"Alright everyone! This is it! We're closing in!" Ray shouted through the radio. "Fighters, peel out!"
The jet fighters that had flown with them spread out and began to fire upon enemy fighters. Down below, drones and aliens alike began to march into the ravine. Just as Ray anticipated, their own infantry caught up with them and fired down below. While Shadus may have had superior numbers, the military should manage to bring his count down. The only main hindrance was enemy tanks firing from across the other side of the small canyon, posing a threat to the front lines. Thankfully, Cygni Heavies and their own mechs managed to keep them from causing too much damage. From underneath the Crazy Carnival a few of the airships were descending to the ground, releasing more and more drones. Directly above it dark clouds loomed, discharging familiar purple lightning. Aliens continued to dig up from the ground as well.
A voice buzzed in through the radio. "Cruiser 0337 closing range. We have an opening, sir!"
Glenn grinned. "Light them up like the Christmas lights they are!"
In the distance, a Cruiser could be seen launching a volley of heat-seeking rockets. They struck a transport carrying troops below. A few others homed in on the Carnival itself, but were somehow deflected by an invisible energy field. The transport was damaged, but didn't seem to loose functionality.
"Damn! Get those cannons blazing!"
Immediately the Cruiser began gathering energy into a large cannon barrel right under its hull. After a few moments, it released a large beam-like blast. As it struck the transport, the enemy ship was blown to pieces. The success was short lived, as a frigate near the Dragonfly began to catch flames and descend rapidly.
Ray immediately called out. "Chief! Respond! Chief?! Shit! We lost one of our ships."
"Ugh! We need those fighters gone! Are there any wingmen still available?"
"Yes ma'am!" Two voices paged back to Ashe.
"Ok! What have you got left, Charon?"
An Andromedae pilot flew to the left of the Mach Dragonfly. "I've got about five Stinger missiles and two EMP charges!"
The other pilot, a Tank-clad, flew to the right. His name was Triton. "I have three Stingers and a Blitz rocket left!"
"Good. There's an enemy formation ahead. As soon as you get a target on all of them, hit them with a Blitz!"
Triton engaged. In order to avoid enemy fighters, he'd maneuvered several times. But the minute the formation squad locked into his sights, he let the Blitz rocket go. The projectile unlatched and flew about a few feet ahead. It peeled open and spheres of energy sped straight into the formation and hit the enemy craft -- all six of them.
"Jace, can you handle a dogfight?"
Without even waiting for her to say anything else, Jace pitched the ship forward and fired on enemy fighters that flew close. The twin plasma cannons mounted on the Dragonfly tore apart anything it hit.
There was a page from the ground. "The enemy squadron is advancing through. There are too many of them!"
A cruiser in the distance was shot down. Ray grit his teeth.
"The front lines are starting to struggle."
Glenn looked back at him. "What?"
"Our men are getting their asses kicked! Another one of our ships are down! We need those transports gone!"
"We don't have enough firepower! We need a bigger fleet!"
Ashe interrupted them. "Look!"
They focused on countless ships speeding across the horizon. Glenn began to grow even more frustrated.
"Now what does he want?"
The approaching ships entered the action. Before anyone knew what was going on, they began to fire upon the enemy drone transports. Glenn stood confused.
Jace called from the pilot's seat. "There's an incoming transmission! It's coming from the lead flagship!"
"Put them through!"
As soon as Jace answered, Glenn began to fuss at the radio.
"Did I not make myself clear last time?"
He received an answer he wasn't expecting.
"You did. Almost too clear. Countless prophecies and legends foretold the world coming to a terrible conflict, and almost costing the planet its entire population. While we were trying to justify making it out on top by pillaging and grazing, you were out making an attempt to save UBW. After you'd allowed me to live, it became clear to me that honor was much more valuable than gold. I've come to realize that no amount of treasure or booty is worth losing family over. I don't expect you to ever forgive me, but I ask that you let us aid you in this final battle."
Glenn hesitated. He spoke to where only his teammates could hear him.
"I'm not sure..."
"It's your decision alone to make, Glenn." Said Ashe.
"I don't know. Why should I trust him?"
Ray rested a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Well for starters, you're letting me fight with you."
Glenn knew exactly what he meant.
"Go ahead. And thanks for the help...dad."
"We don't need any gratitude. Letting me fight with my son is thanks enough. If I don't make it out, know that the Venture clan fought proudly to the end."
Starford's forces intercepted and drew enemy attention. Ray paged out to the rest of the military that they were allies. Several long ropes unfurled to the ground and countless pirates slid down to aid the ground units. Another drone transport exploded. It erupted in blue flames and fell to the ground. Ashe took notice.
"Canis must be here."
"Must be. He apparently has a bone to pick with Shadus too from what I gathered." Said Ray. "There's an opening, Jace! Hit it!"
Jace gunned the engines. Remaining unseen thanks to the Mach Dragonfly's cloaking function, they docked onto the Crazy Carnival safely. Sure enough, Canis was crouched behind a wall jutting out of the snow. His ears motioned in their direction and he took notice of them.
"I almost gave up on waiting for you." He said.
"I'm surprised you're here." Glenn responded. "I thought you said you don't get involved with military matters."
"This is a planet matter. And you don't decide what I do."
Glenn laughed. "I never did."
Ray held his cutter, Collision, out by his side. "Well we're all here now. Let's roll!"
Inside, there were winding narrow hallways. The lighting was low as well. Ray held his fist up, and everyone halted. Voices came from around the corner.
"-- NOT let them in!"
"Yes my lord."
Ray peered around the corner. Two drones were with another man.
Ray signaled to Ashe. She understood. Three targets. She readied her White Drill. She quickly spun from cover, and released as soon as her weapon locked onto its targets. The drones dropped instantly. The man fell to the ground. He was bleeding, but still breathing. Canis walked in front of him.
"I hope you didn't miss me too much. Your master will be with you, shortly.” Canis said, putting him out of his misery.
They'd proceeded until they reached an opening, where there was nothing but flashy lights, carnival booths, and noisy casino games. What was more, speedlings, scorpions, panthers, and just about every other species of Aparus were everywhere. Ray's cutter lit up with green light.
"Why did he pick this of all places? Ready?"
"As we'll ever be."
Everyone rushed out. Glenn's hands crackled with electricity, and a yellow aura glowed. Jace had a faint red glow of his own surrounding him. Canis's blue fire flickered around him. The team took on full offense and attacked any alien insight. The area was clear within minutes. Ray, Glenn, Jace, and Canis gathered near Ashe as she relieved any wounds they'd had. Ray grew a bit worried.
"Are you ok?"
"That took a lot, but I'm fine."
"Alright. Just don't do anything too reckless."
"You're telling me."
Ray smiled and rolled his eyes. "Let's move on then."
They'd moved from the main carnival area and into another opening, destroying more patrol drones along the way. It was completely circular, and empty save for the snow.
Jace stopped and squinted. "What's that noise?"
Canis growled. "Get down!"
A large red mass came out of nowhere spinning like a top. Everyone had thrown themselves on the ground to avoid being hit.
The mass began to slow. "Hahaha! Welcome to my silly, silly stage!"
Company stared at what appeared to be a giant robot jester. No one said anything.
"What? No funny? But I try so hard! Ok! Try again, ya?"
Canis appeared aggravated. "Can we just get this over with?"
"Why no funny? You no like?"
The jester's head retracted and a different head popped out. It resembled Santa Clause. Its voice also changed from a silly clown like voice to a deeper and more maniacal one.
"Then YOU WILL DIE!"
The giant fired a sweeping beam from its mouth. The team immediately drew their weapons and opened fire. It swapped to its jester head and opened its arms. Strangely shaped projectiles bounced across the area. They'd made a strange noise before exploding into a cloud of toxic smoke. Most everyone stuck to the wall to avoid the bombs.
"Was that an old cartoon sound effect?" Jace analyzed.
Santabot went back to Santa head then fired rockets from its palms. There was much confusion when they began to follow their targets. Canis whacked one, destroying it before it could hit him. Glenn rolled swiftly at the last minute out of its way before it hit the ground. Jace pinned his with a well-placed shot from his sniper. Ray did likewise with his LIT07. Ashe out-distanced hers with the Enhance advantage of her F.L.O.A.T.. Both thrusters on the pack flared, propelling her to absurd speeds. The missile quickly fell behind and lost its target. It flew straight ahead and crashed. Santabot retracted its head once more and swapped back to jester mode. It began to build up momentum and spun at a high rate of speed. Jace got bowled over.
"That freaking hurt!"
Thanks to his Draco armor, some of his damage was absorbed and negated. He knew they weren't out-running Santabot.
"Use the NOS boosters!" He called out.
Ray and his friends activated a small tank that was hooked to their packs. Immediately a burst of Nitrous Oxide allowed them to move more swiftly. Because Canis was lightly armored, and also in possession of natural superhuman speed, agility was not a problem for him. The large two-handed Gem Blade did not seem to hinder his mobility either. Ashe's speed was quadrupled, and she flew at speeds that made her appear as a white flash. The blue innerglow of her armor trailed in an after-image behind her. She charged her Energy Glove, and sped directly toward Santabot. She released at top speed. The combined strength and momentum behind the blast knocked the giant robot over on its side. Before it began to stand back up, Canis climbed on top of it. It started to spin in an attempt to shake him off. Knowing he had little time, he wrapped his hand around the closest object and pulled.
"This looks important!"
Santabot threw him off, and began whirling aimlessly.
"I can no see!"
It stopped spinning and began to fire off rockets. There was too many to avoid.
"Get as close as possible!" Ashe yelled. Everyone obeyed. She activated her Force Field and stretched it out. It protected them from the rockets, but they knew it wouldn't last forever. Ashe's stamina drained every second it was in use. The added strain of stretching it out wasn't helping either.
Think, Jace! He thought. He examined the Santabot and noticed a sparking joint in its neck area.
"There! A weak point! It's too small to shoot! What now?"
"Leave that to me!"
Ray ran out from under the Field with Collision drawn. Right before a missile made contact with him, he disappeared -- in his place was a small purple portal. Ray reappeared right in front of the giant drone's face, and he drove his blade straight into the joint. The robot stopped firing and began to spin again uncontrollably, even with its Santa Mode still active. The head crackled and popped, and then exploded. The body fell over and shut down.
As soon as the final missile had hit her shield, Ashe let off. She seemed to be very exhausted, but tried to hold her ground. Glenn wrapped her arm around his neck. Ray walked back over to them, panting.
A voice boomed from in the distance.
"Bravo, Ray. I see you succeeded in destroying my prized creation. But no matter. Your troops are only fighting a losing battle. I'll always have a way to send my own units to the ground whether you wipe out my transports or not. I've unlocked the door, so you may reach me. I invite you to a tea party I have arranged for you. Even should you eliminate me, it's too late to stop what has already begun. My drones are far superior in numbers. The new world is at hand, and with me as its soon-to-be god!"
Everyone was looking up to see Shadus standing atop a long tower over large castle-like double doors.
"Okay, this guy clearly had a messed up childhood." Jace acknowledged.
"So what will it be, unit AE-Z? Come after me, and your troops will be eradicated. Leave and fight with them and I'll wait here while I have more drones produced. Either way, you're in Checkmate!" Shadus snapped his fingers and disappeared.
Everyone removed their helmets to catch a quick breath. Ray handed his cutter to Ashe to help support herself.
He swore. "Damn! We can't ignore either him or the threat below!"
Glenn rested his hand on his chin. "We'd have to split. The rest of us go back to the battle field, while one of us remain here."
Jace was equally as puzzled. "But the question is: which one of us will fight? Ashe would be a good option, her healing touch and force field, on top of her skill is unrivaled. But she's too exhausted, and there is no time to rest."
Ray thought for a moment. "Canis -- you're better than any of us. We can handle the fight below. I know you are more than capable of eliminating Shadus."
Canis sighed. He drew the Gem Blade from his back and held the hilt out to Ray.
"That maybe so. But this isn't a matter of choice based on one's fighting skill. This is your fight alone, Ray. From the time he revealed himself as the enemy, it became your place to destroy him personally. Everything happens for a reason. When you were unsealed, you chose to walk a different path. Even though you didn't recall who you were, you possessed a heart of gold. When everything became clear, you still refused to accept it. What happened nearly two hundred years ago is a thing of the past. That is not who you truly are and you know it. Go, Ray, and bring hope to humanity."
Purple lightning crackled above. Glenn looked down from it. "As hard as I find it to believe, you know he wants more than anything for you, and you personally, to fail. We can handle the fight with the drones. You have to end Shadus yourself."
"Even though we won't be there beside you, we definitely will be fighting with you. Count on it." Jace said assuringly.
"Are you sure about this, Ray? Fighting Shadus alone?"
He hesitated. He took the Gem Blade from Canis and answered. "Yes, Ashe. I am."
He turned and began toward the doors.
"Hmm?" He turned around. As he did, Ashe grabbed the collar of his armor and pressed her lips to his. Ray almost lost his balance.
She pushed him away and spoke.
"Kick his ass, Ray."