to the wall carving designed to hold the three blades, and examined the inscriptions once again. As he had seen before, they merely named the blades in turn. He cast his eyes downwards dejectedly. To his surprise, at the very bottom of the carving, there were more hieroglyphs, ones he hadn’t spied at first.
“Bestower of Eternity,” Zegon murmured, reading the ancient language aloud, “Well what in the name of the Nexus does THAT mean?!”
He looked around the room once again, at the twin pedestals, the three mounted holders. His eyes came to rest once more upon the strange hieroglyphs.
“Bestower,” he repeated, “To bestow, to give, to grant…,” he gazed up at the massive cavern around him, “That’s it! This thing doesn’t hold the Blade of Eternity, it GIVES the POWER of Eternity.”
He quickly got to work, placing his mysterious torches in the pedestals and the Blades of Light and Darkness in their holders, then stood back to admire his work. Obviously there was something he had to do to begin the process now, but what was it? He noted that the pedestals were about the arm span of a fully grown minifigures apart, so he decided to take his chances with that first. While both torches were still mounted in the pedestals, he grabbed both handles. The torches glowed to life, and Zegon saw trails of light forming along the carvings in the pedestals. He grinned gleefully as the wall carving itself began to illuminate itself through its nook s and crannies, the lit areas slowly converging on the wall mounts. The mounts for the Blades of Light and Darkness soon shone as well, but when the pathways of light reached the last mount, Zegon nearly screamed in frustration.
Vanda couldn’t believe her luck; an untainted Creation Spark meant that there was a high chance of restoring the infected minifigure’s original form. The process would be far from easy, but at least easier than it would have been otherwise.
“I want the Operating Room readied,” Vanda said coolly, “We might be able to restore this one.”
One of the scientists in the room glanced up at Vanda in shock.
“Are you sure, Mistress Darkflame?” he queried, “The chance to study an infectee…”
“…Is far outweighed by the opportunity to obtain intelligence on the inner workings of the Maelstrom. Who knows what this poor creature can tell us with its own lips?”
“Understood Mistress,” the scientist said, though Vanda could tell he still disagreed with her, “OR will be prepped as per your command.”
Paranoia overtook Vanda, and she wheeled the gurney carrying the unconscious stromling to the operating room herself. Upon arrival, a group of scientists and doctors in hazmat suits gently lifted their chaotic patient onto the operating table. Powerful lamps were activated, illuminating every last square centimeter of the stromling’s body. Vanda, standing there in donned scrubs, picked up an imagination imbued scalpel.
“Let us begin,” she said.
Alphos strode down the corridors of Nexus Tower leading towards the building’s massive hangar bays, Duke Exeter leading the way.
“Your new unit is quite excited to meet you,” the Sentinel leader said, “I trust you feel the same way?”
“I guess I just hope I don’t disappoint them, sir,” Alphos replied grimly.
“You won’t,” Duke said, “Just be yourself, and they’ll take a natural liking to you. Trust me.”
As Alphos walked into the bustling hangar, his eyes scanned the room for a sign of his new team, but instead saw nothing but the usual; a few dozen fighter vessels being serviced by mechanically inclined minifigures. At least, that’s what he saw the first time around.
A second glance revealed to him a small interplanetary cruiser, about one-sixteenth the size of the Venture Explorer, boldly emblazoned with the proud emblem of the Sentinel Faction. Twin gun emplacements were mounted on each side of the vehicle, and the entire spacecraft was shaped like a snub-nosed bullet with stubby wings and dorsal fins. Standing at attention in front of the relatively small vessel were three almost disturbingly young minifigures in Sentinel uniforms. Alphos himself was barely twenty, and these officers looked fresh out of high school. He hoped that wasn’t actually the case.
“Captain Alphos Brightstar, meet Sargent Dawn Lekon and Privates John Retex and Kypton Shento.”
“SIR, YES, SIR!” the young recruits chimed.
“I’m very pleased to meet all of you… um, at ease,” Alphos stammered. This was going to be a long day.
Alphos could see the Duke had meant it when he had said that his new unit was excited to meet their new commanding officer. Both John and Kypton wouldn’t stop saluting Alphos, and Dawn was trembling a little. Alphos was starting to wonder who would break the silence first, when Duke turned to leave.
“Well, I’ll let you four get to know each other, but one last thing before I go,” Duke said, as he rummaged around in his pocket for an access card. An access card for a ship, which he then handed to Alphos.
“I figured you’d need something a little bigger,” he said with a smile, then walked smartly towards the hangar bay door.
“Thank you sir!” Alphos called, but didn’t get a response. He’d really wished the Duke had stayed there with him. At least that might break the awkward silence. Oh well, Alphos thought to himself, he might as well get things over with. He turned to Dawn first.
“Sargent Lekon, he said, trying to sound official, “What are your credentials?”
“Well… sir!” she stammered with a flip of her nut brown hair that reminded Alphos painfully of Axenya, “I graduated high school last year with a 4.0 GPA, took a crash course through the academy and emerged at the top of my class in marksmanship, piloting and starship engineering. I specialized as a Space Ranger. I was a close second in my swordsmanship class and… thank you.”
“May I ask for what?”
“My father is one of Duke Exeter’s elite troopers. You saved his life three weeks ago on Crux Prime. Thank you.”
“I did my best,” Alphos said, trying to remain above his memories of that day. He turned to Private Retex next, and was just about to speak when the young man intercepted the words in his mouth.
“Private John Retex, SIR!” he said, “I specialized as a Knight at the Nexus Force academy, and studied advanced battle strategy. I was at the top of my swordsmanship class.”
“Good to know, soldier,” Alphos said. He then glanced over at private Shento.
Shento had a mysterious air around him that seemed to suit a Paradoxian more than a Sentinel. He wore gleaming Samurai armor and carried a katana that was either brand new or had been polished within an inch of its life.
“Private Kypton Shento,” Alphos said, “What have you to say about yourself?”
“Only that I am ready to serve you, Captain Brightstar.”
At that moment, the comm unit on Alphos’ wrist began to beep. Alphos accepted the call, and Duke’s voice crackled over the speaker.
“Alphos, I want you and your team to report to the war room at once. I’ve just received some disturbing news.”
“Yes sir,” Alphos replied, glad of finally having something to do, “Team, move out!”
“THINK, you oblivious fool, THINK!” Zegon screamed to himself, “There must be something you’re missing!”
He scanned the room, his mind running a logical check of everything that could be relevant to the ritual. A second examination of the torch pedestals showed that he had indeed operated them correctly, so that was one less thing to think of. The unfortunate thing was that those two pedestals and the three sword holders on the wall were the only things in the cave he could interact with.
Then it clicked.
“The temple… it bestows the Power of Eternity… perhaps LITERALLY! The power itself needs a vessel to reside in! I need another sword!”
The problem was that aside from the Blades of Light and Darkness, he had brought no swords with him at all, and he knew he could just walk up to Nexus Tower and buy a new one.
Not without getting arrested, or worse, shot on sight.
“There has to be somewhere else I can get a sword…” Zegon muttered. Perhaps one of the warriors who fell during the Crux battle dropped one. He’d check there first.
Zegon strode back across the nerve-destroying stone bridge over the lava pit, and made his way back up the tunnel to Caldera Mar. It was when he reached the cave-in again that he noticed the skeleton he had passed on the way in.
The skeleton had a sword.
“YES!” Zegon exclaimed, snatching the rusty old weapon up from ageing bones. He bolted back down the tunnel to the central cavern and placed the weapon in the central holder. He placed a hand on each of the torches, and once again the glyphs in the wall began to light up. This time, when it reached the central holder, there was a flash of light so bright, so unbelievably brilliant, that Zegon thought it would permanently blind him. When the light was gone, the rusty old blade was no longer there.
In its place was a gleaming golden sword with a design reminiscent of the Blades of Light and Darkness.
There were also three transparent minifigures standing in front of it.
Alphos and his team stood silently at attention as Duke Exeter glided into the Sentinel War Room, each one equally eager and nervous to receive the news. The Sentinel leader came to a halt behind his giant holographic map table, and his eyes came to rest on Alphos.
“What’s the news, sir?” Alphos said.
“As I said, disturbing,” Duke replied, “One of our cargo vessels was shipping in supplies from beyond Nimbus System, beyond the Crux fragments for that matter. On its way past one of our neighboring star systems, it detected a chaotic presence on one of its planets.”
“Chaotic…” Sargent Lekon commented, “As in, maelstrom?”
“Correct,” Duke uttered, and the others in the room drew in a quick breath. If the Maelstrom had spread beyond the surviving remains of planet Crux, it could dominate the entire universe.
“I don’t think I have to inform you all of what’s at stake here, though I would like to make it completely clear that this mission is for reconnaissance purposes only. Alphos, I want you to take your ship and crew to this planet,” Duke said, as he waved his hand over the map table to reveal a three dimensional image of the world he was referring to, “and determine exactly what the situation of infection is there. Then return. I don’t want or expect any heroics here. Are we clear?”
“Clear, sir,” Alphos said.
“Good,” Duke said, “I’ll order for your ship to be prepped for departure as soon as possible. Good luck.”
Good luck, Alphos thought to himself. He wished that Duke hadn’t said those two words.
It meant that luck was probably something he’d need.
As the light of morning glared into the Nexus Tower Medical Centre’s recovery rooms, a stromling lay outstretched in bed, the operation conducted the previous day slowly cleansing her body of maelstrom infection. Outside the door of the recovery ward, Vanda Darkflame approached a few of the nearby doctors.
“How is our patient?” she asked the elder of the two doctors.
“In perfect truth, I believe that we’ve perfected our process. The patient is recovering nicely. Superficial traces of infection should disappear within the next 24 hours, while the patient will continue to experience residual sickness for the next week or so. Basically, we’re looking at a full recovery.”
“Excellent!” Vanda chimed, one of her rarer tones of speech, “Run facial recognition scans through our missing persons database; it should be able to perceive our patient’s identity despite the maelstrom deformation. Let’s id our stromling.”
“Yes mistress,” the doctor replied. He turned on his heel, and strode off to carry out the orders given to him. Vanda on the other hand entered the recovery room to examine the patient herself. One glance at the creature’s slowly recovering face though caused her to draw in a sharp breath.
She wouldn’t need the facial recognition scan after all.
Zegon, despite his years of exposure to the supernatural and extraordinary, was not one to believe in ghosts, which was why he walked straight through the glowing minifigures and ripped the Blade of Eternity from its wall holder.
“FINALLY!” he bellowed, as he felt the raw power from within the weapon warm him clammy hand, “FINALLY!”
He directed the blade at a stray stone, and willed it to fire.
“What?!” he fumed, “Why won’t this blasted thing work!?”
“Because,” an eerily hollow and echoing voice spoke from behind him, “You have not yet been deemed worthy.”
Zegon spun around to face the speaker; no one but the three “ghosts” were standing there.
“And how can something that is not actually in front of me deem me worthy?” Zegon retorted, more to himself then the apparitions in front of him.
“We are the Spirits of Eternity, beings of pure energy tasked by the last of the First Builders with guarding the Power of Eternity,” the first spirit said, “And only those deemed worthy may wield the power you seek.”
Zegon frowned. He’d heard of the power of the First Builders, and despite his disbelief in ghosts, if any race could make such things possible, it would be then. Perhaps it would be best to cast off the possibility of a hallucination and play along.
“How does one prove their worth?” he enquired. This time it was the second spirit that replied.
“You must allow us to instruct you in the secrets of the Power of Eternity. And you must hear its story, so the disasters of old are not repeated. Do you ---“
“Do you accept, Zegon?”
In Zegon’s eyes, obtaining the Power of Eternity was easily worth any instruction he had to receive. And he wanted the Power of Eternity more than anything in universe.
“Then we begin,” the third spirit said.
As the doctor walked back into the recovery ward, Vanda was already halfway to the door, a tense but somewhat relieved expression on her face. The doctor was holding a clipboard in his hand, and was obviously about to tell Vanda what he had been sent to find out.
“We got an almost immediate hit on the records. The subject’s name is – “
“Her name is Dr Natasha Topiase, age 26,” Vanda interrupted, “She graduated the Nexus Force Academy at age 20 with advanced studies in biochemistry, nanorobotics and theoretical physics. She then took a four year doctorate in maelstrom chemistry at the Nexus City University of Science, receiving high honors for her work. She was then immediately recruited by the Paradox faction and sent to work at the Avant Gardens Research Facility. She went missing during the Battle of Avant Gardens and was assumed smashed or infected. It would appear the latter was correct.”
The doctor glanced down at his clipboard, a look of disbelief on his slowly wrinkling face.
“That’s correct,” he stammered, “But how did you know?”
“Because I handpicked her from the NCUS to work at the AG facility. She was one of my best researchers, and to be honest, one of my best friends.”
“I… I didn’t realize,” the doctor stammered, “I had no idea you had any frie… I mean, that’s a shame you thought you lost her.”
Vanda glared at the doctor momentarily, but then turned her mind to more important things.
“When will she be able to speak?” Vanda queried.
“She should be able to speak in a few hours, but not fluently. The lack of vocal ability shared by stromlings won’t completely disappear until tomorrow.”
“Thank you,” Vanda replied, “You’re dismissed.”
By the time the doctor turned to leave, Vanda had forgotten that he had insulted her; she was completely engrossed in her friend’s recovery. When Natasha finally opened her eyes, Vanda’s face would be the first thing she saw.
That’s what friends are for.
The Nexus Tower control lights switched to an all clear signal, and Alphos’ starcruiser shot out of the Nexus Tower hangar bay into the violet tinted fogs above the more unsavory parts of Crux Prime. Aboard the small vessel, Alphos flicked the system over to autopilot and sat back in his chair. It was going to be a long flight out of Nimbus System, even with hyperdrive. Normally, the distance between the scattered Crux chunks would only require short bursts of hyperdrive to travel between, but the gravity well of the massive maelstrom black hole nearby prevented hyperdrive engines from operating at anything even close to maximum efficiency. Oh well, Alphos thought. Once he was clear of Nimbus System, it would only take roughly two hours to reach their destination. That made twelve hours in total.
Alphos knew that the best use of his time would be to better get to know his new team. He looked over his shoulder at the other three seats in the cockpit, each one filled with a member of his crew. Sitting there, they looked so young, so inexperienced, and Alphos feared that they weren’t ready for the stress of war. Then again, Alphos was sure that he’d looked the same way at first.
Dawn had obviously been watching him as he thought, and could tell exactly what he was thinking.
“I know we look new to all this Captain, but we won’t disappoint you. I promise,” she said.
“Truth is guys, I’m more worried about disappointing you. I don’t exactly have a perfect resume,” Alphos replied grimly. It wasn’t just humility, he genuinely meant the words. Ever since he’d lost Axenya….
“I heard about the loss of Private Danexi at Nimbus Station,” Dawn said, “I’m sorry. There was nothing you could have done.”
“Yeah,” Alphos mumbled, “That’s what everyone else told me.”
Not that Alphos believed it himself.
By now the ship had exited Crux Prime’s atmosphere, and was floating freely in space.
“It’s not important right now,” Alphos remarked, as he flicked a few switches that launched the ship into hyperspace, “We’ve got a mission to do.”
It was approximately 2:00 am when Natasha finally opened her eyes, and an extremely sleepy Vanda was the first to see her awake. By now her maelstrom infection had receded significantly; the only traces of her stromling history were a slight violet tint to her skin, and a few swollen purple lumps on her body.
“You’re awake,” Vanda breathed, relief obvious in her tone, “You had me worried there.”
Natasha blinked, her eyes first gazing out into nothingness, then turning to Vanda.
“Who are you?” she rasped, “Where am I?”
Vanda’s heart sank. The infection had most likely had an amnesia inducing effect on its victims. She might never regain her memory.
“I’m Vanda,” Vanda said, “And you’re safe now.”
Vanda, Natasha thought. Her mind swirled with a mix of feint and rapidly fading memories. Something about the name seemed compellingly familiar, the associated memories simply weren’t there. It had been claimed by the darkness.
The darkness, she thought.
“The… the darkness… so strong…,” Natasha murmured, more to herself than anyone else, “I can’t remember.”
“You’re free of the darkness now,” Vanda comforted, “You’re in Nexus Tower.”
Nexus Tower. That definitely stirred up something within her mind, but something about it, if nothing else, made her feel safe. She was safe.
“Will I… will I ever be able to remember?” she queried softly. Vanda brushed away a looming frown at her impending response. This was her friend, a friend she wanted back.
“I,” Vanda gulped, “I don’t know. But I do know that I will personally see that everything possible is done to ensure to highest odds of you getting your memory back. I promise.”
Natasha’s eyes scanned Vanda, and easily identified that fatigue that flowed through the Paradox leader’s entire body.
“You look tired. You should rest,” Natasha said. Vanda nodded in response.
“Ok,” she replied, “But if you need anything, call for help. I’ll be there.”
Vanda turned to leave, but stopped as the other spoke.
“I will,” Natasha said, “And thank you, Vanda.”
When Zegon’s once again became conscious of reality, he was longer in the Temple of Eternity. In fact, he was no longer on Crux Prime. He was lying down in a grassy field in the middle of nowhere.
“What the…?” Zegon mumbled, “Where am I?”
Suddenly, the three spirits materialized in front of him. The one closest to Zegon spoke.
“Your mind is where our story begins,” the apparition said, “Your mortal form remains in the Temple of Eternity.”
“So…,” Zegon began, trying to adjust to the “world” around him, “Where IS here?”
“You have not left planet Crux,” the second spirit said, “You are observing the ancient kingdom of Jallan, as it was five thousand years ago.”
“Minifigures not unlike you were becoming the dominant form of intelligence in the Universe, while the First Builders, as a species, were dying out,” the third spirit said, “The newborn race divided into several factions, each obsessed with power and control. As superior beings, the First Builders felt the need to settle the disputes for the sake of peace. That was their first mistake.”
“How so?” Zegon probed, his curiosity now overwhelming him.
“In time, Zegon, you shall learn the answer to this question,” the first spirit said, “for we will not simply tell you. Only through observation will you find your answer.”
“We shall leave you now,” the spirits said in unison, “Only once you have seen the entire story will you exit your comatose state. Farewell.”
The three spirits faded from Zegon’s view, and with that, he was alone. He gazed off into the distance, and noticed the smoke of an old-fashioned chimney. I wouldn’t be alone for long, he reasoned, and marched off towards what he assumed would be civilization.
Exodus Prime sat in his elegantly carved throne in what had once most likely been the grand chamber of the ancient palace inside of which his headquarters now lay. Soon, the entire universe could very well be his. Soon, the Nexus Force would fall, and fall at his hand. Soon, he thought himself, soon. It was during his reverie that Exodus 1, formerly Exodus 23, walked into the room. He was not unaware of her arrival, and turned his head to meet her determined gaze.
“What is your purpose here?” Prime asked. The other titled her helmeted head slightly to one side as she readied her response, then spoke.
“Our informant has just contacted us,” she said, “A Nexus Force transport has detected on maelstrom presence on the surface on this planet. They have dispatched a team to investigate.”
“The vessel departed from Nexus Tower approximately ten hours ago. It took that much time for our contact to find a secure channel from his position.”
“Very good, 23,” Exodus Prime droned in his semi-mechanical voice, “Prepare the Venture Explorer for launch.”
“May I ask, to what end, Master?”
“We have guests, 23,” Prime replied, a touch of menace in his tone, “We must greet them.”
Zegon reached what indeed turned out to be a village without much incident. It consisted of a group of small medieval-looking houses; cobblestone walls with wooden support pillars, and roves made of interwoven wooden planks. Minifigures roamed the streets, going about their day to day lives. It wasn’t until one minifigure walked straight through Zegon however, that he realized that what the spirits had said was true; no one was aware of his presence.
“Great,” he muttered, “Well that rules out asking questions. Guess I’ll just have to be observant.”
I didn’t take very long to notice something that was out of the ordinary. A young minifigure came running through the streets, maybe about fifteen years old, with blonde hair, and screaming at the top of his lungs.
“THEY’RE COMING!!” he screeched, “FLEE!”
Instantly, the population within earshot dropped any possessions they held in their hands and scrambled as though they had seen a ghost. It didn’t take long to work out why; at the far end of the street Zegon stood on, smoke was rising from burning houses. The houses were being set on fire by burning torches, and the minifigures holding those torches wore dark gray iron armor and each had a wicked looking sword sheathed at his waist.
Enemy ones, by the looks of things. The knights ripped through the village, smashing everyone in the path, and burning every house in the village until there was nothing and no one but stone ruins left.
They had destroyed an entire village.
The knight leading the pack, obviously in charge, by the look of the decorative sash on his armor, started barking orders to his men.
“Find the Builder and take his Blade!” he commanded, “Do not strike him down; King Arkor wants him alive.”
If Zegon wanted answers, this was his chance to get them.
“Yes Sir!” the knights shouted, and marched off in search of their target.
Without a second thought, Zegon followed them.
After eleven hours in close quarters with each other, the members of Alphos’ team were finally starting to break down their official military barriers and warm up to each other. As it happened, Retex was quite the joker, and had been cracking Lekon up for the past hour, while Shento watched on silently. It was only after Alphos himself had made small crack in response that he realized that he might be able to get used to this. If only life was that simple.
The fact was still remained that Alphos and his team were going to investigate Maelstrom infection outside of Nimbus Station, a situation that could lose the Nexus Force the war. It would be hard to imagine things getting much worse than that.
At that moment, a screen on the ship’s dashboard began glowing and beeping in a somewhat shrill and ear-piercing tone. Dawn reached over to the screen, and read the words scrolling across it.
“What does it say?” Alphos said.
“Nexus Force distress signal,” she replied, “A few months old, but still…”
“How far out of our hyperspace course?”
“Not at all,” Dawn said, “It’s right in our path.”
Alphos went silent at that moment. What were the odds of a distressed ship being directly in line with their hyperspace vector? Still, Nexus Force protocol dictates that any ship in a position to respond to a distress signal must do so. Alphos didn’t have much of a choice.
“Take us out of hyperspace near the distressed ship,” he said to Lekon, “ETA?”
“One minute,” she replied, and began powering down the hyperdrive in preparation for re-entry into “normal” space.
That’s went things took a serious turn for the bad.
Alphos’ ship shot out of hyperspace, and instantly the distressed ship was in view. Alphos gaped in horror at the all-too-familiar maelstrom-corrupted metal, and the old, faded Venture League emblems decorating the hull.
“The Venture Explorer,” Alphos murmured.
“Shields up, NOW!” Alphos yelled, “Retex, Shento, to the gunner pods!”
Even as Sargent Dawn Lekon powered up the shields, a sizzling energy blast from the enemy ship struck the tiny vessel, fully shaking all aboard. Alphos switched the controls of auto-pilot and threw himself upon the controls, sending the ship spiraling into an evasive maneuver. Already glowing purple starfighters were breaking off from a tight formation around the Venture Explorer to begin an assault on Alphos’ ship.
“Hold on tight, guys,” Alphos shouted, “This is gonna get ugly! Lekon! Bring the hyperdrive back on line! Program a course for Nexus Tower!”
“But the mission…?!” she exclaimed.
“It was a trap!”
The leading starfighter had gotten into firing range by now, and had opened up its guns on the cruiser. A whoop emerged from Private Retex’s gunner pod as the starfighter was blown to pieces. His joy faded as another three of them bore down on the ship in a delta formation.
“INCOMING!” Alphos yelled, throwing the ship into a tight corkscrew that neatly wove its way around the lethal spacecraft. He then drew the ship back around in an arc, allowing Retex and Shento to shoot down the fighters from behind.
“Course is set!” Lekon exclaimed, then frowned suddenly, “But the hyperdrive isn’t fully online.”
Just as she had been doing for the past 10 hours, Vanda Darkflame walked into the recovery ward to check up on Natasha, hoping with all her heart that something had changed.
Like maybe her memory had returned.
“Natasha,” Vanda said, as she approached the foot of her friend’s bed, “How are you feeling?”
The obvious answer would be that she was much better; she looked it too. Most of the discoloration of her skin had disappeared, along with the infected lumps that had covered her body.
“I’m feeling much, better, but that’s not all,” Natasha said excitedly, “I remember!”
Vanda took a step back in surprise, then her expression softened as happiness – another one of her less common emotions – took over.
“You remember everything?” Vanda checked.
“Everything!” Natasha replied brightly, “You, the Nexus Force, the Research Facility…”
“I… I’m so glad,” Vanda said, “What happened to you, anyway?”
Natasha frowned, as though a flood of grim memories were rushing back towards her.
“It was an ordinary day at the AG Research Facility,” Natasha began, “I was doing some tests with liquid maelstrom. All of a sudden, every alarm in the building went off. Then the self destruct mechanism was activated.”
Vanda looked down at the floor, an expression of mixed sorrow and guilt on her face.
“The facility was compromised. Self destruct was activated on my order. I’m sorry.”
“As was protocol,” Natasha replied, “I understand. Anyway, I don’t know how they turned it off, but all of a sudden every light in the building went off, and power to all equipment was lost. I was carefully regulating the unstable liquid maelstrom at the time, so when we lost power, the pipes blew, and…”
“You were infected,” Vanda finished.
“Pretty much. As the darkness took over, I was drawn to a strange woman in a Paradox hazmat suit. She had some weird crystal. I had to follow her orders. I physically didn’t have a choice. I presume you are already aware of the battle on Crux, but when she was defeated, I was left there. Next thing I knew, I was here.”
Vanda looked at her friend, appalled at what she’d been through, but thankful that she was here.
“I’m just glad you’re ok,” Vanda said.
And she meant it.
Zegon followed the Knights down an old cobblestone side street to a house that looked completely ordinary in every way. The only difference to the other house was that this one bore a sign labeled “blacksmith”.
“This is it,” the lead Knight growled, “Be ready. The Builder could have any number of tricks up his sleeve.”
The group walked into the building, to find a usual assortment of blacksmith furnishings; furnaces, anvils and a variety of other nonflammable objects. But the blacksmith himself was nowhere to be found.
“Examine every nook and cranny,” the lead Knight said, “There’s probably a hidden room somewhere.”
It literally took two hours of scrutiny before anyone found anything. One of the knights finally let out a cry as he found a remarkably loose brick in the wall. He gently removed it from its rest and set it down on the floor. Set back into the wall where the brick had been, a lever stuck out of the darkness.
“I’ve found it!” he exclaimed, “It’s here!”
As the knight pulled the lever back, an entire portion of the wall slid back and to the side, revealing a darkened staircase in the process. The lead Knight lit a flaming torch, and descended into the darkness. Zegon, ever so patiently, waited until every other knight had followed their leader, then went down the staircase. Normally, this kind of a wait would have caused him to lose his temper, but not this time. This was far too important.
The staircase seemed to spiral down for at least five stories, but finally the party reached the bottom, where they emptied out into a small room, lit by a fireplace. Kneeling in front of the fire with his back to the knights was a decrepit old man with a flowing white beard and hair to match, the perfect example of weakness, but Zegon could tell that there was more to this minifigure than met the eye. He was powerful. Zegon could feel it.
“Why do you disturb me, warriors?” the man said, “Am I allowed no peace?”
Alphos glanced down at the blinking lights on the control panel, and nearly lashed out at the equipment in rage.
“No!” he exclaimed, “They hit our primary power supply to the ‘drive. Lekon, can you bypass it?”
“Uh, well, I’ve never done anything like this in the field, but I’ll….”
“JUST DO IT! Retex, Shento, keep up some cover fire!”
“Yes, sir!” all three replied in unison, as Alphos flung the cruiser into a tight barrel roll that neatly dodged a fresh bunch of enemy fighters and Dawn was flung halfway across the cockpit when the inertial dampening systems failed to compensate for the rapid change in motion. Quickly dusting herself off, she got to her feet and ran to an access panel at the rear of the accessible portion of the craft. Opening the panel, she let out a cry of dismay.
“This wiring is completely fried! I’m gonna need to take some from another one of the primary systems!”
Alphos groaned. Obviously the wiring couldn’t come from the main engines, or life support. The enemy fighters weren’t going to stop coming anytime soon, so that ruled out weapons as well. That left only one thing that would satisfy the requirements of the hyperdrive, and bypassing it would demand every last shred of his piloting skills.
“Lekon, take it from the shields!”
“WHAT?!” she exclaimed, “Are you…”
“Insane? Probably,” Alphos snapped, “But it’s our only shot, just do it! Boys, keep those fighters off our backs!”
More fighters were coming, and without shields, Alphos knew he needed a new plan.
Gazing at the highly dangerous corrupted Venture Explorer, he found it.
“Ok guys, it gets crazier!” Alphos yelled, “I’m gonna fly us in under their shields! It’s the best chance we’ve got. While we’re under there, I want as much damage done to the ship as possible! We clear?”
“Yes, sir!” the crew replied.
“Lekon, have you disconnected the anti-concussive shields yet?” Alphos asked.
“No, and I shouldn’t have to.”
“Good, ‘cause we’re gonna need them! Let’s hope the enemy doesn’t have their own anti-concuss up, or this is gonna be a really, REALLY short flight! Hold on!”
Alphos powered up the anti-concussion shields to a maximum and sent the cruiser on a collision course with the Venture Explorer. The enemy fighters were too slow to respond to the maneuver, completely missing their target and spiraling off into space. As Alphos approached the Venture Explorer’s shield, a beat of sweat dripped down his forehead. If this didn’t work….
The tiny cruiser shook like a live thing as it was propelled through the Venture Explorer’s shields, And came out neatly on the other side of them, Alphos quickly pulled the nose of his ship up to avoid a direct collision with the bridge of the VE, the skimmed the hull of the massive warship. In response to his previous command, the cannons of the cruiser went crazy, firing into infected metal plating of the Venture Explorer. All of a sudden, blaster turrets slid out of holding positions on the warships hull, and began firing rapidly onto the tiny ship. He did his best to avoid the incoming fire, but a resounding explosion told him he hadn’t been good enough. Looking down at the display for a status report, he nearly fell out of his seat with shock and horror.
The port gunner pod had been blown cleanly off the ship.
The old man slowly rose to his feet, and as he turned to face the Knights, his piercing gaze passed through Zegon, almost as though he knew that Zegon was there.
“No,” Zegon reasoned, “He couldn’t possibly see me.”
The man locked eyes with the head Knight, and despite his weak form, he stood so tall and straight that he looked as though he could beat each of the warriors in a fair fight. Unfortunately, it appeared that a fair fight would be the one thing he didn’t get.
“Where is the Blade of Light?” the lead Knight snapped, his malevolent glare countering the old man’s chilling one.
“I know of no such weapon,” the old man stated, but a slight change in the color of his cheeks instantly told Zegon that he was lying.
“You LIE!” the head Knight said, “I should slay you where you stand for that! WHERE IS YOUR BLADE?”
“You might as well destroy me now,” the man said, “For it is now in the hands of King Mirco. Any attempt to confront him will certainly result in your death.”
A grimace of pure rage crossed the Knight’s face, but was gone in an instant.
“Then you will come with us, old man,” he said, “And you will make a NEW Blade! One King Arkor may use to strike Mirco and his people once and for all! “
“I will do no such thing!” the man replied defiantly, but was quickly shut up by a blow to the head with the flat side of the head Knight’s sword. He would certainly be unconscious long enough for these Knights to restrain him.
“Men!” the Knight said, “Carry this insolent junk pile to our cart! We shall bring him before King Arkor, and THEN he shall know the TRUE meaning of power!”
The Knights cheered, and Zegon knew that whatever was going on between these two Kingdoms, he wouldn’t want to miss a second of it.
Alphos knew he didn’t have to bother checking for survivors. Retex was gone.
“LEKON GET THAT HYPERDRIVE ONLINE NOW!” he yelled, more out of frustration than actual concern for his own safety.
“I’m trying!” she said, “It’s taking some time!”
Time that none of them had. Already the enemy had clued on to their new tactic, and rather than send in fighters that could easily misfire and hit the Venture Explorer, the Nexus Force cruiser was being assaulted by an army of ship-mounted blaster turrets. Alphos forced the ship to skim as close to the Venture Explorer as he dared so as to avoid the barrage of blaster fire. The turret had to aim their fire down to track Alphos, and that was a mistake. Barely missing Alphos’ cruiser, the maelstrom blasts instead ripped into the hull of the Venture Explorer. Still he continued his mad rush along the ship, and was nearing the main engines.
“LISTEN UP!” Alphos shouted, “WE’RE RUNNING OUTTA TIME, AND I WANNA GIVE THESE GUYS A LITTLE PARTING GIFT!”
“Keep it moving, back there!”
“Then hold on!”
Even as he said the words, he flung the cruiser into a tight arc around the back on the warship, releasing a pair of missiles into main engines. He then raised his anti-concussion shields, and once again propelled the cruiser through the Venture Explorer’s shields. Behind it, a spectacular explosion rocked the Venture Explorer, as all but one of its rear thrusters went offline.
They were almost out, but they were far from safe yet.
Zegon silently endured the long cart trip to his former location’s rival kingdom, despite the fact that he could have been as loud as he wanted to, since no one could see or hear him. Perhaps he was still in awe at the old man chained down before him; he was gazing upon an actual First Builder, or at least that’s what he had extrapolated from the numerous conversations he had listened to. What truly baffled Zegon was simple; if this man was a First Builder, why had he not broken out of his bonds and smashed his captors already? Could he, could everyone, possibly have been wrong about the power these people possessed?
These, and many more questions, lingered at the front of Zegon’s mind as the horse-drawn cart approached the Kingdom of King Arkor. They passed a few small villages, some of which not even big enough to really deserve that title, and finally reached a much larger city. The place was absolutely crawling with activity, and Zegon could barely hear himself speak over the hustling bustling noises of hundreds of minifigures going about their day-to-day lives. In the center of the city, like a dark, hulking monster over the population below, rose a massive stone castle, although it could just as easily be called a fortress. Surrounding the fortress on all sides was a deep chasm, lit with what appeared to be magma at the bottom, and as a drawbridge allowed the cart passage into the castle, Zegon shuddered at the thought of what would actually kill him if he fell; the magma at the bottom, or the drop itself. Finally, the cart reached its destination in the central courtyard, and its prisoner was unceremoniously dumped onto the ground. Two strong, and rather thuggish looking knights grabbed the man under the arms, and dragged him away. Zegon followed, eager to find out what happened next.
The remaining maelstrom fighters arced back around for a final assault on their target, Alphos’ Nexus Force Cruiser. A hailfire of energy fire streaked through space around the small ship, which Alphos avoided through a series of short and controlled jerking maneuvers. He then flew into a barrel roll as he brought the ship to face the hyperspace route back to Nimbus System.
“How much longer on the drive, Lekon?!” Alphos said through gritted, as he narrowly dodged yet another volley of blaster fire.
“About one more minute! Can you make it?”
“I’ll try,” Alphos said.
For those aboard the Venture Explorer, it wasn’t exactly hard to notice that Exodus Prime was invested in this battle. He had every available pilot out in their fighters, every crackshot at the guns, and behind his metal helmet, he was sweating.
“Exodus Prime, sir, this isn’t working,” Exodus 23 said, “He’s dodging our every attack.”
“He can’t dodge us forever,” he replied, “He has no hyperdrive now.”
“About that, sir,” 23 said, “His shields are offline, and our scan show we didn’t hit him in the shield generators once.”
“What are you suggesting?”
“I suspect he’s using the shields to repair the hyperdrive.”
It was almost unnoticeable, but Exodus 23 clearly saw her master’s face turn a darker purple than it usually was.
“Obviously then, crippling his primary systems isn’t going to work,” the cyborg said, regaining his composure, “Charge up the EMP cannons. I want that ship dead in the water.”
As five maelstrom fighters raced up behind the Nexus Force Cruiser, Alphos knew that he was very nearly out of time. To add to the problem, a quick glance at the control panel told him that the sensors were picking up a building electromagnetic field from the Venture Explorer. If an EMP blast hit the cruiser, it would be all over. They would be prisoners.
Or at least a stationary target.
Energy blasts began streaking away from the pursuing fighters, one of which grazed the hull of the ship as it went past. Alphos felt his jaw rattle involuntarily with the blow, and tried not to panic. If that blast had been just a bit further to the right…. he shuddered, and cleared his mind. Focus was key to escaping this battle. He swiftly pulled the cruiser up in a tight loop and brought it around behind the enemy fighters. He then fired two cluster missiles, and the space was clear ahead of him.
“Lekon, NOW!” he yelled.
“Almost done,” she said, “Just gotta connect these two wir…. AAAGH!”
At her scream, Alphos craned his head around to see Dawn tumble to the floor of the ship in a shower of blue sparks. It was at that moment that the Venture Explorer fired its blast. Pleading the First Builders under his breath, he flicked a few buttons on the panel and pulled back on the hyperspace lever. Space-time instantly warped around him, and the cruiser shot into the safety of hyperspace. The EMP blast had missed them by mere inches.
“NO!” Exotus Prime bellowed from aboard the Venture Explorer’s bridge, “HE ESCAPED!”
There was an uncomfortable silence among the cyborgs in the ship, until finally Exodus 23 spoke.
“With all due respect sir, there will be other opportunities to catch him.”
“Other opportunities? OTHER opportunities?! This was our only chance to take them by surprise!” he yelled with a bewildering amount of rage, then lowered his voice to almost a whisper, “Now, 23, they know we’re out here.”
As the sun rose once again over Nexus Tower, Natasha Topiase’s bed in the recovery ward was empty. She had woken up just before dawn, and rather than lie around doing nothing, she had decided to explore Nexus Tower, in order to re-familiarize herself with the mammoth headquarters of the Nexus Force. She had asked no one for directions, or information of any kind; instead she just followed the signs and hope for the best. She considered it her personal mission for today to get to know the Tower enough so that she could greet Vanda Darkflame in the Paradox room, and she would do it all by herself.
Perhaps it was insecurity, or she was simply sick of being treated as though she was permanently bedridden, but something drove her to achieve this small goal. She wanted her life back, and this was how to start getting that.
She managed to find the elevators and therefore escape the floor dedicated to Medical Center easily enough, but once she arrived on the public floor of Nexus Tower, that contained all of the separate faction rooms, not to mention the Nexus Core itself, she realized that she was completely lost. Minifigures of every shape and size roamed the behemoth hallways; a figurate flood of people. Entering that living river would most likely serve to shuffle her in every direction except for the one she was going in. Perhaps she wasn’t ready for this, perhaps she really should still be recovering in bed. Even as she turned to step back into the elevator again, a hand tapped on her shoulder. With a start, Natasha jumped around, to be greeted by none other than Vanda Darkflame herself.
“Now what would you be doing out of bed?” Vanda asked with friendly smirk, “Last I checked, maelstrom infection isn’t something one recovers from overnight.”
It was then that Vanda noticed that she might just be wrong about that. Physically, Natasha looked completely recovered.
“Actually, I came looking for you,” Natasha said, “I wanted to see if I could remember the way to the Paradox Room.”
Vanda just shook her head with a smile. Natasha was testing herself, as had been her way back at the Nexus Force Academy. She got into hijinks through her own pride more often than most Nexus Force warriors did in a year.
“I see,” Vanda said, “Now how was that working out for you?”
Natasha blushed slightly, returned Vanda’s casual smile at her own behavior.
“Yes, well, to be completely honest, I was lost.”
“Lost as in…..?”
“Lost. Had no idea where to go next.”
Vanda clapped her hand on Natasha shoulder and – First Builders forbid – actually giggled a bit.
“Let’s get you back up to your room,” Vanda said, “And how about no more exploring until you actually know where you’re going?”
“Yeah,” Natasha replied with a stiff chuckle.
As Zegon walked into King Arkor’s throne room, a chilling sensation washed over him, almost as though the castle itself knew he was here, and disapproved of his presence. He kept finding himself glancing over his shoulder, and then realized with a chuckle that he hadn’t been this paranoid since the last time he’d been in Gnarled Forest. As the prisoner was dragged into the room by two strong knights, however, Zegon cleared his mind of thought and turned his attention to the throne, and King Arkor sitting upon it. The King was probably in his late 40s at the most, and his flowing red and white robes did little conceal a muscular form beneath them. A hardened look sat upon Arkor’s face, and Zegon could notice a malevolent, and perhaps even crazed glint in the man’s eyes.
“So,” King Arkor said to the old man, “Thou art indeed the First Builder?”
“I shall tell you nothing!” the man spat back.
“Ah. Well I suppose that in this case, resistance is as good as full confession,” Arkor sneered, “Now where is your blade?”
“The Blade of Light is in a place where you will never find it!” the prisoner snapped.
“He gave the Blade of Light to King Mirco, your Majesty,” one of the Knights said, “I told him he would be brought here to make a new one.”
“Very good, Sir Kalok,” the King replied, “He shall do just that.”
Zegon noticed a twitch of fear in the old man’s eyes, and guessing at the nobility of First Builders, wondered exactly what kind of collateral this King had.
“Builder!” King Arkor boomed, “Thou shalt create for me, a new blade, in the other’s image! One that I may use to destroy the filth that is King Mirco once and for all! Thou shalt craft me a Blade of Darkness, and if thou attempts resistance, a village shall burn for each day thou are not at work.”
The King then rose, stroking his trimmed beard as his turned to face a view of his Kingdom, his mane of raven black hair whipping around as he did so.
“Knights, take this insolent piece of garbage away,” he commanded, and then all was silent within the majestic chamber.
Alphos had just arrived back at Nexus Tower, and was on his way to debriefing with Duke Exeter. He was mad.
“Captain,” Exeter said as Alphos strode into the room, “We picked up your transmission from hyperspace. Quite troubling. Some of us were beginning to hope that this Exodus Prime wouldn’t rear his ugly head again.”
“It was a trap!” Alphos growled, “They knew we were coming! They were waiting for us!”
“This is what worried me,” Duke replied, “Only five people knew about this operation; Privates Shento and Retex, Sargent Lekon, yourself and myself. I didn’t even tell the other Faction Leaders.”
“What are you implying?”
“For completeness’ sake, I ordered a search of the apartments of you and your crew,” Duke said, then picked up some sort of communication device, “They found this among Shento’s personal belongings. It has playback capabilities too. Listen.”
Duke placed the device down in the table and pressed a button on it. After a short burst of static, voices could be heard coming from it.
“They have detected your base, Master,” Shento’s voice said, “They’re sending a team to investigate.”
“Interesting,” came a voice that Alphos quickly identified as Exodus Prime’s, “I’m surprised they found it so quickly. Who will be among the team they send?”
“A Private John Retex and Sargent Dawn Lekon, Captain Alphos Brightstar, and myself,” Shento replied.
“Well, that changes things,” the other said, “Proceed with the mission. We will disable your ship and take the Captain and yourself alive. Do the others suspect you yet, my spy?”
“No. They have no idea of who I’m really working for.”
“Very good. Exodus Prime, out.”
Duke flicked off the playback and looked up at Alphos.
“My people just ran a computer check of your ship,” Duke said, “The starboard cannon didn’t fire a single shot during the entire battle.”
Alphos slumped back into a nearby chair, his face falling into his hands. <p class="MsoNormal">“So this is it,” Alphos said, “Shento is a traitor.”
“Yes,” Duke said, “We’ve already taken him into custody. Alphos, there’s no way you could have known…”
“You’re right, there wasn’t,” Alphos said, “24 hours ago, if I was told that one of my people was a traitor, one was going to be smashed, and another would be just barely clinging onto life...”
“Doctors say Lekon has a 50-50 chance,” Duke added.
“…I would have resigned my position right there and then. But now that I know the Exodus Prime is running the show, I’m not going to sit back and let him continue to assault the Universe, and taint my friend’s name. It’s my duty to defeat him, and I’m not going to give that up for anything in the Universe.”
“That’s exactly what I needed to hear, Alphos,” Duke said.
That all too familiar grim expression of determination settled onto Alphos’ face, and Duke knew it was time he made his plans for Alphos clear.
“Now listen to me, Alphos,” Duke said, “I know you’re invested in this mission, and there is no one I’d rather see finish off this vile threat to our Universe than you, but I have another job for you.”
Anger began welling up within Alphos, but he knew better than to be disrespectful to the Grand Leader of the Sentinel Faction. He kept his mouth shut.
“What kind of mission?” he asked instead.
“There has been some unusual goings on in Forbidden Valley. Maelstrom concentrations have been abnormally high, and even the ninja are reluctant to investigate,” Duke said, “Normally, this would be the jurisdiction of the Paradox Faction, but if Exodus Prime has a foothold within Nimbus System, I need as few people to know about this as possible.”
“Are you referring to anyone in particular?”
“Not at all, but with the recent discovery of Private Shento as a traitor, I don’t know who I can trust,” Duke said, “I’ve asked Vanda to send over some advanced maelstrom scanning equipment. She is the only person outside of us who knows about this op.”
“Understood,” Alphos replied, “What do want me to do?”
“I want you to go into the depths of Forbidden Valley, and find out where this anomaly is coming from. If you encounter the enemy, do not engage,” Duke said, “This is mission is strictly reconnaissance.”
“What of Exodus Prime’s base on the other world?”
“We’re going to crush this before it begins,” Duke replied, “Now that our warships are back in commission, the Avenger, the Creation, the New Frontier and the Intrigue have all been sent out to destroy this threat once and for all. If Exodus Prime escapes, he’ll at least be without a base of operations. Do this job right, Alphos. Every last one of Prime’s strongholds must be destroyed.”
“Very good. Now get some rest,” Duke encouraged, “Your ship will be spaceworthy for your departure by midnight.”
Zegon had followed the old man back to a prison cell where he was being kept, and had now been loitering around the corridor, watching the man sit there for two hours.
“It makes no sense!” Zegon uttered for what must have been the hundredth time, “If this man is really one of the First Builders, why doesn’t he just break himself out?”
This question had been tormenting Zegon since the man’s capture, in fact, but at least then something had been happening to take his mind off it. Now he had nothing else to do but wonder.
That brought him to another question: how long would Zegon be here? Would any time pass in the real world while he was gone? How much time had passed already? He moaned, knowing that if the First Builders that had sent him here were as stingy with information as they were with the Power of Eternity, he’d be lucky if this “learning experience” ending within his lifetime. Even as the dread despair began to creep in that he might never wake up(or he was in fact insane), a flash blue light appeared in front of the prison cell, and suddenly, the Spirits of Eternity were there.
“Finally!” Zegon snapped, “Is this whole ordeal over already?!”
“To speak the way you do shows that you have learned nothing so far,” the Spirits said in unison, “But we are aware that perhaps you would learn more willingly if you understood what is going on.”
So the spirits were here to answer some questions. Better than nothing at all.
“Ok, where am I?” Zegon asked.
“Right now, you are within the Castle of King Arkor, who rules over the Kingdom of Skropan. We left you just outside a village within the Kingdom of Jallan, ruled by King Mirco. These Kingdoms are mortal enemies.”
“Ok, understood. Who is HE?” Zegon said, pointing at the man in the cell.
“He is Tokkal,” the Spirits replied, “He is a First Builder.”
“Why doesn’t he use his power to escape?”
“Tokkal has taken minifigure form, so that he may live among the people,” they said, “The change cost him much of his power.”
“Not so much that he can’t forge mystical weapons though,” Zegon said.
“Almost correct, but not quite. His power lies not with the creation of weapons, but with the summoning of his brothers, our brothers, to imbue the weapon with power.”
“If he is trying to stop King Arkor though, why do the First Builder not simply destroy him?”
“As higher beings, interference on that level would be an abuse of our power. Enough of our brothers believed that what Tokkal was doing was right in order to help him, and even then they walk a fine line.”
“So what happens next?” Zegon said, “Is this man – Tokkal – going to give Arkor what he wants?”
“For that you will have to see for yourself, Zegon,” the Spirits said, “But I think you will find that our desire to prevent innocent bloodshed is worthy of bending a few rules.”
All was silent for a moment, and then the Spirits disappeared as suddenly as they had appeared. Quiet reigned once more.
Alphos stood against the railing of one of Nexus Tower’s many balconies, and gazed at the chaos that was Crux Prime below. He wasn’t worried about the coming mission; all he knew about it was that he wouldn’t fail. Too many people had suffered right in front of his eyes for him to dishonor their memories with failure. As he stood there, pondering his operation, he heard footsteps from behind him, and another figure walked up to the railing. She was a bit taller than Alphos, she had long black hair, and was probably about six or seven years older too. That wasn’t what interested Alphos though.
She was dressed in the loose gown worn by medical patients.
“Hey,” Alphos said, “You ok?”
“Yeah,” the woman replied, a sort of careless tone in her voice, “I’m fine. Who wants to know?”
“Alphos, um, I mean, Captain Brightstar. Captain Alphos Brightstar.”
“I see. My name is Dr. Natasha Topiase. Avant Gardens Research Division.”
Alphos raised an eyebrow in surprise at the name.
“You’re the one they picked up off Crux the other day?”
“You look, wow. I never would have guessed you’d been a stromling so recently.”
“Paradox can work some wonders. Anyway, how do you know so much about me?”
“I have ears. Been a lot of talk about curable stromlings floating around the past couple of days.”
“Well, I guess it was never really much of a secret to begin with,” Natasha chuckled, “I’ve heard a bit about you too. Just got back from a pretty rough op, so I hear.”
“Yeah,” Alphos muttered, “Not my finest hour.”
“That’s not how Exeter told it,” she replied, “He said you made a heroic effort just to get out of there alive.”
“Did he? Huh,” Alphos mumbled, more to himself than to Natasha, “Well, I gotta go. See you ‘round, I guess.”
“Yeah,” Natasha responded, “If you wanna talk, I’ll be back up in the Recovery ward, rotting.”
“Will do,” Alphos said with a smile, then walked back inside Nexus Tower.
“We must always remember to learn from our failures,” Exodus Prime said to a crowd of Exodus units as he paced back and forth across his throne room, “And from our most recent failure we must learn that failure itself is unacceptable!”
There was an uncomfortable shifting of feet in the room as he spoke.
“From now on, we succeed at every one of our endeavors, and should we encounter failure, I promise you, ALL OF YOU, it shall not go unpunished!” he bellowed, “Exodus 43, step forward.”
The cyborg nervously did as he was told, little beads of sweat dripping down his visor concealed forehead.
“You manned the blaster turrets aboard the Venture Explorer during our battle with Captain Brightstar, correct?”
“Um, yes sir,” the cyborg said.
“Yet you failed to disable his ship then, correct?”
Exodus Prime leveled his back-mounted blaster cannons at the other cyborg’s glowing unstable core, and fired. In a burst of sparks and purple flame, the Exodus unit exploded.
“Do you now understand the consequences of failing me?” Exodus Prime shouted to his masses.
“Sir, yes sir!” they replied, but Exodus Prime could detect a tone of shock in their voice.
“Now back to your duties!” the tyrant said, “Know that our existence is known, the Nexus Force may attack us at any minute!”
At his command, every Exodus unit shuffled out of the room, almost every single one now even more fearful of their powerful master. To be honest, only one of them wasn’t afraid.
That one was Exodus 23.
And she was angry.
Night was approaching fast, and Alphos’ mission along with it. Before he left though, there was something he had to do. As he walked into the Recovery ward of the Nexus Tower Medical Facility, his shoes beating a solemn rhythm as he went, he looked for the curtained-off “room” belonging to Dawn Lekon. Sure enough, he found it, and its inhabitant without too much trouble. Dawn was sitting there in bed, looking extremely drained of energy, but none too much the worse for wear.
“Hey there,” Alphos said, “How are you feeling?”
“Doc says I’ll live, sir,” she began.
“Hey, hey, at ease,” Alphos said, “I’m visiting as a friend, not a CO. Call me Alphos.”
“Ok, Alphos,” Dawn replied, then started to stammer a bit though tears, “What happened with John?”
Alphos frowned dejectedly. Dawn had known John since their days at the Nexus Force Academy. Alphos had known Exotus even longer. The pain was still there though, and he knew how his officer must be feeling.
“They’re gonna be holding a service for John in a few days,” Alphos replied softly, “I’ll try to be back in time for it.”
“Back from what?” Dawn enquired.
“Duke gave me a new mission,” Alphos said, lowering his tone, “I can’t give details, but I leave at midnight. I thought I’d swing past here and check up on you before I left.”
“Oh,” Dawn said, her mood dropping again, “I realize I never got to thank you for getting us out of that battle. Thank you.”
“I wouldn’t have been able to do it without your help. For that I thank you,” Alphos replied. He glanced down at his watch; it was almost 7:00 pm. Just enough time for him to grab something to eat, and then prep himself for is mission.
“Well, I should really be going now, gotta get ready to fly,” Alphos said, “But hey, get well soon.”
“Yes sir, um, I will, Alphos.”
Alphos walked out of the room, an unexplainable smile forming on his face, and completely unaware that the person in the next room had heard his entire conversation.
It was before dawn the next day when some heavily armored guards stormed into the dungeon where Tokkal was being held, the loud thudding of their metal boots on the floor shaking Zegon out of a deep sleep.
“Hey!” Zegon cried, and was about to lash out in anger for being so rudely awoken, and then realized that he was just wasting his breath on beings that could neither see, hear or feel him. Instead, he just continued to grumble to himself as he watched the prisoner being dragged away.
Once again, Tokkal was taken to the throne room, where King Arkor was waiting for him. A great many other things could have been intriguing to Zegon at that moment, but instead he was most fascinated with how the King didn’t look the slightest bit sleepy.
“Must’ve gotten an early night,” Zegon grunted, then continued to watch the spectacle.
“Builder!” Arkor boomed, “I trust you have come to a decision?”
“I have,” Tokkal replied. His words were submissive, but his tone still oozed defiance.
“Then I trust you have made a good one, and no innocent lives must suffer my fury?” Arkor said.
“I will make your weapon,” Tokkal said, “You have my word.”
“Excellent!” Arkor bellowed, and then turned to his guards, “Make a blacksmith shop available for this man, and provide him with more comfortable accommodations. Mirco will rue the day he crossed me, once I wield this weapon!”
The party in the throne room was then dismissed, and Zegon snickered to himself as he thought about how little power the Blade of Darkness would give Arkor, at least, how little power compared with the Blade of Eternity. Soon, he, Zegon would wield that power, and he, Zegon would rule all. It was only a matter of time.
Even in the dead of night, Nexus Tower was a busy place. Alphos was rather surprised to note this as he walked down the bustling corridors of Nexus Towers lower levels towards the starship hangers. It was 11:45 pm; that left Alphos just enough time to power up his ship, run a few preflight checks, and still be ready for his midnight departure. He wished he could just use a rocket, as the trip would be cut down from around two hours down to five minutes, but he knew he couldn’t. For all he knew, Exodus Prime could be monitoring the rocket pad traffic.
He reached his small starship and entered the password to open the hatch on a small keypad.</p>
Alphos sighed. He wished he hadn’t made that his password, but he just couldn’t bring himself to change it, almost as though he’d be cutting just a bit more of Axenya out of his life. The hatch whooshed open regardless of his absent mind, and Alphos entered his ship. After a few minutes of standard procedure rigmarole, he piloted the vessel out of Nexus Tower and into to the raven black sky. He keyed on the autopilot controls, and as the ship had escaped Crux Prime’s noxious atmosphere, he unbuckled his harness, and stepped out of his chair.
“I guess I might as well try on my new armor,” Alphos muttered to himself, as he walked across the ship to a closet-sized locker with the words “Captain A. Brightstar” engraved on the door. Inside, it was much deeper than anyone could possibly tell from the outside, but Alphos didn’t really notice at that moment in time. His brand new Sentinel Armor hung neatly on a rack, and it was quite a sight to see.
The chestplate alone was a shimmering masterpiece of reinforced alloy plating over a smooth mesh of tiny chainmail. Glowing paths of energy streaked across the plating; it was embedded with special nanotechnology that could absorb physical impacts. The leggings and boots were designed the same way, and all three pieces of armor were colored with a dashing Sentinel blue. The shoulderpads were made up of three interlocking silver colored metallic plates on each shoulder, and they pulsated with the same protective nanotech used throughout the entire suit. From the back of the shoulderpads draped a knee-height cape; bright blue, and emblazoned with the symbol of the Sentinels. The helmet looked slightly reminiscent of a Roman gladiator’s helm, with two wide slits on the front of it; one horizontal one for the wearer’s eyes, one vertical one exposing the middle of the wearer’s face. A gleaming visor was mounted to slide down in front of the eye slit, providing tactical readouts of the environment, and even live streamed messages from Nexus Tower. Both sides of the helmet swooped out to a point at its rear, and it shone with the same gleaming silver and yellow accents of the shoulderpads. Following with the rest of the suit, it glowed with nanotech. A mighty blue bladed, golden hilted sword was slung at the belt of the suit, and it vibrated so as to make it that much sharper in battle. Also attached to the belt was a small holster, and a blaster pistol within it. Overall, the suit was amazing, but there was something missing.
It had no shield.
“Hmm,” Alphos said, “I’ll have to ask Duke about that when I get back.”
With a shrug, Alphos took the suit of armor off the rack. He was just about to start putting it on though, when he noticed something else shimmering in the blackened depths of the locker.
A pair of eyes.
Instantly, Alphos whipped the pistol off the belt of his suit and aimed it into the locker.
“Ok, I’m only gonna ask this once,” he said, trying to remain calm, “Come out of there now, or I’ll shoot.”
Instantly there was a shuffling from the back of the locker, and a helmeted figure emerged from the darkness.</p>
A Space Marauder.
“Ok, ok, no need to start waving your around,” the Space Marauder said, “I’m not gonna eat you or anything.”
The Paradoxian then removed the helmet, revealing the face of none other than Dr. Natasha Topiase.
“Dr. Topiase?!” Alphos exclaimed.
“Call me Natasha.”
“What are you doing on my ship?!”
“I’m here because I have nothing better to do,” Natasha replied, “I’ve been left to rot up in that ward for days now, with no signs of nasty side effects or anything! I’m ready to return to duty.”
“Why on my ship?!” Alphos said.
“Because, I heard you were going on a new mission, so I figured I’d tag along. Get some fresh air, and all.”
“How did you even know about this mission? It was a secret!” Alphos queried, trying to calm himself down.
“It obviously wasn’t so much of a secret that you weren’t going to tell Sargent Lekon,” Natasha returned slyly, “I heard from the next bed. So I snuck on board your ship, read your mission logs, and basically completely briefed myself on the op. I’m dressed and ready to go.”
Alphos frowned slightly. He only had himself to blame. This was the price of letting information slip.
“In any case, you’re going back to Nexus Tower,” Alphos said, “It could get dangerous out there, and I can’t be worrying about you too.”
“No point,” she replied, “You take me back, I hop on a rocket and join you. And if we play things my way, your superiors don’t have to find out that you leaked confidential mission information.”
“That’s blackmail!” Alphos snapped.
“That’s life,” Natasha retorted, “Look, you’re looking for changes in maelstrom behavior, I’ve studied maelstrom my entire career. I’ll be useful, and you know it.”
Alphos knew she was right, and as much as he didn’t want her getting her way right now, Natasha would be handier here than at Nexus Tower.
“Fine,” Alphos conceded, “Just don’t hide in my locker again, ok?”
The subterranean levels of Nexus Tower were like an opposite reflection of the rest of the rest of the building; while the above ground levels of Nexus Tower were bright and airy, the lower levels were dark and gloomy, and with good reason.
The lower levels were devoted to prison cells.
Duke Exeter had a job to do, and he was eager to do it too. He wanted to ask Private Shento why he betrayed the Nexus Force. Why he betrayed the Sentinels.
Why he betrayed him.
Shento’s cell was easy to find, since it was the only occupied cell on that level. Crime wasn’t common during this war; almost everyone had banded together, united against the maelstrom. It made it even more painful for there to be a traitor among Duke own ranks. Duke unlocked the cell door, and walked inside, locking the door behind him. The prisoner within didn’t bother to rise; instead he just sat there, as though he was still alone in there.
“Why did you betray the Nexus Force?” Duke snapped.
Shento just smirked.
“Because I picked the winning side,” Shento replied, “The Master is stronger than you all.”
“That’s not true,” Duke said, “Exodus Prime will fall, and you are nothing more than a traitor.”
“I did what I had to do to protect my Master.”
“We know where his headquarters are. I’ve sent ships to destroy it already.”
“And those ships will fall,” Shento said, “You have banished them to their doom.”
“I’ve mobilized the full power of the Nexus Force fleet. They will not fail.”
“Then you will be without a fleet. Even if you succeed, it is of no consequence. The Master’s plan is already in motion, and I have already played my part. Do with me as you will. I do not fear being smashed. I will not tell you anything.”
“Then you sentence yourself to life imprisonment.”
“So be it.”
The hours passed quickly aboard Alphos’ starship, and he and Natasha quickly arrived at Forbidden Valley. Alphos skillfully maneuvered the ship through the dreary cloud cover surrounding the world of the ninja, and made a beeline for the giant crevasses riddling the planet chunk. About halfway down one of the crevasses near the Great Tree, the monolithic arboreal home of the ninja, he found a ledge that would comfortably fit and hide his starship. He set the vessel to rest upon that ledge, gathered his gear, and disembarked with Natasha.
“So, how do you plan to get back up, smarty?” Natasha quipped, as she gazed up the massive cliff face to spy at the distant glowing lights of the Great Tree. In response to her question, Alphos produced four hand held grapples, and gave two to Natasha.
“You have got to be kidding me…” she murmured.
“Missing that nice warm hospital bed?” Alphos returned, “You can still go back if you like.”
“Not for the world,” she said, “Beat you up there!”
With that she dived onto the cliff face and began rapidly hauling herself up with the grapples. Alphos quickly joined her and before long they had both reached the foot of the Great Tree.</p>
“Come on,” Alphos said, “Before anything, we need to speak with the ninja.”
By that he meant he needed to speak Master Fong Shader, the sensei of the Great Tree, and Numb Chuck, the Paradox representative on Forbidden Valley. The winding path up the Great Tree quickly took them to the first of the two, and Alphos shuddered a bit as he thought about Axenya’s last visit to this place. But he was on duty. There was no place for those thoughts now.
“Welcome, my friends,” Master Fong Shader said as Alphos and Natasha approached, “Have you brought word from my master?”
Of course the sensei was referring to Kenjin the Wise, and old man whose words and thoughts were usually sent to his former apprentice by means of couriers.
“Um, no,” Alphos said, “We’re here on official Nexus Force business. I wanted to ask you about the recent disturbances in maelstrom activity as of late.”
At Alphos’ words Master Fong’s face suddenly became distant and concerned, and his mood darkened.
“Such things are not my area of expertise,” the ninja said, “But the situation is grim. The Ronin and Horseman have become increasingly violent, and the Maelstrom Dragons driven mad. I dare send no one but my most experienced ninja to investigate further.”
“Is there any more you can tell me?” Alphos said, but he already had an idea in his mind about what was causing this. The behavior described by Master Shader was perfect match for the maelstrom behavior observed by subjects of the crystal staff now wielded by Exotus Prime.
“For more you must ask Numb Chuck,” Fong said, “Now go.”
“Yes Master,” Alphos said, and walked away.
In following with what the sensei of the Great Tree had told him, Alphos and Natasha next went to see Numb Chuck. The Paradox representative had his post atop the highest bough of the Great Tree, and a small hovering platform acted as an elevator for those who needed to go speak to him. The pair stepped aboard the precarious device, and ascended through the branches to Numb Chuck.
Numb Chuck was a mysterious sort, even for a Paradoxian, and he seemed more like a ninja than a member of the Nexus Force. He wore loose-fitting armor made from tiny interlocking metal plate, all a leaden grey, over the soft red robes he wore underneath. His arms were bare, save for Paradox tattoo on his left bicep, and some soft armwraps. He sported a bright red hood of sorts that covered all of his face but his eyes. Topping off the ensemble was a helm that resembled the upper jaw of a dragon. Adding to his fearsome image, a lethal looking corseque was slung at his back. A dangerous minifigure indeed.
“Numb Chuck,” Alphos said, not the slightest amount of intimidation in his voice, “I’ve come to ask about the recent incidents involving maelstrom behavior.”
“Not even a “Hello”?” Numb Chuck said, “I’m surprised at you, Alphos.”
For what felt like the thousandth time that day, Alphos sighed. After a daring act of heroics involving Forbidden Valley’s maelstrom dragons, Axenya had been fully welcomed into the clan of ninja, and Alphos and Exotus had gotten to know them all quite well.
“I… I’m sorry,” Alphos said, “I guess I’m just a little off edge today. I have been here since before it… happened.”
Numb Chuck nodded sadly in reply.
“A day does not go by when we miss that young woman’s presence,” he said softly, “She was smashed with honor though, and for that we honor her further.”
Natasha started to turn a little pale, and she gazed down at the floor.
“You ok?” Alphos asked.
“I dunno,” she replied, “I guess I’ve never really been too good with loss.”
Numb Chuck’s eyebrows raised behind his hood as she spoke, as though he was only just noticing her presence before him.
“Now who would this be?” he said to Alphos, “I don’t believe we’ve met.”
“This is Dr. Natasha Topiase,” Alphos replied, “She was infected during the Battle of Avant Gardens, and was recently cured of infection back at Nexus Tower. She snuck aboard my ship, and I figured she’d be more useful here than back at Nexus Tower.”
“Then I gaze at a miracle of Paradoxian science,” Numb Chuck, “Pleased to meet your acquaintance, Dr. Topiase.”
“And yours too,” Natasha replied.
“Now if I’m not wrong,” Numb Chuck said, “You had some questions to ask me. Let’s get started.”
It would seem that behind the condescending attitude, King Arkor was actually a reasonable man when he was getting his way; the small blacksmith shop he had had set up for Tokkal to work in was decked out in every luxury the king saw fit to shower over such a bringer of power. Gold candelabras stood atop every surface, and the living quarters themselves were filled with fine tapestries and paintings. Tokkal had only to call, and be brought and the nourishment he desired. Overall, Zegon figured it was pretty good payment for one lousy sword.
Obviously Tokkal disagreed; despite the riches surrounding him, he was miserable, and rather than work toward getting a nicer dinner that night, the minifigure was simply working towards preventing unnecessary suffering. He worked quickly and efficiently though, and that was all King Arkor cared about.
The making of the sword itself was a real treat for Zegon to see. Mystical weapons like the Blade of Darkness were his obsession, so the opportunity to actually see one being created was something Zegon refused to miss. The blade started out with a rapier-thin metal strip, that resembled a tape measure more than a sword. Tokkal then dipped this strip in a cauldron of molten metal, and then rapidly cooled in another cauldron, only this one was filled with water. After a few minutes he would place the sword on his anvil a hammer it into shape, then leave it overnight to completely cool and harden. He repeated this process every day for a week until the blade was complete, and he fitted a gleaming hilt to its base. The physical weapon itself was complete.
Now began the process of actually imbuing it with power.
Tokkal removed the golden candelabras from the shelves, lit them, and placed them around him in a circle on the floor. In the center of this circle he sat, cross-legged, and with the freshly forged sword on his lap. He closed his eyes.
“Ancestors, brothers, COME TO ME!” he commanded, “Imbue this weapon with the Powers of Darkness!”
At that moment, every candle in the room went out, and light filled every corner of the blacksmith’s shop as a group of brightly glowing orbs appeared out of mid-air. They circled around Tokkal, then came to rest as one, larger orb in front of him.
“Brothers,” Tokkal said, “The man for whom I craft… his intentions are not pure. He seeks to bring destruction with the power I seek from you, but he threatens me to help him with the mindless destruction of innocent lives.”
And all of a sudden, the orb spoke.
“We have been watching you, brother,” the orb spoke in a distant, echoing voice, “And we have a plan for you. We will complete this weapon, and with it, we will set in motion the end of this foolish conflict once and for all.”
In a burst of light, the orb flew straight into to the sword on Tokkal’s lap. The blade glowed a deep red for a few seconds, and then the orb emerged.
“Take care, good brother,” the orb said, and then vanished.
“What exactly has been going on out here?” Alphos asked Numb Chuck.
“I take it then that you are not even fully aware of the true nature of our plight,” the latter responded, “To understand fully, you must first understand how this disaster began.”
“Ok,” Alphos said, “Tell me more.”
“It all started a few days ago at the Paradox Refinery beyond the Fallen Gate,” Numb Chuck said, referring to the half destroyed structure that blocked off the more dangerous half of Forbidden Valley to all without proper access, by means of a special force field, “The Refinery gives me scheduled checkups once every 24 hours, so this is how I know as much as I do. They dispatched a team to explore the giant crevasses that riddle our world, and what they retrieved was… disturbing, to say the least.”
Alphos raised an eyebrow.
“What kind of disturbing?” Alphos asked.
“They found some maelstrom crystals in the rock down there, crystals resembling the one wielded by Exotus Prime,” Numb Chuck said, “And things only got worse from there. Before they even told anyone, they began studying them. During the study, their head scientist scratched himself with one of the crystals.”
“Oh no…” Alphos muttered.
“His eyes turned red, his face a pale purple,” the Paradox representative said, “He hunted down all the scientists in the Refinery with him, and began corrupting them one by one. Last I heard, Vapor Overcast had locked herself away inside, and she told me that the corrupt scientists were summoning armies of maelstrom creatures to bash the doors down. As for Brick Fury… nobody knows what happened to him. Nexus Tower lost his signal soon after I got the last message from Vapor. I don’t dare trying to contact her, for fear of exposing her hiding place. But it’s been days now, and I fear the worst.”
“Why wasn’t I briefed on all of this?” Alphos said, “And why wasn’t anyone sent to fix this sooner?”
“For the same reason I haven’t tried to contact Vapor again,” Numb Chuck said, “For all I know, they could be monitoring our communications. I made my message as short and brief as possible.”
“You didn’t want us to lose the element of surprise,” Alphos said.
“As much as it pained me to say it, the opportunity to stealthily crush this threat and save thousands was more important preserving a handful of lives,” Numb Chuck said, “And to do this you’ll need to know exactly how to go about this.”
“Then tell me,” Alphos said, “I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.”
“To reach the Refinery, you must first pass the Fallen Gate, and to pass its force field you will need this maelstrom infused ninja hood,” Numb Chuck said. Alphos nodded in reply. The ninja hoods were only given out to minifigures who had completed Numb Chuck’s training, and would therefore be ready for the intense dangers present beyond the Fallen Gate.
“Of course, passing through would be relatively simple under normal conditions, but just recently, the maelstrom population has seen a dramatic spike in that area. Getting through would be impossible for most, but I believe you a capable,” Numb Chuck said, “Then you must find Brick Fury. Hopefully he’s still alive, and can aid you in retaking the Refinery.”
“Ok,” Alphos said, “Pass the gate, find Brick. What then?”
“Then comes the hard part,” Numb Chuck answered, “You’ll have to defeat the corrupted scientists and their maelstrom hordes. Retrieve those crystals, and bring them to me. Only then can we be certain that this threat is over.”
“Sounds easy enough,” Natasha said, “Smash this, find that, bring back the glowy stuff.”
“Use caution,” Numb Chuck said, “If you succeed, you succeed where my best ninja have failed. Also remember that all the maelstrom you encounter will be under the effects of the crystals, and therefore will act with military precision. They won’t necessarily be stronger, but they will be smarter. Be careful.”
“Of course,” Alphos said, “You have nothing to fear from me.”
“Then you are ready,” Numb Chuck said.
“Then let’s go.”
It was late one afternoon, and the sky was a dreary gray as Tokkal entered King Arkor’s throne room carrying the Blade of Eternity, and Zegon watched eagerly from the shadows. Part of him still felt possessive of that sword, but a greater part wanted to see what another wielder of its power could do. He stood with bated breath and awaited the King’s next move.
“I present to you this sword, Your Majesty,” Tokkal said, as he handed the weapon to King Arkor, “A Blade of Darkness.”
“Excellent,” the King replied, gleeful gleam in his eye, then his expression went dark, “And your usefulness has suddenly expired.”
Tokkal suddenly dove to the floor at the words, and tumbled away from King Arkor’s reach. Arkor raised the hand wielding the terrible weapon, and willed it fire. An arc of energy leaped across the room striking the back of Tokkal’s sprinting form. The old man collapsed, and was no more.
“Good riddance,” Arkor spat, but his jaw hung open as he saw Tokkal’s body start to glow. Slowly, pale blue energy in the shape of a minifigure rose out the lifeless bricks, and finally stood on its own.
“You will rue the day you sought to control this world by force, Arkor,” Tokkal, now in his true form, said, “As inevitable as the coming of night, there will be no escaping your eventual demise.”
“Do NOT threaten me!” Arkor boomed, although was actually quite nervous, “You wield no power here!”
“And yet I gave you the power you now hold,” Tokkal replied, “If you must continue with your delusional aspirations of destruction, as I am sure you will, heed my word Arkor. Your time will come.”
Frightened and enraged, Arkor once again fired a blast at the First Builder, but rather than strike Tokkal down, at passed straight through him without stopping, instead leaving a nasty scar on the other side of the throne room.
“You will never learn,” Tokkal said disappointedly, then disappeared.
Morning came at Nexus Tower, and a doctor was performing a checkup on the patients in the Recovery Ward of the Nexus Tower Medical Center, and it seemed that all the patients there were doing just what they should be doing; recovering. Even Sargent Dawn Lekon seemed to be getting better. It was when they reached the bed after hers that he got a shock however. Dr. Stepford was the doctor performing the checkups, a tall, grey, balding minifigure, and he walked straight towards the next bed without looking up once.
“Well, hmm, good morning, Dr. Topiase, hmm, yes good morning,” he said, more to his clipboard than a person in the bed, “I trust you slept well?”
It was only when he got no response that he actually glanced up from the item in his hand, and saw the bed was empty.
“Why, Dr. Topiase! Where are you? Hmm, where have you gone?” he stammered. He then proceeded to begin checking underneath all the furniture within the curtain “walls” that made up her room. Finding nothing(with the exception of some dropped food that most likely wasn’t too palatable to begin with), he got back up off his hands and knees and stroked his trimmed beard thoughtfully.
“Hmm… I don’t know what you young people think is funny these days, but now is no time for a game of hide and seek, Dr. Topiase, hmm yes, no time at all.”
“Is there a problem Dr. Stepford?” spoke the all too familiar voice of Vanda Darkflame. The elderly doctor jumped violently at her sudden appearance, but turned to face her none to worse for wear.
“Don’t DO that to me, Your Brilliance,” he stammered. Vanda shook her head at the title by which he had referred to her.
“What have I told you about calling me that?” she said softly, but not harshly.
“It’s just that… the breakthroughs you’ve made in medical science alone… your studies in curing maelstrom infection, it’s just… well, brilliant. Yes, quite brilliant,” the doctor replied, “Oh there’s something I needed to tell you too, hmm, now what was it again?”
Staring at the empty bed behind Dr. Stepford, Vanda put two and two together.
“Where’s Dr. Topiase?” Vanda said.
“Oh! Hmm, yes. That’s what it was, you see,” Stepford replied, “She’s gone missing! Nowhere to be found. Not in here, at least.”
“Then she must be somewhere else in Nexus Tower,” Vanda stated. She flicked on the comm unit on her wrist and began speaking into it.
“Command, I want a search out for a missing person. Name: Dr. Natasha Topiase. Moderate build, fair complexion, straight black hair, mid-twenties. She’s a medical patient and could be disoriented or delusional. Do not take her with force.”
“Understood, Grand Leader Darkflame,” a voice replied through the device, and was then silent.
“Well, now what?” Dr. Stepford asked.
“Now I go look for her myself.”
When Numb Chuck had said that the Fallen Gate was guarded by a virtual armada of maelstrom, he had been serious, as Alphos and Natasha found out as they approached the tiny valley between them and the Fallen Gate. Roughly forty Dark Ronin and Maelstrom Horsemen filled the area, and having that many eyes and ears in the one place would make it all but impossible to sneak by unnoticed.
“Oh well,” Natasha said, and joking turned in the other direction, “We tried.”
“We need to smash them,” Alphos said, “All of them.”
“Maybe. But cover me anyway.”
Without another word, Alphos jumped off the small rise and into the valley. In a single fluid motion he unsheathed his sword a cleaved a nearby Ronin in two. As another cluster of Ronin approached, Alphos grabbed his blaster pistol with his left hand and reduced the attackers to a pile of smoking bricks. He wasn’t even nearly safe yet, because at that moment on of the Maelstrom Horseman charged down the slope leading away from a decrepit old maelstrom inundated crypt towards Alphos. The fearsome rider leveled his staff with Alphos’ head, and fired a lethal orb of energy. Alphos dove to the ground and rolled towards the skeletal horse’s legs, using his sword to literally cut the undead beast off at the knees. A quick shot of his pistol finished the rider.
With his back now to the crypt, therefore leaving Alphos nowhere to run, the remaining Ronin, which easily numbered over 30, charged towards Alphos in a perfect military formation. As they drew closer and closer, Alphos realized his back was up against the wall of the crypt. Natasha had engaged in battle with a group of Maelstorm Horseman at range, so she couldn’t help him. Alphos holstered his blaster, and raised his sword in front of him. He clenched his left fist, wishing to the First Builders that he had a shield.
“Shield Activated,” a robotic monotone said in his earpiece. Instantly, a holographic shield was projected from Alphos’ left gauntlet. It was mostly colorless, with the exception of a blazing blue and yellow transparent Sentinel logo.
“Oh. So that’s where they put the shield,” Alphos muttered thankfully, then charged towards the Ronin.
Shockwaves could be felt rippling through the vacuum of space as the four Nexus Force warships dropped out of hyperspace above Exodus Prime’s new homeworld, but on the ground, that fearsome leader was far from concerned. He stood with his metal hands behind his back, gazing out the window at the beautiful world he now called his home, a world ruled by peace and harmony. That contrast would be non-existent. He would corrupt this world, and bend it to his will. The more maelstrom that existed on this world, the stronger he would become, and to Exodus Prime, strength was everything.
“Master!” Exodus 23 cried, as she ran up behind Prime, “Four enemy warships have just dropped out of hyperspace! Our position is indeed compromised!”
“I planned for something like this, 23,” came the reply, “Mobilize the Annihilator and the Whirlwind to intercept with the enemy. Cripple them, but don’t destroy them. Only survivors can bring word of their own defeat back to the Nexus Force.”
Aboard the Sentinel Avenger, Captain Ben Strongheart was leading the attack on Exodus Prime’s headquarters. All his life he’d been waiting for an opportunity like this to prove himself, to finally step out of his brother Beck’s shadow, and become known for the soldier he truly was, rather than for his bloodline. Even now he was unfazed, as he prepared for battle with his enemy.
“All ships, plot a course into low orbit,” he said, “We’ll pull an orbital strike on his base, and he’ll never see it coming.”
“Yes Captain,” came replies from that ship and the other three.
“Prime will likely mobilize the Venture Explorer to stop us,” Strongheart said, “We’ll send fighters to intercept. Pilots to fighters now, and be ready to fly on my signal.”
Joining the group aboard the Venture League ship the New Frontier was Captain Sky Lane, and rather than command vessel, she believed she would be more useful in a fighter than a ship’s bridge. As she boarded her starfighter, she opened a comm channel to the Avenger.
“Hey Strongheart,” she said, “I agree that the fighters are our best shot at beating the Explorer, but we need these warships to keep that thing off our pilots’ tails. Trust me.”
“Are you telling me how to run my assault, Captain Lane?” Strongheart replied, an insulted tone in his voice. Sky just rolled her eyes. Typical of arrogant new officers to repel feedback like this.
“No, I’m warning you,” she said, “Because after the Venture Explorer is done with us, it’s gonna blow you guys outta the water. Lane out.”
She flicked off her commlink and waited to launch.
Alphos slammed his glowing energy shield into the helmet of one Ronin, as he sliced the helmet off another. A blur of katanas swiped through the air, and Alphos neatly caught each one on his sword. A few quick slashing and jabbing actions shattered several of the dark creatures’ armor, and every blow a Ronin landed on Alphos was instantly absorbed by his armor’s nanotechnology. In less than a minute, the crowd of Ronin had fallen and, drawing his pistol, Alphos leveled the remaining horsemen ganging up on Natasha. They were safe.
“Nice work out there,” Natasha said, “If every Nexus Force warrior had that kinda gear, we’d have won this war already.”
“Yeah,” Alphos said, as he scrutinized Natasha’s Space Marauder gear for dents and scratches, “You ok?”
“I’ll live. Let’s just get through the force field,” she replied, gesturing with the barrel on her blaster at the Fallen Gate. The two of them then donned their ninja hoods, allowing them to pass through the gate with impunity. Beyond was a precarious stone pathway over one of Forbidden Valley’s chasms, and guarding the path at regular intervals were parties each comprised of three Ronin and a horseman.
“You take the horsemen, I take the Ronin,” Alphos said, “Got it?”
Natasha instantly fired her blaster multiple times at the horseman in the first group, bringing it to the ground in seconds. Alphos then sliced through the remaining Ronin like a hot knife through butter. Rinse. Repeat. The path was cleared. All that now remained between them and the Paradox refinery was one final chasm, bridged with a series of bouncers to fling minifigures across the divide.
“Ladies first,” Natasha said, jumping onto the first bouncer. She was propelled through the air, bouncing off at least three more bouncers, until she safely reached the opposite side. A few seconds later, Alphos joined her.
“Ok,” Alphos said, a bit shaken physically from the bumpy ride down, “Now to find Brick Fury.”
“Found him,” Natasha said.
“Where?” Alphos said, “Where’s Brick Fury?”
Natasha pointed about halfway down the nearest chasm. Nestled precariously on a painfully narrow ledge, was none other than Brick Fury. The massive cyborg looked as though he’d been through a terrific battle; his paintwork was scorched and chipped, his body dented, and his face was cut and bruised.
In the same instant that he spotted the cyborg, Alphos had whipped his grappling hooks off belt, and was preparing to climb down.
“Wait, where are you going?!” Natasha said.
“To see if he’s still alive,” Alphos replied, “We can’t just leave him down there.”
“You’re going to climb down THAT?! You’re insane.”
“You know that’s the second time you’ve said that to me just today,” Alphos returned, “If that’s the case, I’m afraid my insanity is just something you’ll have to get used to.”
Alphos then jumped into the chasm, breaking his fall on the way down with the grappling hooks. He reached the ledge with Brick Fury on it in seconds.
From a distance, the cyborg had looked a lot worse than he actually was. Most of his injuries were purely superficial; the reason he was unconscious was probably due to a nasty bump on his head that he probably received on the way down. Overall, he looked like he would be ok.
“Let’s get you safe,” Alphos muttered to himself. He gently patted Brick on the face, and after a few minutes on continuous patting, Brick’s eyes opened.
“Ugh….” the cyborg muttered, “Am I dead?”
“You’re gonna be ok, Brick,” Alphos said. He meant it too, provided that they both didn’t fall into the chasm.
Some things are easier said than done.
The Nexus Force assault force was now in a low orbit around the planet upon which Exodus Prime made his headquarters, charging their cannons for an all-out aerial attack. Fighter pilots were in place in their starfighters, making up a defensive formation around the larger warship. They awaited the only thing they believed stood in their way; the corrupted Venture League ship known as the Venture Explorer.
They were wrong.
“Captain Strongheart, we have TWO unidentified vessels approaching our position!” an officer aboard the Avenger cried. Immediately the bridges of all four warships were filled with a chorus of gasps, shocked mumbling and the occasional muttered curse.
“Are you certain, officer?” Ben Strongheart replied, a bead of sweat dripping down his forehead.
“Certain, sir,” was the reply, “There’s two of them, and they’re closing fast.”
“Can you target them?”
“No sir,” the officer said, “The atmosphere is providing too much cover for them.”
On Sky Lane’s end of the comm channel came a grumbling sound that sounded an awful deal like an “I told you so”. From that point on, she wasn’t going to let Ben Strongheart send them all to an early grave. She was taking matters into her own hands.
“All warships, pull back to high planetary orbit,” she commanded, “If they want to come into firing range, they’ll have to come outta the cloud cover to do it. Fighters, assemble defensive formation delta-nine. We’re on recon. We need to see exactly what these things are capable of.”
And to Captain Ben Strongheart’s horror, a symphony of “Yes Captain”s could be heard in reply.
“You…. You…. This is insubordination! Proceed with the attack AS PLANNED! I’ll see you’re kicked out of the Nexus Force for this, Lane!” he bellowed, but even as he did, the two enemy ships drew in closer. They were behemoth vessels that looked like a smaller Venture Explorer class ship embedded into a larger, flattish oval tube that ended in a curved nose at the front, and powerful trusters at the back. Weapons blisters cover the ships, from missile bays at the nose to blaster turrets mounted to each of the stubby curved wing flanking either side of the ship, and each one at least twice the size of each Nexus Force vessel.
“Listen Strongheart,” Sky Lane snapped, “You wanna get yourself blown to pieces? Then take an escape pod and complete your attack from there. But I’m not risking the lives of good soldiers on a mad rush. You good with that?”
“Um… yes Captain,” Ben stammered nervously.
“Then prepare for battle,” Sky said.
Clouds whipped past the bridge of Exodus Prime’s flagship, the Annihilator, and Exodus Prime within. Even as he emerged from the misty white cloud cover enwreathing his new homeworld, he watched the Nexus Force warships take up a defensive formation, and knew he would win this battle.
“All hands, take up all available weapons systems. Transfer navigation to me. Today we strike a glorious blow against the Nexus Force!” he cried in his sinister monotone. Through his crystal staff, the replies of his cyborg charges flowed through the maelstrom like pebbles in a stream, each Exodus unit and stromling professing their loyalty and willingness to do whatever it took to help their master achieve his goal. The Annihilator’s sister ship, the Whirlwind, raced up to join the other vessel, and Prime felt replies echoing from it too. Pure power and strength of command coursed through Exodus Prime’s body, and he loved it. It felt good.
The massive assault vessels flew ever closer to the Nexus Force strike force, and the maelstrom ships’ forward scanners detected a small fleet of starfighters approaching them. Exodus Prime smiled a twisted, maelstrom-corroded smile behind his mask. He remembered when his predecessor had to steal ships and fighters, corrupt them mid-battle. That would be an issue no longer.
“All fighters, deploy!” he bellowed. And as his stromling pilots scrambled to their ships, the oozing maelstrom tendrils that dominated the entire vessel watched them, and through the maelstrom, Exodus Prime watched them. He merely had to gaze into his crystal, and the entirety of the maelstrom was his eyes and ears. Within seconds, the stromlings were in their cockpits, and their fighters shot into the black of space.
The battle was about to begin. As Exodus Prime powered up his warship’s shields, he was certain that this victory would be as all victories should be; swiftly obtained and above all, sweet.
Power is a volatile thing. The slightest motion, the tiniest twitch of an empowered one can put thousands of lives in jeopardy. With the Blade of Darkness in his hands, King Arkor held nothing back. He stormed into the Kingdom of Jallan with his weapon, a furious warrior bent on destruction. Villages were razed to the ground in seconds, crops destroyed, and still he continued.
And Zegon loved watching every second of it.
He found it almost amusing to watch the people scream and run from their fate at a power so trivial as that of the Blade of Darkness. The glory of destruction completely enveloped Zegon as he watched, and with every second he became more eager to wield the Power of Eternity, a power so great, it would have brought these pathetic kingdoms to their knees.
One was certain; King Mirco would not take this assault lying down. He mobilized his armies, and led them into battle himself. He marched on Arkor’s kingdom, and avenged his people upon it. And no matter how much destruction resulted, neither party surrendered. It seemed inevitable that they would eventually destroy each other, but the loss of life until then was too great a sacrifice for the First Builders to accept. Something had to be done. Mirco and Arkor would have to be forced together prematurely, to end this once and for all. It didn’t matter how it was done, but it must be done quickly.
From this desperation sprung the greatest folly the Universe will ever know.
Rather than waste precious time on working out the most logical way save Brick’s life, Alphos dove straight into a plan.
“Can you climb Brick? At all?” Alphos asked, although he pretty much knew the answer. Most of the cyborg’s energy would have had to been depleted already, or he would have woken himself up and escaped on his own.
“’Fraid not,” was the grunted reply.
“Ok then,” Alphos said, “We go to plan B.”
He retrieved a small canister from his belt filled with an ultra-strong wire rope inside. He retrieved one end from the canister, and fastened it around Brick Fury’s waist. He then fasten a portion of it through a loop in his belt. Knowing he could never carry Brick Fury all by himself, he freed a longed portion, also attached it to Brick, and then tossed the canister up to the top of the cliff.
“Natasha!” he yelled, “You’re gonna have to help hoist us up!”
Despite the involuntary sigh that came from her lips at the thought of hauling a massive cyborg super solider AND a second minifig up a cliff, she picked up the canister that had landed at her feet and started to pull. When Alphos noticed the tug of the rope, he started climbing. Soon the wire connecting him to Brick went taut, and ascend the cliff became an all-out war for every inch of progress. Alphos didn’t give up though. He poured every last shred of strength into his arms and legs, and thought of nothing but the task at hand. Hearing the low groan from above, Alphos knew Natasha was struggling too, but she’d never accomplish this is Alphos stopped climbing. He continued, hand over hand until he reached the top, where joined Natasha in helping haul Brick back onto solid ground. When their task was finally complete, every last muscle in their bodies felt like it was on fire, and Natasha nearly collapsed on the spot.
“Whoa,” Alphos said, “You ok?”
“I’ll live,” she muttered.
“In that case,” Alphos said, “We still have a super soldier to fix.”
“Yeah,” Brick said, “Shake a leg on that, ok?”
One of the things that made Brick Fury so powerful was that he was powered by a Paradox maelstrom reactor, meaning that the more maelstrom he obtained, the more energy he had. Such was common knowledge, and Alphos wasn’t going to waste any time in getting Brick back on his feet. If that meant getting him some smashed maelstrom remains, so be it.
“I’m gonna go get Brick some maelstrom, stay here until I get back, ok?” Alphos said.
“Whatever you say, chief,” Natasha said in a tone that made it obvious that she wasn’t really paying attention. Alphos just rolled his eyes and walked off. There were some maelstrom horseman spawning grounds just past the Refinery, and with his new gear, Alphos would be able to take down the chaotic beasts easily. As he was walking past the Refinery however, he stopped dead in his tracks. Entire legions of Ronin lined up in front of the Refinery in perfect military arrays, flanked by horseman by the dozen, and the occasional maelstrom dragon. If he took another step past that Refinery, he’d be spotted. It wasn’t for himself that he was worried; with Brick at minimal power he’d be a sitting duck. Numb Chuck had said the situation was bad, but…. Alphos needed a plan, and he knew it. Even ten more warriors wearing the same armor as Alphos would be hard-pressed to get into the Refinery; with the current numbers they didn’t stand a chance.
First things first; crowd control.
If they could manage to sneak inside, the only maelstrom creatures that would be able to follow would be the Ronin, since the dragons and horsemen were too big. The Ronin alone could be manageable. That left only one thing – actually getting inside.
That’s when Alphos had an idea. He sprinted back to Natasha and Brick.
“Yo dude, where’s my noms?” Brick said. Alphos wasn’t listening.
“Natasha, what are you wearing under your Paradox gear?” Alphos said.
“Military jumpsuit, why?”
“You got some id?”
“Yes….. I’m not under arrest, am I?” she said jokingly.
“All Paradox armor is imbued with maelstrom energy. Naturally it isn’t pure, or it would overwhelm the wearer. But it IS maelstrom nonetheless,” Alphos said.
“Where are you going with this?” Natasha asked.
“The Refinery is swamped with maelstrom, but I think I have a way to get us in there. Feed Brick your armor, first of all.”
“I’ll pay for a replacement. Then, I need you to take him inside the Refinery like he’s your prisoner. If you get challenged, show your id. Act like you’re supposed to be there. No matter what, don’t show fear. While you’re doing that, I’ll sneak in through the shadows. If we get made, Brick, who will be strong enough to fight back, can cover your escape. Understood?”
“You’re STILL insane,” Natasha muttered.
“Good. Let’s do it.”
Sky Lane’s Venture squadron rocketed towards the two enemy warships, only to be assaulted full on by a rival squadron sent by their foe. A flurry of blasts was scattered throughout the group of Nexus Force fighters, narrowly missing each one.
“All fighters, pull back around, and target the enemy fighters. Over,” was Sky’s command. That’s exactly what they did; every Venture squadron fighter curled around in a huge arc to bring themselves into a firing position behind the maelstrom starfighters. A few well-aimed shots stuck home into the cluster of dark vessels, but somehow, none of them were destroyed. When the maelstrom fighters pulled similar maneuver on Venture squadron however, their powerful blasts decimated the group of Nexus Force fighters.
“This is worse than I thought!” Sky yelled into the comm, “We need more fighters! All ships, deploy all fighters! Repeat! Deploy all fighters!”
“We’re having the same trouble with these warships, Captain Lane!” Captain Strongheart shouted, “These things are too tough; we can’t even penetrate their shields!”
“I think the starfighters have the same kind of shields, ‘cause we’re not having any luck with them out here!” Sky replied, “I’m authorizing the use of every last missile and torpedo every last ship and fighter out here has! It’s gonna take everything we’ve got to win this battle!”
“Reading you. Strongheart out.”
In step with the orders she had given, Sky readied her starfighter’s small missile bay and targeted the nearest maelstrom fighter. The fired missile exploded violently against the ship’s shields, downing them long enough for Sky to place a few blaster shots on its engine. As the fighter exploded in a ball of flame, something clicked in the back of Sky’s mind - she had never seen a fighter that looked even remotely like that before. She craned her head around in her tiny cockpit, glanced at the two enemy warships, and realized the same thing. What made it so important was not merely that she had never seen ships like these before, but rather, what that meant as a whole. She flicked on her comm.
“Remember how I said things are worse than I thought?” Sky half-stammered, half-shouted into her helmet-mounted microphone.
“Yes?” Ben Strongheart said.
“They just got even worse. These ships are unlike any design I’ve ever seen, Nexus Force or otherwise,” she said.
“That can only mean one thing.”
“They’re making their own ships now.”
The battle continued to rage on, and for the members of the Nexus Force assault force, things were taking a seriously bad turn. The rest of the Nexus Force warships had now deployed their fighters into battle, only to be decimated at the hands of the enemy. The warships themselves were giving their foes all the firepower they had, but to no effect. They were slowly and surely being crushed.
“Bring the warships around to target these engines! It’s our only chance!” Sky screamed into her comm. She was getting desperate. If this was the kind of military hardware Exodus Prime could outfit himself with, then they were in serious trouble. They had to find a weakness in his vessels they could exploit, and they needed to find it now.
As per Sky’s orders, Ben Strongheart sent the Sentinel Avenger rocketing over and past the maelstrom warships, where he took up a position in the rear of the Annihilator.
“All batteries, target enemy engines!” was his command.
“Sir, our blaster fire is having now effect on them!” an officer cried.
“Then use the missiles! Electro blasts! SOMETHING!” Ben shouted angrily, but his anger only came from his fear, fear that this enemy was completely invincible. He watched with utter dismay as the weaponry he had just authorized for use on their target bounced harmlessly off that target’s shield.
That’s when the enemy decided that a proverbial fly needed swatting.
All of the Annihilator’s rear firepower was instantly turned on the Avenger, and would be unfit to say that the Avenger’s shields threw anything less than a full blown tantrum. Sparks flew throughout the vessel, and small fires broke out on every deck as the Avenger took blow after blow.
“SIR, shields are down 50%!”
“Explosion on lower decks, casualties unconfirmed!”
“Life support on level 5 offline!”
“Take evasive action, NOW!” Ben Strongheart commanded. The Sentinel Avenger’s sublight engines roared with life, sending the ship hurtling out of the Annihilator’s range and right past the Whirlwind instead.
Aboard the bridge of the Whirlwind was Exodus 23, and she wasn’t letting a golden opportunity pass her by even if it meant defying her master’s previous orders.
“All batteries, target Sentinel warship. Blow it out of the sky,” she said.
Dr. Natasha Topiase dragged Brick Fury across the barren ground, towards the Paradox Refinery and a horde of maelstrom creatures, wondering why in the name of the First Builders she was doing what she was doing right now. She was walking directly up to a group of mindless beasts of chaos, dragging a cyborg capable of destroying said beasts and asking for safe passage inside a building filled with more of said disciples of destruction.
That was the plan.
The moment she was visible to the Ronin sentries, every maelstrom creature tensed. Horsemen and Ronin raised their weapons, and dragons blew random fireballs in an intimidating manner. As she heard the footsteps echoing across the ground behind her, Natasha gently put Brick Fury back on the ground and retrieved her ID card from her pocket. She turned to face the approaching crowd of doom, her face completely rigid and business like. If she showed the slightest amount of fear….
“Dr Natasha Topiase, research division. Your bosses told me to bring this here bucket of bolts in for study,” she said, gesturing to Brick Fury. The head Ronin stopped moving towards her, twitching his katana back and forth indecisively.
“Would you prefer that your boss find out that you were the one who delayed their research by not letting me through?” Natasha said, thinking faster than was probably good for her. Still the Ronin didn’t move out her way, but it didn’t strike her down either. The creature turned to face its peers, and made ghostly grunting noise that Natasha suspected formed a conversation. After a few tense seconds, the Ronin turned back to Natasha and raised his sword….
…. and used it to gesture towards the entrance of the Paradox Refinery.
While she didn’t dare do so audibly, Natasha mentally breathed a massive sigh of relief. As she picked up Brick Fury and started to drag him inside again, she notice a shadowy figure creep inside past the distracted maelstrom creatures; Alphos. She had barely gotten him across the threshold of the Refinery when it happened; the supposed lifeless Brick Fury blinked.
And every single maelstrom creature present saw it.
Realizing Natasha’s deception, the Ronin charged through the door after her, katanas flying, but Brick Fury rose up on his two robotic legs and opened fire on the maelstrom creatures with his powerful blaster cannons. And then, seemingly from out of nowhere, a minifigure in glowing Sentinel armor dove toward the crowd of Ronin and hacked to pieces those which Brick Fury left behind. In a few seconds it was over; maelstrom horsemen and dragons were crowded around the doorway, unable to follow, while blocking off the path for any more Ronin to enter.
“Come on, they’ll send more through in a moment,” Alphos said, as coolly and calmly as if he had just been playing a game of chess, rather than smashing maelstrom. He brushed a few specks of dirt off his shining new armor and ran down the hallway, Natasha and Brick close behind.
“First things first, Natasha. We need to get you some new gear,” Alphos said.
“I’ve been here more times than I care to remember. There’s an armory up the hall. I can gear up there,” she replied.
“You take Brick and do that then,” Alphos said, “I’ll start looking for Vapor Overcast.”
“Will do,” Natasha and Brick said in unison, and they both ran off, leaving Alphos alone.
He knew that there would be only one way to find Vapor, and that was to explore. She wasn’t going to be standing in a random corridor, after all. He picked a direction and walked. The corridor he was walking down was lined with sliding metal blast doors on both sides, and within those rooms was either nothing, or something exceptionally good at keeping quiet. Still, he had to check. He started fiddling around with the door controls. He almost had them open when he heard what heard like a muffled shriek from further up the corridor. If that was the case, then this room could wait. He ran towards the sound of the shrieking. Finally he reached the end of the corridor, where the sound was loudest. In front of him was another metal blast door, and he knew that whatever was making this noise had to be behind it. He pressed his ear to the metal and listened harder.
Every kind of alarm possible screamed furiously aboard the Sentinel Avenger, which only added to the chorus of panicked shouting already there. The massive warship was trying in vain to dodge the incoming fire, but the fact remained that more blasts were hitting the ship than missing it.
“Sir, shields are at 10%!”
“Plot a hyperspace route out of here!” Ben commanded, “I don’t care where, just get us away from those warships!”
The Avenger cruised around in another evasive arc while the hyperspace course was being logged, but every blast the Whirlwind fired came closer and closer to striking their target. Eventually one did, and the entire ship rocked, shuddered and groaned with the blast.
“SIR, shields are down!”
Another blast hit the Avenger.
“MASSIVE HULL BREACH ON LOWER LEVELS! Venting atmosphere! Another hit will take us out!”
“Hand over navigation to me,” Ben said, in an unnaturally calm voice, “ALL personnel to escape pods NOW.”
“DO IT OFFICER!”
Ben threw the entire weight of his body onto the controls, forcing the Avenger into a crazy evasive maneuver that would allow everyone aboard to reach the escape pods. He flicked on the comm unit.
“Captain, Avenger reads one life sign. Where are your people?” Sky voice said.
“Escaping,” came the reply, “Listen, you were right, Captain Lane. Looks like these guys are tougher than I gave them credit for.”
“I don’t like your tone, Ben,” Sky said nervously.
“But I know one thing,” he said, as he pulled the Avenger around one final time, “If I’m going down…”
“…I’M TAKING THEM WITH ME!”
At that moment Captain Ben Strongheart sent the Avenger hurtling on a collision course with the Whirlwind.
Before long, Alphos could hear muffled voices from behind the blast door, but something about the voices bothered him; the spoke with a heavy growl in their voices that was unnatural for any regional accent or inflection.
Unless it came from a stromling.
“Tellll uss who elzzz knowsss about our presensss herrre,” one of the growling voices said, “Orrr you will only sufffffferr MORRRE!”
“I already told you!” a normal, female voice, that Alphos recognized as Vapor Overcast’s said, “You locked down this base too quickly for me to tell anyone!”
“Annnd yet, weeee finnndd a commmuuunicaaattions deviccce where you werrrre hiiiiiding. DOOO NOTT LIIIIEE!!”
At that moment Alphos heard a horrible gurgling noise from inside the room, and another shriek of pain. He grimaced at what Vapor must be enduring.
As soon as the gurgling sound stopped for a few seconds, Alphos violently jumped around the corridor, and stomped about so as to make as much noise as he possibly could.
“Whaaa?!” one of the corrupt voices said. A moment later the blast door slid open, revealing Vapor tied to a chair, half infected if her lavender skin tone was any indication, flanked by two scientists with bulging purple veins, glowing red eyes and each one holding a slender staff topped with a maelstrom crystal shard. And they were certainly not very happy to see Alphos, sword in one hand, blaster pistol in the other, standing before them.
“AAAATTAAAACKKK!!” one of the infected scientists said, as he took a vicious swipe at Alphos with his staff. Alphos quickly stepped backwards, and finished the corrupt minifigure with a point blank blaster shot. The other scientist was obviously more combat-savvy than his partner; as Alphos tried to gun him down, he spun his staff, projecting a shield of maelstrom energy in front of him. He then lashed out with his staff, knocking the gun from Alphos’ hand, but not quickly enough to block Alphos’ sword as well. The scientist slumped to the ground, decapitated. Alphos ran to Vapor’s side, and began loosening her bonds.
Meanwhile, Brick Fury and Natasha had had no trouble in finding the armory; it was straight down the original corridor and on the second right.
“Told ya,” Natasha snickered, as she punched in an access code that opened up the blast doors. The doors glided open, and they stepped inside. Within was a deadly arsenal of every kind of weapon ever imagined, even some handmade prototypes, in addition to armor to rival that of a tank. In other words, it was warfare paradise. Natasha instantly began rummaging through the weaponry.
“A bit eager, aren’t we?” Brick Fury chuckled at Natasha’s almost maniacally chaotic search, “Anything you looking for in particular?”
“Something that won’t let me get smashed would be preferable,” was the smart reply. At that second she produced from a pile of random weaponry a large blaster rifle, bearing a Paradox insignia, and glowing in between the gaps in its armor plating with maelstrom energy that ran through small tubes within.
“Whatcha got there?” Brick asked.
“I worked on this prototype back at the AG Research Facility. It’ll shoot straight,” Natasha said. She then started examining the available armor. A suit of similar design to the prototype gun was what she decided on, and she quickly donned the Paradox logo emblazoned armor.
“These were experimental designs for a new grade of Space Marauder armor,” she said from behind the sleek helmet, “It has yet to be battle tested however.”
“Let’s fix that,” Brick Fury said with a cheeky smile.
“Whoa, big boy, let’s not get any ideas. Let’s…”
At that second she was cut off by a great deal of noise.
“AAAATTAAAACKKK!!” a muffled voice said. Natasha’s eyes locked with Brick’s from behind her helmet.
“Alphos,” they both murmured.
Back at Nexus Tower, Vanda Darkflame was presented with quite a problem; she had searched the entire tower from top to bottom, even done special DNA scans, and only one thing was clearer than when she had started out. Dr Natasha Topiase was gone.
Naturally Vanda was seriously concerned for her friend’s safety, and she kept worrying that perhaps an overdose of those hospital painkillers might have put Natasha in enough of a daze to simply wander out onto Crux Prime, where a myriad of terrible things might happen to her. There was one thing Vanda knew wouldn’t help anyone though, and that was start panicking. She remained calm and collected and went to speak to Duke Exeter on the subject.
“Ah, Vanda this is excellent timing,” Duke said as Vanda walked into the Sentinel War Room, “I have something that requires your attention.”
“I too must speak to you about something,” Vanda replied, as she stepped on a special air bouncer that propelled her up to the mezzanine level of the War Room. Duke Exeter beckoned her over to his large hologram table, and activated a recorded transmission. The three dimensional image of a Venture League Daredevil shimmered to like in front of them.
“Hello Grand Leader Exeter, my name is Phaxan. I believe I have information pertaining to the Wielder’s original possession of the maelstrom crystal she used. Investigating such a thing could prove to be a vital tactical advantage in the battle against Exotus Prime,” the image said.
“Why did he not contact us sooner?” Vanda asked.
“I asked him that,” Duke replied, “Here’s what he said.”
“I did not come to you sooner because I was concerned for my own safety. I met her in person, back at the Avant Gardens Research Facility, and gave the crystal to her myself. I feared that if I told you this while she was still alive, she would seek to silence me,” Phaxan said.
“Makes sense,” Vanda said, “He’d be the only one who could ID her. That makes him a target.”
“I still do not completely trust the security of your communication channels; that’s why I came to you directly. I want to meet with you in person and tell you everything I know,” Phaxan said.
“So? What did you say?” Vanda asked.
“I told him he had a deal. He’ll be meeting with all four of us Faction Leaders tomorrow at 1500 hours,” Duke said, “Now, what did you need to say?”
Just as Alphos had finished untying the last knot restraining Vapor Overcast, he heard the thudding of footsteps racing up the hall behind him. His hand instantly fell down to his waist, where he grabbed his sword and took up a defensive position in front of the weakened Vapor. Alphos readied himself to strike as Brick and an armor clad figure.
“Whoa man, don’t wave that shiny stick at me!” Brick said nervously.
“Where’s Natasha?” Alphos said.
“Right here,” the armored minifigure said as she removed her helmet, “Some proto gear I helped design. Thought I’d give it a test drive.”
“Fair enough,” he replied, “I’ve found Overcast, but she needs medical attention.”
Instantly Brick Fury thundered over to Vapor’s side, and gently helped her to her feet.
“Whoa, you don’t look so good, Vapor. You need some meds,” the cyborg said.
“I’ll live,” Vapor croaked, “I’m just glad to see that you’re still in one piece.”
“He didn’t look too good when we found him either,” Alphos inserted, “In fact, we should really find him some more fuel. The maelstrom content in Rank 3 Space Marauder gear can only keep him running for so long.”
“Hmm,” Natasha said, as she picked up one of the staffs dropped by the smashed scientists, “What about these? If our knowledge of maelstrom crystals is any indication of the power within them….”
“Will it work Vapor?” Alphos asked.
“Depends. It won’t infect him, there are safeguards against such things. I’m more concerned that the sheer amount of power within them will burn out his circuits,” Vapor pondered.
“Dude, I’m starving. I’m for it,” Brick said, and before anyone could object, he picked up one of the staffs off the floor and started munching on the crystal.
“BRICK!” all three of them chided.
“Hmm. Harder than I figured,” Brick said.
The Power of Eternity.
A power so great, no one who desired power could resist it, for it was ultimate. Where the Blades of Light and Darkness could raze and smash, the Power of Eternity could send an object back through time, or into the future. It could annihilate objects instantly, or as slowly and painfully as its wielder desired. To wield it was to be supreme.
Which is why both kings would want it.
“King Arkor, my lord!” Sir Kalok said, as he ran into the throne room, “I request an audience with your majesty.”
“You may speak,” Arkor replied.
“There are unsettling rumors spreading throughout our villages… tales of a power so great, it makes the Blade of Darkness appear trivial,” Kalok said, “They call it the Power of Eternity.”
As Arkor sat in his throne, he raised an eyebrow at the name.
“How does one obtain this power?” the King asked. Kalok produced a map of the two kingdoms, and placed it on a table in front of Arkor’s throne.
“Rumor has it that the temple containing this power lies on the border of the Kingdom of Jallan and our own, just south of the Spearhead Forest,” Kalok said, pointing to a spot on the map, “Only there can the transfer be completed.”
“What do you make of all this, Kalok?” Arkor said.
“I believed it significant enough to inform you about it, but the people are going through hard times. It is not difficult to imagine them devising such a notion of security as a coping mechanism,” Kalok reasoned.
“Ready the men. We’re going,” Arkor said.
“To the temple. Any advantage over Mirco must be swiftly obtained,” Arkor said, “You are dismissed. I must ready myself for the journey.”
“Why, my lord?”
“Because I’m coming too.”
“So,” Vapor Overcast said, “How do we plan to get out of here?”
“Not through the front door, that’s for sure,” was Natasha’s reply. She was right. There was no way that any of them would get back out in one piece.
“Is there some kind of back door?” Alphos asked, “Maybe something less guarded?”
“Well, there is a path down to the chasm floor where they’re mining for those crystals,” Vapor replied, “There’s a shuttle down there being prepped to take the first shipment away.”
Alphos swallowed hard. He knew exactly what that meant – Exotus Prime was outfitting his army with these things. All the more reason to make sure those crystals never saw battle.
“Ok, listen,” Alphos said, “If we get to that shuttle, we have a way out, and we get to destroy that shipment. That should be our goal.”
“What about all the other scientists along the way? They’re probably armed with staffs too,” Natasha said.
“Better we fight a few strong scientists than an army of full-blooded maelstrom, which seems to be our only alternative,” Alphos answered, “Who’s in?”
“Then let our breakout begin.”
The Sentinel Avenger smashed into the bow of the Whirlwind, exploding into a thousand different pieces as it went. The entire forward section of the Whirlwind crumpled and collapsed with the blow, and multiple explosions broke out across the ship. The vessel rattled and groaned, and the increasingly powerful blasts ran through the hull in a chain reaction.
Aboard the bridge, most of the crew had gone into shock. Not Exodus 23, though.
“WHEN THAT BLAST HITS THE ENGINES, WE’RE DOOMED!” she shouted, “ALL POWER TO BRIDGE SHIELDS, AND UNDOCK US NOW!!”
“Bu..but only 10% of the crew is aboard the bridge,” one unit stammed.
“Do it now or there will be 10% minus 1!” 23 snapped.
And with a hissing of depressurizing airlocks, the large mechanical clamps that were holding the bridge in place released, and the bridge, which was almost an exact duplicate of the corrupt Venture Explorer, undocked from the rest of the Whirlwind. No sooner had its shields activated, did the shattered shell of the Whirlwind explode in a massive fireball.
And the bridge survived.
The Whirlwind’s primary comm unit hummed to life, and a furious projection of Exodus Prime appeared in front of Exodus 23.
“What have you done!?” Prime snapped.
“I seized an opportunity,” 23 replied, “The Sentinel warship was weakened. I finished it off.”
“And cost me a vessel in the process! I gave direct orders NOT to destroy the enemy warships! You’re trying my last nerve 23. LET IT BE KNOWN THAT THIS SORT OF INSUBORDINATION WILL NOT STAND. DO NOT fail me again.”
“I will not, master,” said 23.
Sky Lane watched in horror as the Sentinel Avenger had plunged into the bow of the Whirlwind, crumpling into a fiery mess as it went. She saw the explosions traveling throughout the enemy ship like a wildfire, and she saw the bridge of that ship detach, revealing itself to be its own independent vessel. As the broken shell of the Whirlwind exploded in an unearthly blast, she whispered a silent word of sorrow for Captain Strongheart.
There was no time to mourn a loss though. Even with one of his cruisers down, Exodus Prime still commanded his forces in the same brutal manner. His planetary defense had turn into a full-on offensive, and only one thing would satisfy him; a Nexus Force defeat. His starfighters still screamed around in great arcs, vaporizing Nexus Force vessels with the greatest of ease. Time was running out. As mission commander, Sky Lane knew that she had to make a decision.
“This is Mission Commander Captain Sky Lane speaking,” she said into her comm, “Collect all the Avenger survivors, and all starfighters return to a warship hanger. Mission failure. We’re getting out of here.”
“Pardon, Captain?” one officer said.
“The loss of life and resources is too great,” she said, “We’re outmanned and outgunned, so I’m declaring this mission a failure. Ready your ships for hyperspace.”
As the last of the Avenger’s escape pods were collected, and the remaining Nexus Force warship entered hyperspace, Exodus Prime sat on the bridge of the Annihilator, observing it all with sinister satisfaction. This would be the first in a string of defeats for the Nexus Force, a string of defeats that would lead directly to their demise.
As Alphos, Natasha, Brick Fury and the still wounded Vapor Overcast crept silently down the hallways of the Paradox Refinery, an air of definite and decisive dread built ominously with every step they took. Not a word was spoken; each one was deep in thought about the exact meaning of what was going on here. If Exodus Prime was really planning to outfit an army of Exodus units with crystal staffs…. Alphos shuddered, and shook the though from his mind. Something had to be done to stop those weapons from ever falling into Prime’s hands, and the team of bold heroes planned to do just that.
As they approached a more open corridor, Alphos gestured for the others to stop and remain silent. He craned his neck around the corner to see what lay beyond. The sound of footsteps soon met their ears, and a corrupt scientist wielding a staff walked into the corridor. Alphos stepped back, so as to avoid being seen.
“SSSSSSTOPPP!!” the scientist cried, as he ran towards where he had spied the spying intruder. He raised his staff, and fired of a round of maelstrom blasts at the corner of the wall. Alphos ducked his head out just long enough to fire back. He missed. The scientist fired again.
“Well this is a good way to get yourself killed,” Natasha grumbled, “Of course, with what I’m about to do…”
At that moment, Natasha dove sideways out into the corridor. She landed roughly on her side, and landed three blasts from her prototype Space Marauder blaster right in the scientist’s torso. The corrupt minifigure crumpled into a smashed heap. Natasha picked herself up, and casually strolled back over to the rest of the group.
“And you say I’M insane?” Alphos remarked.
“Well I got the job done, didn’t I?”
“True. That girl is like seriously a good shot, bro,” Brick said. Vapor nodded shakily in agreement, and that’s when Alphos noted that if Vapor’s current condition was at all indicated by how she looked, she should barely be on her feet, let alone dodging enemy fire.
“Listen guys, I have a new plan,” Alphos said.
All eyes turned to Alphos, and Brick wondered how the little Sentinel upstart had all of a sudden become team leader.
“Vapor is too hurt to come with us,” Alphos said, “She needs medical attention, and she needs it soon.”
“But it’s not like we can just like walk out the front door,” Brick said.
“Not true,” Alphos said, “I think you just might be able to.”
“How?” came the reply.
“Here’s the plan. Natasha and I are the ones best geared to proceed. You two hide out in the complex while we get to the shuttle out back. We hijack it, destroy the shipment of crystals, then use it to blast a path out the front door for you guys,” Alphos said, “It’s our best chance of getting everyone out safely.”
“Don’t worry about me,” Vapor said, “I’m not worth it.”
“No,” Alphos said firmly, “I’m a soldier. Protecting people is my duty.”
“And shooting stuff up is my choice recreational activity,” Natasha remarked, “I’m with him on this one.”
“I dunno….” Brick said, “You sure you can handle this?”
“I’m certain WE can handle this,” Alphos smiled, “We ready to go?”
Natasha petted her gun affectionately, and smiled from behind her helmet.
“Let’s go kick some brick,” she said.
The name Spearhead Forest was not one granted in folly; the dark and sinister woods were crowned with treetops so sharp and malevolent, that from a distance, Spearhead Forest literally looked like a forest of spears. The ominous name, nor its history of swallowing up lost travelers, did not intimidate King Arkor, however. Just south of Spearhead Forest was the Power of Eternity, something he would not part with for anything in the universe. He nudged his ebony steed in the ribs and charged into the dark woods, his loyal knights close behind.
Unfortunately, this boost in speed meant that Zegon was left in the dust. He hung his head dejectedly as Arkor and his court disappeared in front of him.
“You haven’t been left behind, Zegon,” a hollow, echoing voice said from behind, and Zegon jumped violently. He whipped around to see the three Spirits of Eternity standing in the green meadow beside him.
“DON’T DO THAT!” Zegon yelled, clutching at his heart, “You scared the life out of me!”
“What is there to fear, Zegon?” the lead spirit said, “For you are not really here, and as such, nothing here can harm you.”
Zegon started to calm down and catch his breath. He often forgot this entire experience was little more than a dream.
“They’re gone. I can’t catch up to them,” Zegon said, “How else can I find out what happens?”
The second spirit shook his head as a disappointed parent would shake their head at a child’s ignorance.
“That is why we are here, Zegon,” he said, “To transport you to the Temple of Eternity.”
A hungry look, the likes of which many have never seen, developed in Zegon’s eyes, and all of a sudden, his sour attitude turned to one of eager anticipation.
“Well, what are you waiting for!” Zegon exclaimed, “Take me there!”
In a flash of light, they all disappeared.
Bolts of maelstrom energy whizzed through the air, and Natasha was beginning to wonder if going along with Alphos’ plan so willingly had been such a wise choice. As a rogue blast zapped through the air towards her, she dove to the ground and rolled into a kneeling position. A quick pull of her trigger ensured that the corrupted scientist that fired that blast would not be doing any such thing ever again. The problem was that the scientist had friends.
LOTS of friends.
“HEY ALPHOS, STARTING TO WISH WE STUCK WITH THE GROUP?” Natasha yelled over the furious battle.
“I LIKE TO LIVE WITH NO REGRETS!” came his casual reply, as his cut down yet another one of the infected researchers. Another scientist turned on him next, swinging his staff like a club. Alphos gracefully caught the blow on his sword, neatly knocking the weapon to the side. A swift slash sent that scientist too to the land of the smashed. Out of nowhere, another scientist jumped at Alphos and Natasha, only this one had no staff, but instead his hands themselves glowed with a violet hue. He exposed his palms and released a violent blast of maelstrom energy. It didn’t take Alphos long to realize that the stromling had crystal shards in his palms.
“GET DOWN!” Alphos yelled, as he ran towards the stromling, and using the infected creature’s shoulders, as a springboard, somersaulted over its head and disarmed it on the way down. In a matter of seconds, it was a pile of bricks. Then there was silence.
“Guess that was the last of them, for now at least,” Alphos said, “Let’s keep moving before more of them find us.”
“Lead the way,” Natasha said.
Back in the Sentinel War Room, Duke Exeter paced back and forth impatiently. He should have received a transmission from the Nexus Force strike force by now, yet nothing had come. Right when he believed it was time to take serious action, the holotable in front of him shimmered to like with an image of Sky Lane aboard the bridge of the Venture League New Frontier.
“Captain Lane, where is Captain Strongheart?” Exeter snapped, “And why are you so overdue?”
“We failed the mission, sir,” Sky Lane said as professionally as she possibly could with the mood she was in, “Captain Strongheart went down with the Avenger.”
“He WHAT?!” Duke exclaimed, “Do you mean to tell me he’s been smashed?”
“Yes, sir,” Sky replied, “The Avenger was in critical condition. He evacuated his crew and piloted the crippled Avenger into one of the enemy warships. He was a hero.”
“I… I can’t believe it…. Beck will be crushed,” Duke murmured, then stopped suddenly, “Wait, what do you mean ONE of the enemy warships? Weren’t you just up against the Venture Explorer?”
“No sir, in fact, the Venture Explorer was a no-show,” Sky said, “It would seem that Exodus Prime has got his hands on some serious new hardware. His ships are much larger than ours too.”
“How many did you face?”
“Two. The bridge of the one Captain Strongheart destroyed undocked from the rest of the vessel before it could be destroyed. That bridge alone is the same size as and looks as powerful as the Venture Explorer.”
“So he’s gathering full-strength military hardware. He’s preparing for full-scale war,” Duke muttered.
“Get the surviving warships back to Nimbus System ASAP,” Duke said, “I’m going to summon the other Faction Leaders for an emergency meeting. This is a disaster.”
The roughly carved stone cave was spacious and high-ceiling, with darkness building the higher up it went. A bridge extended across the cave to its sole target, a stone platform against the opposite wall. Below the bridge a lava pit bubbled fiercely, and on the platform, up against the wall, was a striking carving, written in some strange hieroglyphs.
The Temple of Eternity.
Arkor trembled with excitement as he neared the carving. As he passed over the stone bridge he carefully noted three blade holders mounted into the carving; One for the Blade of Eternity, one for the Blade of Darkness and…
“NO!” Arkor growled, much to the dismay of the party of knights surrounding him.
“Your majesty?” Sir Kalok asked.
“I need BOTH blades to complete the transfer! I must have the Blade of Light!” he bellowed angrily. Kalok shook his head, trying with all his might not to act smug. He HAD told his king that there would be a catch somewhere.
At that moment the thunderous sound of more footsteps echoing down the tunnel leading into the temple met their ears, and a new voice called out.
“If it’s the Blade of Light you want Arkor, it’s the Blade of Light you’ll get!” the voice cried. Gasps filled the air, and invisible in his observation, Zegon shook with nervous anticipation.
“Mirco!” Arkor exclaimed, and each and every one of Arkor’s knights raised their weapons threateningly. Arkor motioned them to stand down against the approaching fair-haired royal. By kingly standards, Mirco was a young man. A well-trimmed goatee rimmed his normally softly spoken, but now clearly angry mouth.
“If I face you, I face you alone, Mirco,” Arkor taunted, “I will not have any of your spineless men gang up on me.”
“Mock me as you will, old man,” Mirco replied, “But despite what you think, I would have it no other way.”
“Then we duel,” Arkor said.
“To the end,” was Mirco’s response.
“WISHING YOU WERE BACK IN A HOSPITAL BED YET?” Alphos yelled over the roar of battle as he and Natasha dashed down a large corridor, bolts of maelstrom energy whizzing up behind them.
“NEVER! LIFE ON THE EDGE, BABY!” she shouted back, as a blast came dangerously close to hitting her in the head. Corrupted scientists were in full pursuit of the two warriors, and at any moment things had the potential to take a seriously bad turn.
And they did.
A group scientists scrambled out of a side corridor ahead of Alphos and Natasha, blocking their escape. They were trapped.
Seeing that their targets had no means of escape but to engage in a fruitless battle, the two groups of scientists lowered their crystal staffs and closed in on their prisoners. Alphos and Natasha stood back to back, as certain doom loomed nearer. Back the way they had come, there were too many scientists to fight off, and in the direction they had been going, there were just enough scientists to ensure that Alphos and Natasha couldn’t escape.
“Any last words?” Alphos muttered.
“Yeah, when I say run, run back the way we came,” she whispered.
“Just do it.”
She took up her blaster and trained it on one of the approaching scientist’s crystals.
“RUN!” she yelled, as she pulled her trigger. The maelstrom crystal in the scientist’s staff exploded on impact with the blast, engulfing the surrounding scientists in a ball of purple flame. Alphos and Natasha bolted towards the chaos, dashing through the area of the explosion a mere second after the flames died down. Maelstrom blasts rained down behind them, and they quickly dove into a side corridor. When the scientists rounded the corner, they had no time to react.
Alphos and Natasha had them smashed within the next two seconds. Alphos breathed a sigh of relief. He had no time to catch his breath though.
“Exit’s up this way,” Natasha said gesturing in the direction they had been originally going in.
“Then let’s go.”
The Blades of Light and Darkness clashed with such violence that a burst of sparks showered down and around the two kings. Arkor gave a vicious side swipe, but was deflected by a quick block from Mirco, who then thrust his blade forward, only to be parried by Arkor. They continued.
The knights of the two kingdoms had fully engaged each other, and now the entire cavern was filled to the brim with the cacophony of noise that was the swift meeting of metal blades.
“I will not let you win, Arkor!” Mirco cried, “You seek only the power to destroy!”
“Then how are you any better than me!” Arkor spat.
“I would not need this power, were it not for you! I seek Eternity only to protect my people, whereas once you decimate my kingdom, you will seek out others to destroy!”
“Quite true!” Mirco returned, “You’re nothing more than a tyrant!”
Rage boiled over within Arkor at this remark, and his eagerness for battle returned anew. He slashed repeatedly at Mirco, but the younger king was a very skilled swordsman, and not a single blow hit its mark.
“Every day, in every way, you let your anger control you!” Mirco exclaimed, “Eventually it will lead you to a great mistake!”
“THE ONLY MISTAKE I EVER MADE WAS NOT SEEKING TO DESTROY YOU SOONER!” Arkor bellowed, as he brought his blade down over his head towards Mirco. The two blades locked on impact, and an even brighter shower of sparks resulted. Both warriors struggled to move their sword, but they were forced back by each other. With clenched teeth, both kings stared the other down.
With a new burst of anger and strength, Arkor forced his blade away from Mirco’s. Both kings wer forced around with the release of tension, and in the brief second that Mirco’s back was turned, Arkor made his move.
King Mirco fell to the ground, his glittering golden crown rolling away from his lifeless bricks.
After navigating the last remaining corridors of the Paradox Research Facility, Alphos and Natasha finally reached the rear exit. The problem was, the exit came out onto a narrow stone ledge protruding from the side of one of Forbidden Valley’s crevasses.
And the bottom was a long, long way down.
“Well, I showed you the way out, I guess it’s up to you here…,” Natasha said, as she started to back away from the edge. Alphos grabbed her arm.
“Oh no you don’t,” Alphos chided, “You’re coming with me.”
“I figured,” she replied, “But still, how do you plan to get down there?”
Alphos scrutinized the crevasse, looking for an answer. At the very bottom, several dozen purple twinkles met his eyes.
“See that at the bottom?” Alphos said, “It’s the crystals. That must be where the scientists mined them.”
“In which case, there must be a way down.”
“Exactly,” Alphos agreed, as he continued to scan the chasm. His eyes came to rest on what was little more than a narrow goat track snaking along the chasm wall.
“And I think I’ve just found it,” he said with a smile.
At the very base of the chasm, Alphos and Natasha found exactly what they had expected to find; maelstrom crystals. The only difference was that there weren’t dozens of them, there were hundreds of them, perhaps thousands. And off in the distance, enshrouded by fog, their charging engines pumping maelstrom-tainted exhaust into the crisp chilly air, were two maelstrom-infected shuttles.
They were being guarded by at least 20 Exodus units.
Alphos and Natasha silently crept towards the cluster of Exodus units loading the two maelstrom shuttles, and their silence only added to the tension in the air. The slightest noise would echo through these chasms for miles. As they neared the vessels, they saw that most of the Exodus units were busy hauling large crates into the ships’ cargo bays, and one Exodus unit was standing aside with a crystal staff and barking orders. He was obviously in charge.
“Ok, here’s the plan,” Alphos said as he and Natasha ducked down behind a group of rocks, “You take out the lackeys at range. They won’t have enough time to react and return fire. Most importantly, provide me with cover.”
“Because I’m taking out the leader.”
“Someone has to do it.”
“Just go then,” Natasha grumbled, as she released the safety catch on her blaster and aimed at one of the crate-carrying Exodus units. A quick shot to the helmet reduced him to bricks instantly, and immediately the other Exodus units went on full alert, dropping their crates and scanning the chasm for where the shot might have come from. Three more shots from Natasha’s unseen perch leveled three more Exodus units, and that’s when Alphos made his move. He dashed out of hiding behind another collection of stony spikes and rushed the at the leading Exodus unit with his sword. The moment Alphos was visible, the cyborg took action, firing maelstrom blasts from his crystal staff repeatedly at his swift attacker, and either missing or having his blows deflected by Alphos’ energy shield. Alphos swung his blade down towards the Exodus unit, and the latter parried with his staff. The other units were in quite a dilemma, as the moment they tried to attack Alphos, Natasha gunned them down from afar. They were falling quickly.
“Any chance of a peaceful surrender?” Alphos grunted as he deflected a fierce blow from the Exodus unit.
“I am Exodus 9, coordinator of the crystal mining operation,” the cyborg said, “and you are about to be terminated.”
“Strong words for someone getting beaten!” Alphos remarked as he lunged once more at Exodus 9’s unstable torso, only to once again be thrown off. Alphos wasn’t entirely wrong in his statement either; all of the other Exodus units had fallen to Natasha’s blaster. Exodus 9 knew it too. He violently swung his staff at Alphos landing such a heavy blow on the minifigure’s shield that he was thrown backwards. In his moment of peace, Exodus 9 made a sweeping gesture at one of the maelstrom shuttles, signaling for it to leave. The pilot gladly consented to escape the chaos, and launched the shuttle into the frosty air. In the relief of knowing that one of his shuttles got away, Exodus 9 was completely distracted. Alphos’ quick slash to the cyborg’s torso caught him completely by surprise, and Alphos backed away far enough to escape the inevitable explosion. Seeing that the battle was over, Natasha stood up from her position behind the rocks.
“One of them got away!” she growled, “We should have known there was a pilot in them!”
“Obviously only one pilot left, you got the other,” Alphos said, gesturing to the remaining idling shuttle, “If we go now, we can shoot down the first shipment and clear the Refinery entrance for Brick and Vapor.”
“Got it. Let’s go.”
“Let’s not get ourselves smashed either.”
It took a few seconds for him to realize what had just happened, but when he did, a smirk of malevolent glee crept across King Arkor’s face. His greatest rival lay smashed at his feet, and now nothing stood in the way of him claiming for himself ultimate power. At the loss of their monarch, King Mirco’s knights for harder and more violently, but were still greatly outnumbered and quickly overrun by Arkor’s thugs.
The battle was over.
Arkor bent down and wrested the Blade of Light from Mirco’s motionless hand, and approached the wall carving. After carefully scrutinizing the hieroglyphs, he placed the two blades in their holders.
“Why isn’t this working?!” Arkor bellowed. Once again he examined the wall, and much to the observing Zegon’s dismay and embarrassment, found what he had missed in seconds.
“Kalok!” Arkor snapped, “Fetch me a spare sword!”
“Yes, your Majesty,” Arkor said, a retrieved the blade of one of Mirco’s fallen warriors. He handed it off to Arkor.
“This should do quite nicely,” Arkor said, his voice shaking with anticipation. He placed the third sword in its holder.
Just when Arkor was about to burst into a fit of rage, an explosion of light filled the cavern instead, the third blade glowing with all the brightness of the sun, and illuminating every nook and cranny of that stony domain.
“Yes! YES!!” Arkor cackled, as the gleaming energy around the sword died down, leaving the blade permanently colored gold. He greedily snatched it from its perch, and he immediately felt a surge of power the likes of which he had never known. It raged. It burned.
It felt good.
King Arkor was now the most powerful minifigure in the universe.
Alphos tumbled into the pilot’s seat of the maelstrom corrupted shuttle, and within seconds he had raised the landing gear, charged hoverplates to full and activated the rear thrusters. The shuttle, which in truth looked like half a stub-winged capsule shape with one end taken off for the engines, took off.
“Ok, you’re on guns Natasha!” Alphos said from the cockpit, “Clear the way for Brick and Vapor, then blast that shipment outta the sky!”
“On it!” Natasha said, as the shuttle soared out of the giant crevasse behind the Paradox Refinery. Alphos pulled around the craft in an arc sufficient line up the energy cannons with the maelstrom forces down below, giving Natasha a clear shot. Several high energy blasts later, every last horseman, Ronin and dragon were destroyed.
“I got ‘em!” Natasha whooped from the cockpit, “Now get me to that shuttle!”
“Roger that,” Alphos replied, and sent the craft in a steep path up into orbit, allowing the full force of every single G most minifigures would think possible to press hard against his form. In less than a minute, they had reached a low orbit around Forbidden Valley.
Apparently the pilot of the other shuttle hadn’t expected he would be followed or perhaps he would have gone faster. Instead, he idled his vehicle in low orbit while he programmed a hyperspace route into his shuttle’s computer. As Alphos and Natasha gained on him, he never saw them coming. Natasha fired the cannons, reducing the shuttle a floating pile of space debris.
“Got him!” she exclaimed.
“Good work,” Alphos half-mumbled, since he was too busy looking down at the control panel in front of him. Eventually he found what he was looking for in the shuttle’s log; hyperspace coordinates.
“Hey Natasha, Exodus Prime is expecting a shipment of those crystals,” Alphos said, “And so long as he thinks a shuttle has something for him, he won’t shoot it down.”
“What are you suggesting?” Natasha said, as she sauntered back into the cockpit, her duties in the gunner pod complete.
“I’m suggesting we go to his base, sneak in, and get rid of him from the inside, once and for all,” Alphos said, “We can’t let an opportunity like this pass us by.”
“I know. Now strap yourself in, and let’s go.”
The Grand Hall was a board room in Nexus Tower, carpeted with the finest wool in Nimbus System, decorated with the most inspiring artwork, with walls that gradually curved up to an apex high above the center of the room. It was on one of Nexus Tower’s upper levels, so secure that few minifigures outside of the Faction Leaders themselves had ever, and probably would ever see it; it was where the Faction Leaders met for their most confidential meetings. Even now, Duke Exeter sat at the head of the fine mahogany table in the center of the room, ready to share his distressing news.
“I have received word from Captain Sky Lane,” Duke said solemnly, “The mission to destroy Exodus Prime’s headquarters has failed, and Captain Strongheart was smashed in the loss of the Sentinel Avenger.”
“Inconceivable!” Dr. Overbuild interjected, “Surely Exodus Prime could not be so powerful as to repel the full strength of our forces!”
“He’s playin’ with fire now,” Hael Storm muttered.
“As a matter of fact, I’m afraid it’s quite the opposite, Hael. He has much larger warships now, and by the looks of things, enough to easily destroy us if we try to maintain an offensive,” Duke said, “We’re running out of defenses here. Even when our warships return in a few hours, we now know they won’t be sufficient to defend Nexus Tower in the event of an attack. We can only hope our new airborne shields keep the tower safe, and even then, we’ll be besieged.”
“Our only opportunity now is to understand how Exodus Prime gets his power, so we can sabotage his forces,” Vanda added.
“Precisely,” Duke said, “I received a transmission a few hours ago from a Venture League Daredevil named Phaxan. He claimed to have found the very crystal Exodus Prime now wields. He turned it in for study at the Avant Gardens Research Facility, and therefore the true identity of the original Wielder.”
“If we could find out who she was, we might be able to find something she left behind, at least we’d see the research she’d done on it,” Overbuild remarked.
“That thar information could help us bring down Prime once an’ fer all!” Hael said.
“Then we are decided,” Duke said, “Phaxan has requested to meet with us to impart his intel at 1500 hours tomorrow afternoon. Good evening.”
With a solemn nod, the Faction Leaders filed out into the hallway, and the Grand Hall was silent once more.
Arkor swiftly swung the Blade of Eternity around, willing it to fire a discharge of energy. A blast of golden light sprung forth from the sword at his command, felling two of Mirco’s remaining knights. Arkor smirked, a smirk which quickly mutated into a wicked grin. He chuckled. With a villainous cackle he used the terrible weapon to smash all the rest of Mirco’s knights. Then there was silence.
“My lord…,” Kalok said, kneeling before his monarch.
“I’M in charge!” Arkor exclaimed, “The kingdom of Jallan is MINE!”
“You will rule all, your majesty,” Kalok said, “And you shall rule well.”
“I will rule all!” Arkor said gleefully, then a pondering expression crossed his face, “Yes…. Why stop at Jallan? This entire world shall be mine! I HAVE THE POWER!”
“I must humbly suggest that you take your time in these endeavors, my lord,” Arkor suggested.
“What need is there?!” Arkor cackled, “I have the power now! None shall stand against me! Jallan is mine today, tomorrow I shall gain another kingdom! And the day after, another!”
“Jallan had allies, your highness,” Arkor said, “If you act now, when Jallan’s fall is still fresh, you risk each of her allies rising up against you at once.”
“AND I SHALL STRIKE THEM ALL DOWN!” Arkor bellowed.
“Perhaps you will, my lord, but the loss of life of our own will be too great to justify…”
“YOU DOUBT MY ABILITIES?!” Arkor snapped.
“I do not, I was merely suggesting….”
“You betray me!” Arkor thundered, “And you shall feel my wrath!”
“My lord, I…”
With a swift strike, Kalok was left in pieces on the cavern floor. Arkor gazed out at his knights, the corruption of power already spewing gleaming in his eyes.
“TODAY MAKS A NEW BEGINNING FOR OUR PEOPLE!” he bellowed, “WE SHALL RULE THIS WORLD, AND THESE IS NOTHING THAT CAN STAND IN OUR WAY! SO SAY I!”
“SO SAY WE ALL!” came the thunderous reply.
As Arkor and each of his minions marched victorious from the cave, Zegon grinned delightedly. This was the power he had always desired, the power he would soon command as his own.
Exodus Prime’s hyperdrive engines were fueled by maelstrom energy, and were thus immune to the effects of the massive maelstrom black hole just outside Nimbus System. The huttle that Alphos and Natasha had taken was therefore able to reach Exodus Prime’s homeworld in just over two hours. Alphos shifted in his seat nervously as the maelstrom shuttle slid silently out of its hyperspace window, revealing the glittering blue-green gem of a planet in front of him. As the shuttle neared the planet, two dark purple masses came into view, silent and menacing in the planet’s orbit.
Two massive maelstrom warships.
“Looks like Prime has some new toys,” Alphos gulped.
He was fully aware of the risk he was taking, but ridding the galaxy of Exodus Prime was too valuable an opportunity to pass up.
“You can take the shuttle and get outta here after you drop me off, you know,” Alphos said, “You shouldn’t have to risk your life on this too.”
“And miss all the fun?” came Natasha’s casual reply, “Not on your life.”
“If you’re sure then,” Alphos said, “Let’s get ready for this.”
At that moment the communications array on the control panel in front of Alphos buzzed violently.
“They’re trying to contact us,” Alphos said, “You can pull this off better than I can.”
“Ok, I’ll put on a show for ‘em,” Natasha snickered as she flicked on the comm.
“Pilot of shuttle 519, identify yourself,” said a voice in typical Exodus unit monotone.
“I’m one of the researchers from the Forbidden Valley Refinery,” she said, “From the crystal mining project.”
“I was expecting an Exodus unit,” the other voice said suspiciously, “What happened?”
“Altercation with the Nexus Force back at the Refinery,” she said, “Took out most of the other scientists, plus Exodus 9 and the pilots. Took out the other shuttle too. I managed to get this bird off the ground before they got me too.”
There was a moment of silence, as if the Exodus unit on the other end was checking something with his superiors.
“You are cleared for a landing on the planet below,” the Exodus unit said, “Over and out.”
As the communication ended, Alphos and Natasha heaved a sigh of relief. They slowly maneuvered in between the two maelstrom cruisers, noting the names emblazoned on their hulls as they passed by.
They plotted a path down through the planet’s atmosphere, down to the twisted evil that filled every room and corridor of the sprawling base below. Neither one had noticed the wrecked remains of a third maelstrom warship drifting around in orbit, nor had they seen the shattered remnants of the Sentinel Avenger. They had absolutely no idea of the chaos that had occupied that section of space mere hours ago, but they knew one thing.
They would be lucky to escape this place alive.
Zegon stood alone in Spearhead Forest for a few moments after the procession of royal wagons and carriages faded out of sight. All at once, he felt both excited and angry; excited that the Power of Eternity was so close to being his, yet furious that while in this trance he was being denied that same power.
“You grow impatient,” a ghostly voice said from behind him. This time, Zegon didn’t jump. He gotten used to the spirits’ sudden entrances.
“What are you trying to teach me?!” Zegon exclaimed, as a cool forest breeze ruffled his mane of shock white hair, “He has the Power of Eternity, he vanquished his enemy!”
“The Power of Eternity is timeless, Zegon,” the first spirit said, “And if that is so, you must ask yourself why Arkor does not still wield it to this day.”
“What’s your point,” Zegon remarked, more as a statement of his frustration than an actual question.
“Our point is that the tale is not yet at its end,” the second spirit said, “And to finish it, we must show you another point of view.”
“Whose?” Zegon asked with a raised eyebrow.
“To Jallan,” the third spirit said, “A youthful prince will hear word of what has happened here, and mourn his fallen brother.”
“Are you saying that Mirco’s brother will plot revenge?” Zegon asked.
“For that knowledge, you will have to witness it with your own eyes,” the first spirit said, “Only then will you understand the burden you wish to carry.”
“Then take me to Jallan,” Zegon said.
A flash of light burst through the tranquil forest, and they were gone.
Midnight. The time when darkness is absolute and mystery runs high. Harder to see, but harder to be seen, which is exactly what Phaxan wanted as he brought his rocket to rest upon one of Nexus Tower landing pads. A grumbling thunderstorm thrashed around the adamant Nexus Tower, and with every bolt of lightning Phaxan grew wary of prying eyes, afraid that someone might recognize his face in that moment of illumination.
But there was no one there. He was safe, for now.
As he walked down the wet, slippery ramp leading away from the landing pad, he slipped the hood of the cloak he was wearing over his head, to conceal to his face further. With the recent news of traitors within Nexus Tower, one with Phaxan’s knowledge could never be too careful. A single error, a small moment of trust could prove fatal. He walked down the cheery corridors that led to the Sentinel War Room, thankful that the only people around him were a few guards and janitors. Once this knowledge was shared, he would be safe. Finally.
As he passed under the threshold of the Sentinel War Room, there was none other than Duke Exeter himself standing ready for him.
“Welcome,” Duke Exeter said, “I’m sure you’re aware how valuable your intelligence could prove to us.”
“I thank you,” Phaxan replied, though in a self-imposed whisper, “Though I’m sure you’re aware how valuable sharing this information is to me.”
Duke frowned for a moment, disillusioned at the minifigure’s mercenary nature.
“You will, of course, be provided ample compensation for your efforts here,” Duke said.
“You misunderstand me,” Phaxan said, “The only compensation I need is to have this target off my back. Knowledge is dangerous, Grand Master Exeter.”
“Knowledge is also power, my friend,” Duke responded, relieved that Phaxan wasn’t looking for money after all, “The power to destroy our enemy once and for all. I speak for all the Faction Leaders when I say that we appreciate the risk you’re taking here.”
“Then we understand each other,” Phaxan said.
“Precisely,” Duke replied, “I’ll show you to your quarters. At 1500 hours tomorrow afternoon, we’ll hear what you have to say.”
The shuttle passed through the last bank of cloud cover, and Alphos was at a loss for words; jagged snowcapped mountains lined the horizon, giving birth to streams that sliced down through the rocky forested landscape to a dense rainforest – if not jungle – down below. In the foreground of the panorama the jungle merged with rolling green hills that slowly meandered down to a sandy seashore. While the landscape was stunning, that wasn’t even half as impressive as the building sitting squarely on a broad flat portion of the hills; a giant grassy mesa of sorts. Its elaborate marble carvings and towering pillars were a testament to the labor and time that went into its creations, and massive glass windows flooded its interior with natural light. It was palatial and spectacular in every way, and at a first glance, none would guess that it was the residence of terrifying evil.
At a second glance, one could notice the sprawling shipyards sitting in front of the majestic building, where two more of Exodus Prime’s terrifying warships were nearing completion. Giant metal doors defaced the sides of nearby hills as well, clearly leading to numerous underground hangar bays.
In fact, as one pair of steel door slowly began to open upon the shuttle’s approach, Alphos realized that that was exactly where they led. As he slowly raised the landing gear and piloted the craft through the yawning hole, he felt his heart rate beginning to rise. Once those doors closed behind them, there was no turning back; Alphos and Natasha would be trapped.
With all the willpower he had, he forced himself to calm down. Panicking wouldn’t help anyone.
“Ok, so what’s the plan?” Natasha said, as the shuttle made contact with the hangar bar floor and came to rest.
“You have them believing you’re one of theirs’,” Alphos said, “Lure them in here to collect the cargo, then I’ll finish them off.”
“Ok, what then?”
“Then we find Exodus Prime,” Alphos said grimly, “And we take him down once and for all.”
As they spoke, two Exodus units began walking up to the shuttle. Natasha’s face suddenly brightened.
“I have a better idea,” she said, “They must have a stockpile of those crystals somewhere, right?”
“Those things have an incredible amount of power inside them. The right kind of explosive force would cause a chain reaction through every crystal there,” she said.
“How big?” Alphos asked.
“I don’t know how thick the walls are in here, so I can’t be sure of any structural damage, but it would certainly wipe out all of the crystals.”
The two Exodus units were keying in an access code on the shuttle door. Alphos had to make a decision.
“Ok, do it,” he said, “Take the crystals, find a way to wipe them out. I’m looking for Prime. We meet back here in three hours. If I’m not back here by then, leave without me.”
“Ok,” Natasha said, “Now go hide. This is where the fun begins.”
The hatch of the shuttle slid open, and the two Exodus units stepped inside the craft. As Natasha stood before them, Alphos cringed in his perch behind the pilot’s seat, hoping the cyborgs wouldn’t see through her charade.
“Cargo is in the back, boys,” she said coolly, “Lot of it too, you’ll need both of you to carry it.”
“Acknowledged,” one of the units said, then both cyborgs turned to walk down the short narrow hallway that led to the cargo bay of the shuttle. The minute their backs were turned, Alphos sprung from his hiding place, and with two quick shots of his blaster pistol, both Exodus units were no more.”
“Well that was surprisingly easy,” Natasha remarked as she once again geared up in her advanced Space Marauder prototype armor, “Now let’s get going.”
Natasha had lied when she had said there was a lot of cargo; she could easily carry the entire crate of maelstrom crystals herself, which would aid her masquerade even further. She picked up the crate of glowing maelstrom shards, and she and Alphos swiftly and silently snuck off the shuttle. Only then did they realize the true immensity of the place they were in; the hangar containing their shuttle housed at least ten other vehicles exactly like it, in addition to dozens of starfighters and a few much larger assault capable spacecraft. And they had seen at least two other hangars like this on their flight in.
“Prime’s packing a lotta firepower,” Natasha remarked.
“No kidding,” Alphos said, “That’s why I’m taking him down.”
“So where now?” she said, “How do I find this stockpile?”
“How do I find Exodus Prime?” Alphos retorted, “I have no way of knowing. You’re smart; you’ll find it.”
By now the two of them had made their way over to a large metal door that led further into Exodus Prime’s headquarters. Once they went in, they wouldn’t have another chance to talk.
“This is where we part ways,” Alphos said, “You go in first, I’ll follow a few minutes after, just in case we get seen.”
“So we won’t be seen together,” Natasha said, “Got it.”
“Remember, we meet back in the shuttle in three hours. Blow the crystals if I’m not back by then.”
“One last thing,” Alphos said, as he rigged the access panel for the door to open for Natasha. In a few seconds, it smooth slid open.
While the upper levels of Exodus Prime’s new headquarters may have seemed palatial from a distance, the underground tunnels leading away from the massive hangar bays formed a sprawling labyrinth of maelstrom-tainted metal beneath the rolling green hills. Only now was Alphos realizing the true magnitude of this place, only now did he understand exactly how powerful Exodus Prime had become.
That was exactly why Prime needed to be stopped. As Alphos quietly crept down corridor after corridor, he held onto this raw determination with all of his heart. It made him stronger. It gave him power.
Time went on. After about fifteen minutes Alphos was aware of the truth of his situation; he’d never find his way out of these tunnels just on a fluke, in fact the tunnels were probably designed to prevent just that. He needed a map. He had passed a small computer terminal a few corridors ago. If he could hack into it, he might be able find exactly what he needed. Alphos quickly turned on his heel and slunk back the way he came.
Having carefully passed back through the corridors, Alphos stuck his head around the last corner; while the computer terminal was in full sight, an Exodus unit stood in front of it. Alphos instantly ducked back into the other corridor. He couldn’t shoot the cyborg, as the sound of the blast might echo through the tunnels, alerting every nearby Exodus unit to his presence there. Waiting for the unit to leave wasn’t an option either, as at the moment the cyborg was logged into the terminal, allowing Alphos easy access to the base mainframe. Alphos sighed; he’d have to sneak up behind the cyborg and smash it with his sword.
“Why can things never be easy?” he muttered to himself as he slowly crept back around the corner, being careful to avoid the Exodus unit’s line of sight. Once he reached to opposite wall, Alphos remained as close to the wall as he could without making a noise. He crept along until he was directly behind the Exodus unit, and with one swift blow, the threat was neutralized. Sweeping the remains aside with his boot, he Alphos walked up to the computer. One quick search gave him exactly what he needed; the elevator up through the other levels of the complex was a few corridors from his current position, the random changes of direction he would have to make would have made it impossible for him to find on his own. That wasn’t a problem now.
With the information he needed Alphos now dashed down the corridor and found the elevator in under a minute. As he stepped inside, he knew that there was no challenge that would stand in his way of smashing Exodus Prime; Alphos was determined of that.
Determination is a very strong thing.
Natasha knew she was in a dangerous situation, and while she had never failed to tell Alphos he was crazy in the past, she knew that there was no other way out of her current situation then the plan he had concocted, and that panicking would almost certainly hasten her to an early demise. Instead, she played it cool.
She strolled down the maze-like corridors, crate in hands, without a care in the world. If she couldn’t blend in physically, she could probably pull off blending in emotionally. She had been walking aimlessly around the corridors for about ten minutes before an Exodus unit approached her.
“What is your purpose here?” the cyborg asked.
“Heh, just dropping off a shipment of crystals,” Natasha said, nodded downwards as a gesture to the crate, “I am a bit lost though. This place is huge.”
The Exodus unit tilted his head inquiringly.
“You are a minifigure, clean of corruption, yet you help us,” the unit said, “Who are you?”
“I’m Exodus Prime’s contact from the Paradox Refinery in Forbidden Valley,” she replied, thinking on her feet, “I used the crystals to corrupt the other scientists.”
“I was unaware that suck a contact existed,” he replied, “Allow me to check our records.”
“I won’t be on the records,” Natasha said, “And our master has waited long enough for these crystals. So will you show me where to drop these things off, or will you keep him waiting while you engage in a fruitless search of the base mainframe?”
The Exodus unit paused, even the hum of the gears in his limbs dulling for a few seconds.
“Very well,” he said, “You will receive passage to the dropoff point. Follow me.”
“Isn’t it nice when we can come to an understanding?” she said, snickering to herself as she trailed behind the cyborg. It never ceased to amaze her how that trick seemed to work in every situation.
She wondered if Alphos was doing this well.
Having found the elevator out of the lower levels, Alphos was convinced that had his job half done. When he exited the elevator, the first thing to greet Alphos was blinding sunshine coming through giant floor to ceiling windows. After a few seconds of rapid blinking, his surrounding came into a recognizable form around him. He was in a magnificent hallway that appeared to have been carved from solid marble, with an elegant gold trim around the edges. Luxurious carpets stretched across the floor, ending just short of the majestic columns supporting the ceiling above. It was the picture of opulence, and Alphos wondered exactly how long this place had been here before Exodus Prime found it, since every rug, every tapestry, each window looked as clean and as fresh as they would have been on the day of their creation. Not being able to hear the familiar thundering sound of a group of marching Exodus units, Alphos was convinced that, for now at least, the coast was clear. He cautiously stepped away from the elevator, and onto the cherry red carpet. At least now no one would hear his footsteps.
Knowing he could be discovered at any minute, Alphos sheathed his sword, retrieving his blaster pistol from his holster instead. In a place like this, shots were a much cleaner method of dispatching foes, considering the range at which one could be spotted. At least, shots were cleaner providing he didn’t miss.
He wouldn’t miss.
At the end of the massive hallway was a pair of solid mahogany doors that stretched almost all the way to the distant ceiling. Ever aware of every sound he was making, Alphos silently eased one of the behemoth doors open, and quickly dashed into the room on the other side. Now he was inside a great corridor, with more massive windows on one side, and several similar doors on the other, these leading further into the palatial estate. Knowing that the best way to solve his problem was in a regulated and methodical manner, Alphos decided to explore the closest door first. As he slowly turned the knob and pulled open the doors, he heard the sound of metal on marble.
Metal feet on marble.
“Freeze!” a monotonous voice said, “Name and authorization codes.”
When the blinding flash of light faded, Zegon was in the throne room of a castle, but not Arkor’s castle. There was a lot more natural light here than there had been in Arkor’s abode, and the tapestries were brightly colored and cheerful. A young man, no older than 20, sat on the throne, one rested hand stroking the short blonde beard that adorned his sorrowful face. As Zegon listened harder, he heard a mournful tune coming from a nearby chapel, and a feeling of grief filled the air. Despite the sadness all around, there was a sort of peace enshrouding everything there. At that moment a guardsman entered the room, but the peace was still unbroken. All was solemn and still.
“Your Highness,” the guardsman said to the man on the throne, “They have arrived. Shall we engage?”
The young man, clearly Mirco’s younger brother, turned a hopeless eye to the sentry.
“There is no point in resisting,” the royal replied, “We are far outmatched in any contest of brute force. More loss of life cannot be allowed.”
“What do you want me to do, my lord?”
“Let them in,” he said, “I will not subject our shattered kingdom to a fruitless rebellion.”
With that, the guard gave a nod, and left the room.
Moments later, the throne room doors were thrown open, and every chirping bird, and even the church hymn fell silent. A man strode into the room, a man that Zegon recognized all too easily as King Arkor, surrounded by an entourage of brutish-looking Knights.
“Your Highness,” Arkor jeered as he took a mocking bow, “I trust we find you in good health?”
“You have no place here,” the prince replied, “Leave now, before your own conscience devours you.”
Arkor stepped back at the remark, and clutched at his heart.
“Oh no, I feel it, my conscience is EATING ME!” he cackled, “Don’t you feel it too men? Ripping at you soul?”
Arkor’s entire ensemble of men broke out into raucous laughter. Arkor then regained his composure, and regal posture, and pointed a gleaming golden blade at the prince.
“Off the throne,” Arkor said, “Now.”
“You will regret this decision, Arkor,” the prince replied.
“Prince Lirtos, I regret not doing it sooner!” Arkor chuckled, “Now remove your royal self before I remove it for you… in a pine box.”
Prince Lirtos stood.
“You force my hand, Arkor,” he said, “But know that you have the resistance of the people to deal with, not just my own.”
“Anyone who denies me my position as rightful King of Jallan will be swiftly and mercilessly silenced,” Arkor sneered, then waved his sword at Lirtos, “Now Knights, take this insolent whelp out of my sight.”
“Yes, my lord.”
Alphos froze in his tracks, and turned to face the speaker, who was naturally an Exodus unit.
“Um, excuse me?” Alphos said.
“Name and authorization codes,” the Exodus unit replies, “Or I will be forced to terminate you.”
“Oh…. Right,” Alphos said, “You know, it’s funny, I can never seem to remember those codes.”
“Do you have codes?” the cyborg asked.
“Do I? Of course I have codes, I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t, now would I?” Alphos said, as he desperately scoured the room for some kind of inspiration. Sure, he could beat this Exodus unit in a fair fight, but that might give the cyborg time to call for reinforcements, blowing Alphos’ cover in the process.
“If you have codes, what are they?” the Exodus unit interrogated, suspicion building within its one remaining organic eye.
“Uhh…,” Alphos mumbled as he gazed up at the ceiling. A giant chandelier hung exactly over the Exodus unit’s head.
“Look out!” Alphos cried suddenly, pointing up at the ceiling. Instantly the Exodus unit turned to look the ceiling, and the minute his back was turned, Alphos drew his pistol. A quick shot silenced the cyborg once and for all.
“That was too close,” Alphos mumbled, as he reopened the door and stepped into yet another grand corridor. It wasn’t long after that before he entered another corridor, and another. Occasionally he would peek into room that branched off the hallways, but he couldn’t find anything of any real worth. He soon realized that the upper levels of this place were just as labyrinthine as its underground portion. One thing was for certain, he was going to be incredibly lucky just to find Exodus Prime, making him extremely lucky if he escaped alive.
A short, uneventful journey through the lower levels and grand corridors of Exodus Prime’s headquarters behind her, Natasha finally arrived at a large marble room, that looked as though it might have once been some kind of lavish dining hall. Inside, large wooden crates like the one she held in her hand lined the walls all the way to the distant ceiling. Surely not all of them could be filled with crystals… could they?
“So… all of those crates are loaded with these things?” Natasha asked her guide, gesturing at the crate she was holding with her head.
“Each and every one,” the Exodus unit replied monotonously, “There will be enough for our ground troops to carry into battle, with scores left over to power our vehicles. The Nexus Force will fall to our indescribable power.”
“Well then, I’m sure glad I picked your side,” Natasha remarked casually, though her mind was racing. The explosion from these crystals would no doubt destroy all the crystals, but she wasn’t sure about whether or not this room would maintain its structural integrity. Normally she wouldn’t care, but if this blast was too big, she and Alphos might get smashed on the way out, and the detonators on her small Paradox explosives had a relatively short range. Maybe there would be a safer means of detonation in a nearby armory. She turned to face her cyborg guide, but he had already left.
“Guess I’ll have to find an armory myself,” she muttered. She dumped the box of crystals on the floor in as untidily a fashion as her rebellious nature could coax out of her, and left the room. She soon realized what Alphos had discovered all on his own; these passages, while grand and majestic, were every bit as maze-like as the base’s lower levels, and it would probably take a great deal of exploring to find what she was looking for.
“Would it kill these people to install a few maps?” she grumbled belligerently as she marched down a random corridor, glad that her helmet masked the sound of her muttered oaths. She might find the armory eventually, but that could take time.
Time that neither she nor Alphos might have.
After two hours of mindless exploration, Natasha was most certainly in a foul mood indeed. At this point, either she had forgotten where she was going or she just didn’t care anymore; she was wandering more than anything. She would have continued to do so as well, if she hadn’t been spotted by a group of Exodus units on patrol.
“Freeze!” the lead unit said, “Identify yourself!”
“I’m Exodus Prime’s contact from the Paradox Refinery in Forbidden Valley, I was heading up the crystal project,” she remarked casually, hoping that the cyborgs would buy into her story, “And I’m a bit lost. Could one of you point me towards an armory?”
The lead Exodus unit tilted his head in suspicion, but his desire to resume his patrol won out.
“The armory is down that hall and to the left,” the unit said, gesturing towards the hall on Natasha’s right, “Is there anything else we can do for you?”
“No, that’s fine,” Natasha said, smirking behind her helmet. It was strange, but everyone here seemed to trust her. Surely these cyborgs were not so arrogant as to believe that anyone they found inside the base would be allied with them. Sure they didn’t honestly believe that their fortress was impenetrable. And yet, both separate Exodus units Natasha had encountered had let her go.
“I guess I’m just that charming,” she mumbled as she sauntered into the armory, and what an armory it was. Blaster rifles lined the walls on their neat racks, swords of every shape and size hung beneath them. There were rocket launchers, grenades, tubs of mysterious-looking chemicals, and most importantly for Natasha, remote detonators. It was an explosive wonderland.
Without a care in the world she grabbed a crate and started packing as many explosives in as she could fit in without leaving the detonators behind and was just starting to leave when she noticed a large map of the entire complex pinned to a wall. A victorious grin on her face, she tore down the map and put it inside the crate on top of the explosives. Now truly satisfied with her little haul, she strolled back out into the hall, kicking the armory door shut behind her. At this point, blowing up those crystals wouldn’t just be easy.
It’d be fun.
Once again Zegon walked down a narrow cobblestone hallway into a deep dank dungeon, but this time, he was not in Arkor’s castle, but Mirco’s, and it was not Tokkal behind bars, but Prince Lirtos. The young man stood behind the metal grate, ever noble, ever strong. He knew that he would do more to honor his brother by facing his destiny like a man, rather than crumpling in a heap and crying away his sorrows. As for this destiny, Lirtos knew what awaited him too; at dawn, Arkor himself would execute the last natural born heir to the Jallan throne. Prince Lirtos was a condemned man.
Zegon had been working all this out for himself, and was just beginning to pity the boy when the sound of footsteps echoed down the narrow spiral staircase leading into the miserable prison. Before long a guardsman walked down the corridor and came to rest at the cell imprisoning the prince.
“My lord,” the guardsman said, “We must get you out of here, or you’ll be only a memory by morning!”
“I am aware of my current predicament, and I thank you for your concern,” Lirtos said, “But what is there I can do?”
“If you don’t mind my proposing this Sire, perhaps you could appeal to his sense of manhood,” the guard said, “A duel to the bitter end, the victor takes the crown.”
“That is how it has been done for generations,” Lirtos said thoughtfully, “And if I lose, at least the people can take solace in knowing their king is fully legitimate.”
“Your Highness, you must not lose,” the guard urged, “Arkor is a tyrant, and he has slain your brother. He cares only for his power, not his people. If he takes Jallan, all is lost.”
“Then break me out,” Lirtos said, “In accordance with tradition, the challenger may decide the meeting place. I choose the location of my brother’s untimely demise.”
“Yes, Your Highness,” the guardsman said as he unlocked the cell door, “But step lively, if they catch you, you will have no mercy.”
“Thank you, friend,” Lirtos said, “Now I have a kingdom to save.”
It took hours.
Hours of mindless exploration, one corridor after another, until Alphos found what he had been looking for. Another massive pair of double doors had stood before him, and he had begun to lose hope of ever finding Exodus Prime. Silently he eased one of the massive doors open, and entered the room. Directly opposite him, surrounded by all manner of high-tech controls and other various panels, was none other than Alphos’ fallen friend. Exodus Prime, aware that someone had entered the room, swung his head around to meet the intruder. After a few seconds of ominous silence, he started laughing, in his dull monotone, but laughing nonetheless.
“Well, what do we have here?” he said, “It isn’t very often that the prey hunts down the predator.”
“If you think I came here to fail, you are sadly mistaken,” Alphos retorted grimly, his right hand firmly clamped around the hilt of his sword.
“But, old friend…” Exodus Prime cackled, “You wouldn’t hurt me, now would you?”
“Don’t pretend you’re Exotus,” Alphos snarled, “You’re not.”
Exodus Prime tilted his head in the fashion of his minions, and his demeanor quickly darkened.
“That is EXACTLY why I have no reservations about destroying you,” Prime growled, stepping away from the sensitive equipment and raising his staff into a fighting stance.
Alphos dove to the ground, dodging the blast. Within a second he was back on his feet, and he charged madly towards Prime. When he was within a few feet of the cyborg, he jumped, sword over his head, and swinging the blade down violently as his feet made contact with the ground. It took all of Exodus Prime’s strength to parry brutal attack. Furiously, Alphos swung his blade around in an arc, meeting with Prime’s staff once again with a terrific clashing sound. Another quick assault was parried, and another. Exodus Prime then kicked Alphos backwards a few steps, and fired a scorching blast straight at Alphos’ chest. Reacting quickly, Alphos’ shield deployed. While the blast was absorbed by the shield, the impact propelled Alphos halfway across the room. Alphos groaned; his head was throbbing. The last thing he heard as his eyes fluttered shut was the terrifying sound of Exodus Prime’s metal feet traversing the marble floor towards him.
With the aid of a map, Natasha found the path back to the crystal storage room without much difficulty at all. She plopped her crate of explosives down on the ground, and began rummaging through it to see exactly what she had brought back.
She had 20 hand grenades, 5 tubs of a mysterious green substance, 10 packages of plastic explosives, 5 remote detonators and one remote. She knew that blowing all the explosives at once would be the only way to ensure all the crystals were destroyed, so she set aside five separate piles each consisting of a tub of goop, 4 grenades, 2 plastic explosives and 1 detonator. It would be spread thin, but hopefully the crystals themselves would be unstable enough to propagate the blast. She could only hope.
Immediately Natasha proceeded to set up each group of explosives in a different part of the room, by scattering the grenades throughout the crates of crystals, pouring the goop into the crates and fixing the detonators to the plastic explosives, which were then shoved wherever she could fit them. Having rigged the entire room to blow, Natasha took a step back to admire her handiwork, an almost psychotic grin creeping across her face. Everything was going exactly to plan.
At least, it had been.
At that moment, the door of the room creaked open, and an Exodus unit entered. Remaining as nonchalant as her rapidly rising heart rate would allow, Natasha turned to face the intruder. Instantly the Exodus unit spied the empty crate, and recognized the empty tubs sitting on the floor around it.
“What are you doing with those explosives in here?” the Exodus unit asked, his monotone voice rich with robotic suspicion.
Natasha had to think fast, but she wasn’t thinking fast enough.
“Nevermind, just get out of here. I’ll call in a team to clean this up,” the Exodus unit said, then activated his comm, “Can I get a team down to the crystal storage room…”
He didn’t get to finish his sentence, because Natasha knew that if any more cyborgs came, her explosives would be disarmed, and she could be captured. Without hesitation, she leveled her blaster at the Exodus unit and blasted him into oblivion. As she heard the thundering approach of reinforcement rushing down the hall outside, Natasha knew she wouldn’t be able to escape without being caught, any more than she could defend the room for any prolonged period of time, but it was that or surrendering herself to whatever hideous fate Exodus Prime could dream up for her.
She chose to stay.