Ray, Glenn, Jace, and Ashe stood speechless. The warriors that were before them radiated immense power. The green armored one in the middle spoke.
"I am Apollo. To my right is Icarus, and my left Hermes." Icarus was the one with red innerglow pulsing through his silver armor. Hermes had blue, very similar in color to Ashe's Pegasus armor. Apollo continued.
"We cometh to once again rid this world of evil. An ancient presence hath awakened, and the sacred Gems no longer be safe."
Icarus spoke next, almost as if he knew when Apollo would cut off.
"The Seal that we cast upon this evil many years ago is no longer. Should this evil reunite with the Gems and absorb their power, the world as ye know it will be gone."
And finally Hermes.
"Our intention was to check each piece, and ensure it was guarded. However, word of interference hath reached us. These words traced back to thee."
Apollo spoke again. "May we ask, who thou art, and what business have ye with collecting the Gems?"
Glenn swallowed the lump in his throat and replied. "Humans are still at war with the Aparus. Our military has noticed massive outbreaks close to where these Gems are. We know they are after mithril, so it's seen as a threat. I've no idea what these Gems really are, but if the Aparus are actually interested in them, it's not a good sign. That's why we have been tasked with finding and retrieving them."
Icarus stared at him coldly. "Dost thou not see what ye could bring upon the world?
Canis stood in their defense. "Calm yourself Icarus. They mean no harm, nor do they have any intentions to bring world destruction. I believe you remember what I explained prior to this meeting?"
Apollo's expression remained unchanged.
"Yes. I believe thou. However, I am concerned. Whilst their intentions may be good, it doth not ensure their safety. We must know, why should we trust thou?"
Ray stepped forward. "Neither I nor my friends have any interest in seeing the world fall into this so called 'destruction' of yours. I don't know what the significance of these stupid rocks are, but all we are simply doing is our jobs. So stuff it, glowboy!"
Ashe struck his shoulder. Ray was always trying to speak out for them, but that got him into trouble before.
Apollo looked him up and down. He pointed at Ray.
"You. What is thy name?"
"Hadron. Ray Hadron. Nobody. I mean. NOBODY, ever messes with my friends. Excuse us for being ignorant of the situation, but I don't take these accusations well."
"Ye art in need of an attitude check, boy." Hermes said. "Mind thy place."
Icarus was equally as disgusted. "That manner of address be disrespectful. That mouth of thine will have thee killed one day."
Apollo's expression darkened. It was impossible to see his eyes under his visor. But the lines on the lower part of his face and the tightness in his jaw made it clear enough.
"Ye have not changed since our last meeting. Speaking shrewdly, and doing as thou please..."
"What is it with you people? Siegfried said the same thing. I've never seen any of you before. I've never BEEN here before. Why does everyone insist that I should know them?"
"...How many Gems has thou gathered thus far?"
"Three. Claw, Horn, and Wing."
Apollo turned around to face his associates. They’re mouths moved, but Ray could not hear anything. He turned back around.
"Ye spake of performing thine duty. Under what authority hath thou been collecting the Gems?"
"Our officials that out-rank us."
"Very well. Ye hath gathered three Gems. I fear the guardians of the remaining two pieces may become savage with balance out of order. We beseech thee, seek the remaining two. The fate of the world rests in thine hands now."
With his final words, the three guardians vanished miraculously.
Jace blinked. "They...vanished?"
Ashe hit Ray on the back of his head. "You need to start thinking about what you say before you spout off like that."
"Couldn't help it."
Canis began to walk out. "It would be wise of you to not waste any more time. Apollo meant well."
The Mach Dragonfly sped through the air. After their normal rendezvous with Shadus, he gave Ray's unit the task of retrieving yet another Gem from a cavern system located to the north of the Howling Woodlands. There was a mithril mining operation in the caverns, but was interrupted by incoming Aparus, forcing the miners to retreat or fight. Recently they have been contacting the main military base for aid. After landing in a safe area, Ashe began her debriefing.
"Currently the biggest area of mining operation is nearby. This was the nearest clearing. You'll need to approach the caves on foot. The presence of the aliens makes it too dangerous for the operation to continue. Within the caves are many chucks of mithril lining the walls and ceilings. Be careful not to come in contact with it for too long. I can heal wounds, but I can't fix your psyche. If I could, Ray would be the most normal one here. Anyway, there are some openings in a few places, the cave system itself is rather shallow. Miners and soldiers may or may not be present. Be ready for anything regardless."
As the team exited their ship and headed toward the destination point, there was a small hill that led down a steep slope. The three approached the small hill and prepared to climb.
"Late, again? Do you always keep others waiting? I would have expected better from military personnel."
Ray stopped without facing another direction. "Do I need to ask for an identity?"
"Don't think so." Canis made himself visible.
Glenn folded his arms. "Are you here for more business? Or does your good friend Apollo have something else to say?"
"You could say that. Although, this 'business' concerns less me and is more about your own business, Glenn."
"And what makes you say that?"
Canis walked up the hill and pointed toward the distance. The trio climbed the hill to see what Canis had pointed out.
Jace squinted. "Isn't that...?"
Glenn grit his teeth and growled. Just right in front of their destination point were a few large ships. Toward the the bow of each ship was an emblem. Each emblem bore a large golden "V".
Ray looked over at him. "Glenn, are you sure you-"
"I don't care. Let's go!"
A couple was standing guard in the cave entrance. One of them spoke.
"Whoin'da heck are you? You ain't gettin' in here! We gots us some whatcha-call-its…safety hazards, yeh."
Glenn retaliated immediately. "Get out of our way."
"Oh yeah? An' why should I do dat?"
Glenn removed his helmet and turned around, revealing a similar "V" tattoo on the back of his neck.
The guards looked at each other. "I don't know how ya got our mark, but I ain' trustin' ya. So I can't let ya pass. Boss's ordas."
Glenn grit his teeth. "Move!"
Ashe rolled her eyes. After being explained the situation, she had decided to approach the caverns with the rest of the team. "This talk is getting old." She walked forward and sucker punched one, and immediately hit the other with a round-house kick.
Glenn nodded and put his helmet back on. "Thanks."
They carried on into the cavern. There was a few patches of sunlight, and some roving speedlings. The team his behind some rocks.
"Hey, this is my hiding spot! Go find your- Oh, man not you guys again!"
Jace put his Plasma Neo down. "Corporal? You're here?"
The Cygni clad soldier signed. "Drop the Corporal, and just call me Kenny. By the way, thanks for the medical transport back at the training base."
"Don't mention it."
Kenny had took notice of Canis. "What are you supposed to be? This isn't Halloween, son."
"Son? I'd tell you my age but then again, you'd probably laugh." Replied a disgruntled Canis.
"Is that a real tail?"
"Keep your hands to yourself, before I tear them off."
Glenn clinched his jaw. "Will you be quiet?" He made a move and blitzed the speedlings, killing every one before anyone else could follow. Ray noticed his new weapon. It was a large white firearm. It had four "claws" that surrounded the barrel. He recognized it as the Morpheus, a penetrating shotgun, the ultimate close-range weapon. Glenn looked back.
"Are you guys coming or what?"
Proceeding further, they all hid behind more rocks. Ahead there seemed to be mining parties. But it wasn't military...
"Careful with that you dogs! If you screw this up I'll have you sent to the cap'n!"
Ray blinked. "Space Pirates? And I found it hard enough to believe were-wolves existed... No offense."
Kenny appeared dumbfounded. "Wait so you're really a fox?"
Canis growled under his breath. "I'm a WOLF, you dumbass! Most of my kind would have torn you apart for that insult!"
Glenn heard enough. "For God's sake, will you two knock it off!"
The pirates seemed to be gathering mithril of their own. The one barking orders was a taller female. She wore a grey duster and a bandana. Underneath her bandana was a wrapped cloth that covered her left eye. She held her weapon by her side.
Jace squinted a bit. "Is that a laser ninja sword?!"
Kenny seemed to be disgusted. "This is repulsive! I’m putting an end to this!"
He ran from under his cover, his Black Stars RPG blazing. The pirate underlings seemed to be focused on their work. The female however seemed to notice. She threw something at her feet and disappeared in a cloud of smoke. Kenny relaxed.
"Where'd she go?"
She suddenly reappeared in another cloud of smoke behind him. Without hesitation she brought her blade across his midsection."
Jace was in shock at the maneuver. "Dude, she killed Kenny!"
Ray yelled at her. "You bastard!"
Cover being blown, they all emerged. This time the underlings pulled their own array of swords and guns. They were surrounded. The female approached them.
"What are you think you're doing? How did you even get in here? I should take you all to the cap'n and let him deal you personally!"
Glenn was the first to speak. "We wish to see your captain. And it's been quite some time, hasn't it... Helena."
Helena had pulled a NOVA27 from underneath her duster. "What business would you have with him, eh? And how do you know me?"
Glenn once again removed his helmet. Helena seemed to recognize him immediately.
"Well if it ain't Glenn. It was eight years since I last saw you. What in blazes did you come back for?"
"I'm with the planet's main military. And we're under orders to rid this place of any nuisance animals. That includes you."
Helena laughed. "You used to be the adventurous type. And now you've gone cold? Ha! Very well, I'll take you to see cap'n. I'm certain he'll be glad to see you and your friends. Just don't try anything. And take your helmets off. It's disrespectful to cover your faces when speaking to the cap'n. AND WHAT ARE YOU ALL LOOKING AT! GET BACK TO WORK!" Helena hand-picked two of her underlings to escort Ray's unit to the Captain's Quarters. The others fanned out and resumed their mithril harvest.
The pirates led them through a series of wide caverns past several other mining posts, and even capsules with live Aparus inside. One noticed his associate walking rather distant from the unit. He shot him a look. The pirate approached the other escort and whispered.
"That one scares me."
"The one in the white armor. The female."
"Why are you afraid of her?"
"I was walking beside her. She gave me a pretty intimidating look."
He glanced back at Ashe and quickly turned his head, his face red. “Ok, just at least make sure she doesn't try anything..."
They walked onto the deck of what appeared to be one of the ships inside the cave. The pirates stopped and opened two doors toward the stern.
"He'll be in there." And they walked back to resume their own work.
Sure enough, further inside was none other than the captain himself. He stood behind a desk, and faced away from them. He spoke as if he knew they were there.
"And what have we here? Has Helena sent me more nosy kids who wandered in here by accident?"
He turned around without saying another word. He had a trimmed salt-and-pepper beard, and wore a duster of his own. It was black with gold accents. He wore a large hat that was colored in a similar way. It had white feathers on each side, and on the front was the "V" insignia superimposed over a skull.
Glenn was emotionless. "Been awhile. Dad."
Ray looked at him. "That's...?"
"Yes. Starford Venture is my father."
The captain laughed. "Glenn, it's certainly been some time. Allow me to introduce myself to your friends. My name is Starford. And I am the Captain of the Venture clan. We came here for an ancient treasure that's been foretold to contain greater power than ordinary mithril. Would you like to hear about it?"
Glenn knit his eyebrows together. "That's exactly why I'm here. But unlike you I'm not here to steal it out of my own greed."
Starford laughed again. "Well we're about to blow the cave wall there sky-high. I suppose I have you beaten to it, wouldn't you say?"
Canis stepped forward. "Can't let you do that, Starford. Unfortunately you have no place blowing holes in walls just so you can rob ancient treasures. You'll cause a cave-in!"
Starford didn't seem to notice Canis. "Once I give the command, that wall there will be no more, revealing the ancient treasure that lies here. We’ll let you see it, just before we sail off with it."
"What?! That's our booty! Go find your own!" Ashe snapped.
"Well you're quite a feisty one there, Miss. Sadly for you, the ancient Gem that lies here will be ours soon."
Glenn growled. "And what would you possibly do with it? You're nothing more than a thief who can't even earn his own way, so he takes things from others!"
"We are only making progress, Glenn. I don't believe you have a grasp of the situation, nor would I agree that it belongs to anyone at this point."
"What are you talking about? I'd say that's pretty barbaric progress. Are you the type of person who refuses to gain anything on his own?"
"How blind you truly are, Glenn. For years, did you think we pillaged and looted for our own GREED? Did you not ever understand the words of our code passed down for centuries? Since the age of this planet's first settlement, the Venture clan has foretold of the world eventually coming to a conflict so disastrous, there will be nothing left on the planet. Nothing lasts forever. Only those who are prepared will survive. You see Glenn, it's not about our own greediness, it is our about survival. Do you want to live or die? One day this planet is going to turn on itself, and only those who control its resources will come out on top of the pile! That has been our way of life since the beginning. You can either be a part of it, or you can be left behind. And when this world finally chooses to evolve, WE will be the ones who change the world!"
Ray gripped his blade. "Change the world? Sounds like Maverick talk to me!"
Starford turned his attention to Ray. "Ah, you must be that Hadron fellow I've been hearing about. You would certainly be useful to our cause. Our astrologers have predicted your history is somehow tied to an ancient power. Would you care to join with us?"
"My past? I'm so sick of hearing this garbage!"
Glenn grit his teeth. "This is about you and me. Stop trying to rationalize your own actions! Regardless of how you see it, what you're doing is unlawful and wrong!"
"Don't accuse me of stealing things that don't belong to me! The blades you wear on your hips. I don't remember handing those to you so you could jump ships with them! Last I remember, you snuck off with one our bloodline's most prized possessions! In the end, nothing belongs to anyone. When you die, it belongs to the ground it sits on! There is no such thing as 'belongings'. Nothing ever 'belongs' to you, only fate dictates that!"
Glenn drew both of his blades. "I think the time for talk is over. It's time we take this outside."
Glenn planted his feet firmly on the deck as he prepared for the duel. Starford stood with an energized cutlass of his own across from him. Glenn rushed him immediately, and tried a horizontal attack. Starford parried and proceeded to counterattack. Glenn jumped out of the way. Starford this time took the offensive and swiped at Glenn. He rolled and brought Jericho down. Starford again intercepted.
"What's the matter, boy? You'll have to try harder than that!"
He swiped at Glenn again, this time anticipating his movement. As soon as Glenn's blade connected with his own, a large spark occurred. Glenn was thrown backwards. Smoke arose from his armor. Ashe gasped.
She tried to run after him, but Ray threw his arm out in front of her.
He ignored her and kept his eye on the fight. Ashe grew worried and stood back.
Starford laughed. "Down already? What good do those blades do you if you can't even properly use them? I would have expected better performance from my own flesh and blood."
He walked over toward Glenn. Moving quickly, he grabbed his opponent's leg and sent a shock of his own. Starford doubled over. Ceasing the opportunity, Glenn took full offense. With both blades in hand, he performed a fury of combo slashes. Starford laid on the deck.
"Well, Glenn. You've surpassed me. You know what you have to do now, don't you?"
Glenn held Jericho barely an inch from his father's face. Ray hurried beside him.
"He's beaten. Let it go. You can't kill an enemy with hate. You'll just make more enemies."
Glenn brought his blade over his head, and brought the point into the deck, just to right of Starford's face.
"Get out of here. Take your crew, and go. I don't ever want to see you within miles of this side of the planet!"
With haste, Starford stood and limped back into his quarters. Glenn stepped off of the deck back onto the cave grounds. Ray and the others followed suit. As soon as the other pirates had vanished aboard their airships, they all took off.
Ashe attempted to ease Glenn's mood.
"It doesn't matter. We have a mission to finish." He said as he put his helmet back on.
He brushed her off. She knew it was unintentional, but she felt a bit remorseful. Ray laid a hand on her shoulder.
"Don't worry about him. He just needs some time to cool off."
"Still. I hope he'll be himself soon."
"He will. Count on it." Ray reassured her.
"Ray? Can I ask you something?"
"Why does everyone seem to know about your past? Is there something you aren't telling me?"
Ray twitched. "I...don't...know...." He clenched his fists. Why could he not remember? The more he thought about it, the more it angered him.
"Ray, are you ok? I didn't know it was that sensitive."
"Didn't know? I don't recall asking for you to rub it in my face!" Ray's visor was inches from hers. Even underneath her own visor she looked hurt.
The others had stopped and looked back at them. Ray cleared his throat and they carried on.
"I'm sorry, Ashe, I...I don't know what came over me..." He said calmly, making his apology clear.
"Are you feeling ok? It's not like you to snap like that."
"I'm just confused...everyone talks like they know me..."
"Sorry, Ray. I won't ask."
"I wish I could tell you, I really do. I owe you after all. But that's the thing. My past is a bit of a blur..." How had he lost his memory? He briefly recalled Canis mentioning dark events that involved him. Ray couldn’t help but to ask at his point. After all, everyone else knew at this point his memories escaped him.
“Canis?” Ray called.
Canis kept walking without a word, but the slight turn of his head and swivel of one of his ears told Ray he was listening.
“You didn’t tell me much last time I asked, but do you actually know about my past?” His reply wasn’t quite what Ray was hoping for. “I cannot read minds, Ray. What I can “see” is your emotions and body language, regardless of how much you try to hide them. I have lived long enough to make fairly accurate deductions about someone based on that alone. When you cling to something from your past, I can sense those feelings. That is why I said you were possibly in denial. Your head may not recall, but your body remembers.”
Ray didn’t ask anything else. He already knew he wouldn’t get any other answer.
Within minutes they were within a large room. There was nothing inside.
Jace shrugged. "Wrong turn, maybe?"
Everything suddenly went black. Three shards of mithril radiated beams of light toward one central hole in the wall, like that of spotlights. In the middle was a Mantis, appearing very close to the one they had previously faced. Immediately to his right was another Mantis, but unlike its green counterpart, it was purple. The green Mantis began to speak, and it sounded as if its voice was amplified through a microphone.
"Look at who got front-row seats! We heard that you lot sang our brother his funeral dirge!"
The purple one spoke in a similar manner. "Welcome to our little concert! We set up the special VIP treatment just for you to watch us perform!"
"We'll be looking forward to the finale! And maybe when the show is over, we'll give you an encore -- Just as your souls depart for the underworld!"
The room lit back up, and the green Mantis dove from the hole. An energy shield protected the purple one, who didn't move. The Mantis utilized the same moves as the one had on Valkyrie Space Station. Mouth beams, triple crescent slash waves, and other uses of its claws. Its attacks however all had some kind of rhythm to it. It wasn't long before the purple one began to fire waves and beams of its own.
Glenn grunted. "Great."
The team continued their fire. They had all ended up having to drop periodically just to avoid incoming attacks from the Purple Mantis, as well as keeping an eye on the first. Thankfully, it wasn’t too hard to battle the Mantis as its pattern was fairly recognizable. It did not get difficult until the shield from up top dropped, and the Purple one joined the battle.
Jace huffed. "You've got to be kidding me!"
"Keep your fire on the Green one!" Glenn shouted. "It won't last much longer."
As for "keeping fire" Canis had been resorting to attempting to slash at its underside. He kept from trying too hard to avoid gaining its complete attention.
And as stated, the Green Mantis fell.
"Hey, wait! I haven't gotten to smash my instruments yet! AHHHHCK!"
The Purple Mantis paused for a moment.
"Oh, you want to amp the performance up further! Then let's do it!"
Ray fired, but let down. A yellow force field surrounded the creature, absorbing shots that would have otherwise damaged it. "A shield? Are you serious?"
"We aren't getting through that!" Canis barked. "Scatter!"
The Mantis laughed and swept a laser across the ground. "Hoho! How about a little laser-light show!"
Ashe grunted. "Now what are we supposed to do?"
Glenn sighed. "I don’t know. It has to have a limitation of some sort.”
Jace cut in. “Do you think it’s vulnerable to melee?”
“Probably not. It looked like it repelled Canis’s sword, but I don’t think it’ll activate if we were to attack unarmed. But what are we supposed to do, touch it to death?”
Ashe chuckled through the radio. “Now THAT is something I can work with.”
Ashe got a running start before activating her F.L.O.A.T. thrusters. She weaved underneath a laser from the Mantises mouth, stopping as she ducked under it only long enough to leap forward. With her energy glove, she reared back and jabbed hard, her mighty punch connecting with the Mantis. The force field activated, but shattered underneath the force of Ashe's blow. The creature wasn’t visibly damaged, but the force definitely caused the alien insect to stagger. As soon as her fist had connected, she launched an energy blast from her glove, using the recoil to force her backward.
Ray took action while he had the opportunity. He drove the barrel of his LIT07 into the ground, and creeping flames raced toward the Mantis. Before it could get recover and get airborne, flames engulfed the insect, and it fell over.
Ray looked at his friends. "What's with the looks?"
Jace shrugged. "Oh, I don't know. You didn't just SUMMON FLAMES FROM YOUR GUN!"
"Well, what concert doesn't need a firework show?"
"I think what he means is how did you pull that off?" Ashe asked.
"I really have no idea. Maybe I was just a late bloomer. You've all got your fancy abilities. I guess mine are starting to show up. At first I was learning by accident. Now I’m starting to recognize them as they come to me.”
Canis grunted a bit, but said nothing. “Hmm…”
Both Mantises attempted to move again. Everyone readied themselves for another fight.
"Well, looks like we are gonna retire from showbiz! But there is one small problem!"
"We know why you came. You wanted the ancient Gem piece we were guarding!"
"See the thing is, someone has already beaten you to it! There is no Gem!"
They both spoke in harmony before falling silent. "Haha! No mithril for you!"
Glenn grit his teeth. "What?! Let's check it out!"
Glenn utilized his Blademaster and Thunder ability to jump to the hole where the Mantises had roosted. Ashe followed suit. Canis braced himself and simply jumped. Unfortunately, Ray and Jace were left behind. Ashe apparently noticed the problem.
"Oh shoot! We need Ray."
He called from below. "Don't worry about it. Here."
He tossed his gauntlet up toward them. Glenn grabbed it and walked forward. They were surprised when they saw the end.
"They weren't lying. The pedestal is empty!"
Jace spoke through the radio. "Empty? No mithril? Aww man! I hate stingy bosses! No mithril reward sucks!"
Ray seemed equally as frustrated. "Nothing up there? We go through all that, and find out there is nothing here?"
Glenn swore under his breath. "It appears something was supposed to be stuck in here..."
Ashe examined the pedestal closer. "You're right. The Gem Horn from the Training Base just rested on top. Were the others like that?"
Glenn leaned against the wall. "This is just great." He snapped a piece of mithril off of a larger chunk.
Ashe picked up a piece of regular mithril that was lying on top of the pedestal to examine the structure further. "There's a slit here...as if it was meant for a sword or something..." Said a frustrated Ashe.
"No shit. I just said that."
"Hey! I know you had a bad day but don't get snappy with me!" Ashe lashed back at him.
Glenn tossed the piece of mithril up and down in his hand. "Don't bark at me, woman. Next time just don't make analogies that I just pointed out."
"Put that thing back down before you hurt yourself."
"What? So you can take it?"
"Take it? And all of that talk about you not being greedy? Give it here." Ashe gripped the mithril she held tightly.
Ray called through the radio. "Hey, what's going on up there?"
Glenn held his hand back. "What I do is my business. Now back off."
"No. Now give it to me, Glenn!"
Ashe attempted to reach for it, but Glenn pushed her away.
"Don't touch me!" She pushed back at him with more force. Taking it as a challenge, Glenn pushed her against the wall. Ashe growled with rage and ran into him with her shoulder down. Before a fight broke out, Canis intervened, and stood between them.
"That's quite enough!"
"He started it!" Ashe shouted.
"Well I'm not the one acting like a spoiled brat!"
Canis drove his sword into the ground. Upon impact, Glenn and Ashe lost their balance. Canis recovered the mithril shards they had dropped. Glenn shook his head. "Ugh...what was that?"
Ashe struggled to her feet. "I don't know...everything went blurry...my head hurts..."
Canis pulled his blade from the ground. "I suggest you leave and seek proper medical attention. You were just handling raw mithril. Had you held them any longer you might have just lost your sanity. Get out of here before you end up all turning on each other." He turned and began to walk away.
Ashe nodded. "Yeah...let's...go home..."
"Looks like we're going home empty handed again. Thanks for your help again, Canis..."
The Mach Dragonfly docked, and they immediately went to Shadus's office. Shadus however was not there, but instead Master Chief was inside. Ray was puzzled. He stood at attention and asked, "Master Chief, I respectfully request to know of Mr. Jasra's whereabouts, Master Chief!"
"That's exactly why I waited for you here. Unfortunately I cannot tell you. We had guards spot some strange soldiers that looked like lost Roman warriors in Iron Man costumes. After we chased them off, I came here. And after looking for Jasra, I found him nowhere. Shadus Jasra has mysteriously gone missing."