"What?! That's not true!"
"You don't think so, Ray?" Shadus said. "You have the evidence. Your memories aren’t a mystery to you any longer."
"Whoa! Don't talk to us like we're idiots! You're blowing things way out of proportion!" Ashe shouted.
Glenn grunted. "What the hell have you been inhaling?"
Jace frowned. "And I'm a magical leprechaun!"
Ray still refused to accept what were past memories. "I don't believe it! You're lying!"
"He isn't lying, Ray."
Canis explained himself. "Unfortunately it's very true. As hard as it is to believe, the events of two-hundred years ago was your personal responsibility. I knew who you were as soon as I'd seen you."
"You did know this entire time, and you purposefully avoided every attempt I took to ask you! Did you not think I would have wanted to know this?!"
"How could I, Ray? Do you? Is that really something you wanted to know? Even now you don’t want to believe it. Would you have believed me then? When I saw you, I didn't see the same person I'd seen those centuries ago. When you stood up for your friends, even knowing I could have easily killed you, I thought if even you could show compassion, then so could I. I withheld that information because you were truly different. There was no reason for you to know."
Shadus laughed. "How sweet. The animal cares."
Canis drew his blade. "If I remember correctly, we have unfinished business to attend to. You and your drones may have gotten the upper hand at our last meeting, but this time you won't be so lucky."
"I still need that blade of yours, flea-bag. And the Gem Tail, if you please. My creations need their proper enhancements."
Glenn drew his own blades. "Wait? The drones...? That was YOUR doing? The storms at The Lair! That was also you wasn’t it?"
Jace clenched his fists. "You've been manipulating us the whole time?"
Ashe put her Glove on her free hand. "You used us for your own purpose? That's why you chose us! Because you knew who Ray was, wasn't it!"
Shadus chuckled. "Smart girl. At first I simply wanted him dead. Unfortunately the many times I have tried to get rid of him ended in failure. I almost succeeded in my opportunity in the Energy Core, but things somehow went sour. I don't know how you managed to survive that shot. But no matter."
"YOU are the one's been trying to have me killed?!" Ray asked.
Jace cocked his rifle. "I bet those fighters back at Valkyrie Space Station was your responsibility, too!"
"Fufufu. After those attempts, I sent you to the Howling Woodlands. I knew very well you'd run into the dog. I knew he would recognize you and you wouldn't have stood a chance. But never did I imagine you would befriend him. So then since I had experimented on using the Gem’s power, I tried controlling Siegfried. After you bested even him, I decided it was a waste of my time. So I'd decided instead to awaken Ray, and let him fight my cause for me."
"Fight for you?" Ray retorted. "After you tried to kill me and treat us like puppets, you thought I'd actually side with you?! You've got to be kidding me!"
"Once your mind corroded with the Gems' power, you were supposed to have returned to you original self. It seems as if you've gotten too close to your friends, apparently..."
"You're insane! I think you've been playing with mithril for too long!" Ashe growled.
"You, Miss Guardia, are starting to really get on my nerves. Now that I no longer have any use for you, perhaps you would benefit me more if I silenced that arrogant mouth of yours."
Shadus lifted a handgun in her direction. Glenn immediately reacted and sliced through his arm. Shadus didn't react. He neither felt pain nor did he bleed. Instead, where muscle and bone should have been, there were wires and metal framing.
"What the -- ?" Glenn was confused. "Are you a drone, too?"
"A mere trifling technicality. I'm not a simple bionic being. After I'd watched Ray burn and destroy everything I'd always felt empty bitterness. After I learned of his sealing, I decided to research him more, and learn why he could control the Aparus. This mechanical body has let me live longer than an average human. I'd been researching him for a long time, naming my work 'Project Shade', after the sheer feelings I had as black as his armor. I knew my research would never be complete within my lifespan. So I transferred most of my vital organs into this body. But after several long years I was forced to leave the laboratory I'd built. My co-workers I'd recruited were going mad just being near Ray's capsule. I went to find other worthy scientists, and knew it would be a while before I returned. After I came back, my lab was completely destroyed, and Ray was nowhere to be found. Then I'd gotten word of the military finding a boy out in Hell's Keep near where my laboratory was five years ago, and I knew exactly what had happened. So I began to fund the military's main base and earned my way as its director. When Ray was sent through basic training at the beginning of this year, I kept an eye on him. When the military announced unit formation, I found him together with you three. You were all very capable operatives with quite the reputations, so it made you the perfect puppets to help me achieve my work.”
"I don't know what all of that garbage you were yapping about was, but it sounded a lot like a threat!" Ray snatched his LIT07 from Ashe and held it up. He ignored the pain in his shoulder.
"Unfortunately I no longer have the time to spend here. I have a military I need out of the way. You too will be out of the picture soon enough."
With his free hand, he snapped his fingers. There was a bright light, and he vanished.
"The Gem Tail! It's gone!" Jace acknowledged.
Ray put away his LIT07 and stared at his open palms. "Why...I don't understand..."
"There is nothing for ye to understand." Said Apollo.
Canis returned his blade to its place on his back. "So tell me why I wasn't informed of this sudden meeting?"
Icarus sighed. "Ye hath cometh too close to them. We knew ye wouldst protect them had we notified thee."
Ray dropped his hands to his sides. "So I suppose you're just going to kill me now?"
Hermes folded his arms. "No. We did not see it before, but we see ye now for who thou truly is. Amongst all of ye dark thoughts, we glimpsed one bright spot. Thou hath surely changed."
Apollo spoke again. "This be our final request. The destiny of this world art thine to determine, now. Halt that man and his plans."
Glenn sheathed his blades. "We aren't heroes, Apollo. But we WILL stop Shadus. But let me ask you something. If you had planned to kill Ray anyway, why did you let us try to collect the rest of the Gems?"
"Because I knew ye wouldn't obtain them anyway. When thou hath went to the mining fields, there was nothing there to find, correct?"
"We hath entrusted the Gem Blade to Canis as its personal guardian many years ago. The guardian mantises were left simply so that it would lead those who believeth in it to still be there. As for the Tail, we planned to cut ye off here."
"We can no longer remain in this world. Our energy hath almost all spent. We must return to our own rift. The world's fate now rests with thee."
Apollo, Icarus, and Hermes spoke in harmony before they vaporized into thin air. "We bid thee farewell, young Guardians."
Glenn spoke without turning. "So you had the Gem from the Mining Caves."
"I did. While I knew nothing of Apollo's intentions here, I hesitated to hand it over. As you saw earlier, it contains the greatest portion of Ray's power. It's an evil combination of mithril and steel."
Ashe put away her Energy Glove. "So when Ray grabbed the Blade, he temporarily reverted to his old self, and attacked us. But why did he go back to normal?"
"Hard for me to say. As both Icarus and Shadus stated, it was the support of you three that kept him in the light when darkness tried to consume him."
"But that doesn't make sense." Jace said skeptically. "You've been holding onto that Blade for a while I'm sure. Why don't you lose your mind?"
"I've walked this planet for three hundred and twelve years. Our kind has naturally developed a powerful resistance to the effects of mithril. It works much like your own abilities do. An adaptation. I wasn't entrusted with the Blade until ten years passed after it was sheathed in those caves. I had to train my mind mentally before I could hold something that powerful."
"The first human settlement on this planet was close to one-thousand years ago. How much longer have you been here?"
"Our species had lived here for eons. Humans were said to arrive from a planet elsewhere in the Milky Way Galaxy, in another solar system."
Jace began to get even more fascinated. "What happened when humans first came here? Was there peace between you and us?"
"I would love to play twenty questions with you, Jace. Unfortunately while we are wasting time here, Shadus is strengthening his own army. I'd advise you to get going, and consult with your officials."
No one spoke on the way home from Breaken City. Ray had shut himself in the aft cabin. Ashe attempted to speak with him.
"Ray, is everything alright?" She spoke to him from outside of the door.
"I know the last hour or so has been difficult, but can't we all talk about this?"
Again no answer.
"Can you at least give me time to look at that shoulder of yours?"
"I figured it'd make you feel more comfortable if we talked about it. I won't bother you anymore."
Before she turned to leave, Ray's voice called from inside. "This is different, Ashe. I was someone who nearly destroyed the world. You were simply lost. I was so far gone that I had become nothing but a monster that caused oblivion. Regardless of how you look at it, you can't relate."
Ashe didn't say anything else and returned to her seat. She tried shaking it off, but couldn’t stop thinking about Ray.
When they had arrived back at the base, they reported immediately to Master Chief.
"Holy fuck, guy. Do I look like an idiot to you?"
"No, Master Chief." Said Glenn. "But I respectfully speak the truth."
Ashe had accidentally left the recorder on her headset on since asking where to find Stadium Arcadium. She played it back.
Master Chief sat back at his desk. "I don't know what the hell just went on there, but that is some messed up shit. And did I hear that right about Hadron?"
Glenn gulped and explained further.
"So where the fuck is he?"
"He went straight to the compartment, Master Chief. He's in denial. He himself doesn't want to believe it."
"Well that's some serious shit. If I was in Hadron's place I would have shot his deceiving ass. If we are about to go to war, we need to prepare. I suggest you do the same."
Master Chief turned to his subordinate who was also standing in the room. "Tell the secretary to make an announcement for Code *HOLEE-FUQ."
The subordinate informed the secretary of Master Chief's instructions. He also whispered something else to her, an awful lot about Ray...
Glenn, Jace, and Ashe made there way back to the compartment. Glenn shook the handle in frustration. "He locked it. Great."
Ashe let out a heavy sigh. "Are you serious? Now how are we supposed to get in? Break down the door?"
Jace tapped Glenn's shoulder. "Think we've got a bigger problem on our hands."
Several angry people marched up to the door. One of them spoke. "Where is that guy?"
Glenn spoke back. "Who? Ray? Why do you want to know?"
A female interjected. "There was a rumor that spread fast. That guy is the reason we're about to go to war isn't it? He'll be the death of us. Get out of the way, or we'll run you over."
"No. Whatever you've been hearing probably isn't true. Ray is no different than you and I."
"This isn't open for discussion." The crowd began to close in. Ashe threw herself in front of the door.
"Look at yourselves. You're so concerned with something as little as Ray being some demon, when you've got an opposing army on your hands! If you were in his place, how would you feel? You're supposed to be fighting to save lives, not destroy them. Some conscience you have. If you joined this military as an excuse to shoot things, I feel sorry for you. You'd be better off as a lowly mercenary!"
Some of the people looked around. Some were convinced, others less so, but seemed to have bought it anyway. A few others remained unmoved. "She's right." Said a man toward the middle. "We can't turn on each other right now because of some stupid rumor. We've got more important things to worry about." Most of the crowd relaxed. They apologized for the trouble and fanned out. The female and a couple others stayed.
"Honestly? True we have a potential conflict on our hands. But if what I've heard is true, then that's simply too important to ignore. What if he turns on us?"
Ashe folded her arms. "Regardless of your opinion, it's not your place to execute someone based on a rumor. He can go to *Captain's Mast or the *Courts-Martial will handle that of they deem it's too important."
"Hmm? And I thought you were always a woman of action. Has the famous Ashe gone soft?"
"Soft? Hardly. I'm simply looking at this from a priority standpoint. Unlike you, I'm trying to make more mature decisions." Ashe turned back to the door and wrapped her hand around the handle.
"To talk about maturity. At least I'm not a quitter, like you."
Ashe let go of the crimped handle.
"You, BITCH!" She turned quickly and swung.
The woman staggered and put a hand to her bleeding lip. Glenn wrapped his arms under Ashe's.
The other people who had stayed behind helped the female to the infirmary.
Ashe took a deep breath and relaxed. Glenn released her.
"Sorry I lost my cool there, but damn that felt good."
Jace sighed. "She deserved it." Anyway, how are we supposed to get in if Ray locked the door? We can't blow through it without bringing this whole building down."
Glenn opened another door closest to it. "We'll just have to borrow someone else's compartment."
They ran onto the balcony. "Damn." He said. "That's gotta be nearly eight feet away. We need a ladder or a board or something we can make some kind of bridge."
Ashe looked at her wrist in frustration. "I thought we'd still had our equipment?"
"No, we gave it all to Ray since he was going back to the compartment, which he locked."
Jace pointed. "Isn't that him?"
Ray stood on the far end of the neighboring balcony. He held his LIT07 in his hand. He placed an energy cartridge into his weapon and pulled back on the top. It was loaded and ready to fire.
Ashe stared in shock. "Surely he isn't thinking about -- ?"
Glenn was equally as shocked. "He can’t be serious! Wait, Ashe? What the hell are you doing?!"
She climbed onto the balcony rail and jumped. She fell short, and her hands caught the end of the other balcony.
"ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR DAMN MIND?!"
Jace nudged Glenn. "There's a ladder in the utility closet down the hall. Let's hurry."
"Ugh. Hold on Ashe, we'll be right back!" The two ran from the room.
Ashe began to lose her grip. Ray had apparently heard the commotion. He dropped his firearm and hurried over to where Ashe was. He reached for her hand and hoisted her up. As soon as her feet made contact with the ground, she threw her arms around him, squeezing tightly.
"Don't you ever -- do something like that again!"
"Ashe? I’m losing...feeling!"
She dropped to her knees, but kept him in a tight embrace, forcing him to do the same.
"If you ever scare me like that again, I'll kill you myself."
"But why? You know as well as I do my existence is what caused all of this."
"That's not so!" She began to sob.
"If I no longer existed what reason would Shadus have had to go through the trouble of building a research lab for my sake? Or even be alive today?"
"I don't know. I don't care."
Glenn and Jace were clumsily carrying a ladder on the opposite balcony.
"Hey! Be careful with that thing!"
Glenn and Jace watched as it fell to the ground below.
Jace look at Glenn. "...wasn't that Senior Chief's ladder?"
Ashe ignored them. "We need you. I need you. Who is going to help us stop Shadus if you aren't here?"
"What good am I? What if I attacked you again?"
"Ashe, why would you trust me, even knowing who I was?"
Ashe thought back to when her and Ray were last out here. She told him the same words he'd spoken to her:
"I don't care about who you were. The only thing I care about is who you are today."
She loosened enough for Ray to move his arms. He returned her hug awkwardly, not knowing what else to do with his arms.
"I didn't know you felt that strongly about it. But if I'm not that Demon Commander to you, then who am I?"
"You're Ray Hadron, and you're my best friend."
"I...I'm sorry, Ashe. I don't know what to say."
"So where exactly did you get that outfit in Breaken City?"
"There was an expensive store up the road."
"I thought it looked nice. I knew it would end up being worth every piece of gold."
She rested her head against his chest and smiled.
"You're an idiot."
- HOLEE-FUQ: Read as "Hotel Oscar Lima Echo Echo tack Foxtrot Uniform Quebec". While from knowledge this combination of the phonetic alphabet has no real meaning, from the standpoint of the fan fiction it represents a code to prepare for conflict.
- Captain's Mast: In naval tradition, a mast is a non-judicial punishment ("NJP") disciplinary hearing under which a commanding officer studies and disposes of cases involving those in his command.
- Court-Martial (Courts-Martial as plural): Military court.