Canis sat inside the infirmary, donning an indigo cloak to mask his wolf-like features. Beside him was Ashe, who lay in bed. She was sipping on a red liquid the nurse had given her. Glenn and Jace meanwhile were out on the battlefield. Ashe had a radio left on a nightstand next to her rack. She stayed in touch, making sure Glenn and Jace were okay. They also radioed back to her, asking similar questions. The storms above the Crazy Carnival however made it impossible to keep tabs on Ray. She grew tense with every passing moment. Despite how much she wanted to get out into battle, Canis refused to allow her.
"You're exhausted and weak. Rest needs to be your top priority. Attempting to fight in a battle this intense is suicide. You'll only drain your stamina fighting or healing yourself."
"I don't care." She had told him. "Others are are out there giving their lives for this planet. What does it matter if I'm tired? What difference will it make if they lose? I'd rather die fighting, not laying helplessly in bed."
"You'll only make yourself a statistic. Throwing yourself in a battle of that magnitude? You're much safer here."
"I'm a fighter. I don't care what happens to me. I won't sit idly by why others are getting hurt. Why should I be thinking about myself right now?"
"You won't be thinking as selfishly as you think."
"If Ray is victorious, it won't mean a thing to him if he loses you."
"Do you remember when Hermes had said amongst all his dark thoughts, he'd glimpsed one bright spot?"
"There was something, that as you collected each Gem, kept him from changing back. When he temporarily reverted in Stadium Arcadium, he was fighting back with himself. After you'd hit him, he normalized. Had he truly transformed, he would have been lost forever. As darkness tried to once again consume him, there was one thing that he held on to, that gave him the determination to stay in the light."
"And what was that?"
"No one else. Not Glenn, Jace, or anyone. Just you and you only. I first met Ray while he was lying unconscious in the Woodlands. I could sense a secret admiration he had for someone. I was conflicted by the fact he held positive emotions, even if he was once a mortal enemy. That's why I decided to bring him back here, instead of leaving him to die. Even through his armor I could tell who he was."
"He always had feelings for me...?"
"It was a growing process. I cannot speak for before we had met, but when I'd seen him for the first time after his unsealing, it was only that small admiration. When I met him along with the rest of you, it became more of a bond. Someone he could relate with. While at the time he knew nothing of his past self, he empathized with you over something. When he stood up to defend you from me, I could see that it was you I was sensing. I then decided to keep a close eye on him. And from there, he began to grow closer. Glenn also told me what he tried to do after he learned the truth.
"So you heard about that?"
Ashe then told him the details of Ray's suicide attempt, and even when she'd jumped from the balcony.
"I see." He had said.
"I can't say I'm not guilty. When I first met Ray, I always was trying to find a reason to smash his face in. I HATED him. He'd given me a complement when I wore my armor for the first time. I was kind of confused. I openly expressed that I disliked him, but he didn't seem to care. It was like he was always trying to make me smile. I began to develop mixed feelings. And even then I thought he was kind of cute...but anyway, there was one night that I'd gotten into a big argument with Jace. I went to blow off some steam, and Ray followed me. He'd just come back to base after he was missing in the Howling Woodlands for a few days. I threatened to knock his teeth down his throat, but then he did something I'd never would have thought he would have done. He stood up to me and actually told me how stupid I was acting. It was like a different side of him. Instead of getting angry I felt more...humbled. As if he'd killed a part of me. So I told him about something I don't usually talk about -- my own past. After I did, he didn't judge me harshly. He actually wanted to help me over myself. After that, I began to have true feelings for him. After his suicide attempt...I fell in love. Looking back at when we first met, I never would have imagined I'd be in love with someone like Ray Hadron."
"Preventing him from taking his own life, especially by putting your own in jeopardy, proved to him that he had something worth living for. Because you personally were there for him before anyone else, he understood how much you really cared for him. Just as much as he cared for you.
"Before he ran after Shadus, I knew that there was a chance I might not ever see him again. I felt that it was a 'now or never' situation. So I wanted to show him how I felt about him."
She looked down and closed her eyes. A single tear rolled down her cheek. Even being the sturdy type of person as she was, she couldn't bear the thought of something unspeakable happening to Ray. He was more than someone who was willing to take a nuclear rocket for those he cared about. He was someone who never thought about himself. He was always making others laugh, in one way or another. He was someone you could trust, and never came back on a promise. Someone who was open to another's feelings, and always respected them. That person who showed endless compassion, the Good Samaritan who never passed by those in need. He also showed a serious side who wasn't afraid to stand up to what troubles him. Before anyone, even himself, knew who he really was, he was just a random human being. In Ashe's eyes, he is a true hero. He's her hero.
"It was better you did. Hope, Faith, and Love. The greatest of these three is Love*. He knows what he's truly fighting for now."
After their conversation, that was when Ashe had tuned her radio to the battle outside. Many voices had spoken through it. Glenn and Jace had a handle on most of it. She had wanted to make sure they were okay, and them asking her likewise.
Presently Ashe set her empty glass on the nightstand. She slumped and sighed. She knew she was tired, even though she neither wanted to openly show it, nor admit it to herself. Canis pulled the sheets up to the base of her neck.
"Rest. You've earned it."
From every area in sight there was nothing but explosions, slaughter, huge laser beams, falling ships, blood, and fires. Glenn assisted the ground troops, while Jace helped fight in the skies, as well as helping transport wounded to medical areas.
While the drones were annoying, the aliens proved a larger hindrance. They'd even encountered smaller mantises and poison pits. Not as powerful as the versions they'd fought previously (or as smart for that matter), they created more potential casualties and needed put down quickly. Glenn ensured they were top priority.
"All mechs concentrate fire on the large beasts!" He ordered.
"Yes sir! Take 'em down, boys!"
Heat-seeking missiles slammed into the large aliens, killing them quickly. Even though they caused much damage on their own, the absurd number of other aliens and drones were no less important. Jace marked several targets for airstrikes. Each attack eliminated more enemies than they could count, but just as many replaced them. Even with the aid of his coven, Glenn couldn't believe the strong possibility of defeat. His troops fought hard, but the enemy only fought that much harder. It was far from over. Glenn sheathed his blades and grabbed a strange enemy weapon. Plasma grenades erupted from the barrel. It proved just as effective against robots and aliens as it did against humans.
Glenn gave a half smile. "Looks like the joke is on you..."
Several of the drones were still attempting to blend in with the military’s soldiers. Thanks to Glenn’s visor functions, they weren’t hard to pick out. Even without that to deal with, there was still the numbers. The transports bringing them down seemed to be as infinite as the drones themselves. Just how did Shadus pull this off, or even get the resources to do it? The Gems must have held more power than Glenn thought.
“Jace, what’s the situation in the air?”
Jace’s voice buzzed in through Glenn’s helmet. “Not good. Our own fighters are struggling with the enemy’s. If we didn’t have those drone pilots bugging us we could just keep our ships’ fire on the transports. If we ignore the fighters they’ll tear our ships apart, and if we don’t do something about those transports they’ll keep feeding more drones than we can destroy.”
‘’Damn!’’ Glenn thought. He couldn’t think of anything else to gain the advantage. At this point, it all comes down to Ray shutting down that factory.
There was emptiness where Ray stood. In every direction there was nothing but pitch black. Even where Ray had entered from outside was no longer visible. He took a breath and stepped forward. Echoes sounded as his foot made contact with the ground. Sweat beaded around his forehead. He secured his helmet back on his head. Gripping the Gem Blade in front of him with both hands, he walked confidently. After only half a minute, the room slowly lit up. Ray was standing inside of a futuristic throne room. There was a dark red carpet leading up small, long stairs. At the top sat Shadus himself. He was now wearing a strange armor. It was grayish in color, with bright green innerglow. Around the neck area was a red scarf. Spikes protruded from the top of his gauntlets and boots, and in a pair on each shoulder. Each shoulder plate was almost as thick as his head. His expression was a mix of sternness and madness. He lifted his mouth into a smile.
"I'm so glad you made it, Ray. It's rather unusual, seeing you without your dear friends."
Four Gems, Claw, Horn, Wing, and Tail hovered around Shadus's throne. They were enveloped in a deep blue fire.
"Despite how much I resent you for your past actions, I actually have much to owe to you.” Shadus continued. “If it weren't for you, I would never have been able to achieve all of this. I studied you. I learned of how you were able to use the Gems' power to influence the Aparus. With your aid, I was able to learn how to make this planet my own. Had you never existed as the Demon Commander those years ago, I would have died of age, and be just another grave filler. But all thanks to you, I have a purpose! To oversee the planet, where I can control everything! No more piddling on computer monitors or conducting research on random simple specimens. Why try to understand the flaws of this world if I could make it into what I want it to be?"
Ray rolled his eyes. "Yeah that kind of mentality is why I think you're probably still a virgin."
"Don't judge me so harshly, Ray. You yourself should be thankful! Didn't you seek to make the world bend to your own will two centuries ago? Wasn't it your seething hatred of the human race what led you to go on your destructive rampage? I do not quite understand the logic at all. You fight against humans then, yet you stand for them now? I'm giving you the opportunity to join me and reclaim your title."
"Yeah I despised the human race a long time ago. Ultimately I am thankful. Had you never built your lab around me, I would have never been unsealed. I would have never lost my memory. Once I couldn't remember anything, I could see things through the eyes of a human being. You're right. Humans are flawed. But that's what makes us human. My friends, no, my family, tells me they learned much from me. But I've learned even more from them."
"How touching…that empty misery. Compassion you call it? Why in the world would you want to actually be nice to others who could care less about you or your 'kindness'? If you want someone to be 'nice' to you, break them down and show no mercy. Shall they cross you then? This world is full of nothing 'nice'!"
"The world is full of nice people. Even if some are just snobby assholes, what do you gain by hurting or killing them? Is that how you try to get even? I've always believed in 'eye for an eye', but it's not your place to justify your own retaliation. Just let go, man. And if you can't find a nice person, then be one."
"Oh I'm still just hearing meaningless words that will soon no longer exist. If you hit me, I have every right to hit back. Don't accuse me of 'empty justice'. You too have had your fair share of unreasonable murder."
"That may be so, but that was a completely different person. It wasn't Ray Hadron."
"Let me ask you something else. Why is it you no longer uphold all of your old ideals?"
"I already explained that."
"Did you? But why do I not understand the sudden change? You know who you are. You remember every detail and you should remember why you fought against humanity in the first place! Why do you sell yourself to the lies of human beings, that there is something that can be gained from this so called, 'compassion', 'integrity', or 'generosity'? Only those who eliminate the problem will reach a solution. If you try to smile at it and say 'it will be okay, I can work around it' you will get nowhere. Until the virus is flushed out, you're still sick! Do you understand what I'm saying? Until all human beings accept that this world is no place for sensitivity and caring, it will only be a chunk of rock with wasted resources. Goals can only be reached when you are willing to sacrifice everything to achieve it. Your 'friends' will only get in your way."
"Wow. First off, I legit feel sorry for you. Second, that was arguably the stupidest analogy I ever had to listen to, and third, I figured you of all people would be smart enough to know that all attempts to overthrow the planet end in failure. And if you think you'll succeed in becoming the next ruler, you're badly mistaken."
"Ruler? No, no, no, no, no. Explain to me what excitement there is in being some figure head? You must go further! To be able to manipulate and control everything according to your own will. Where you become not just respected and feared, but willingly WORSHIPPED!"
"...so you think you've become some kind of god or deity?"
"Fool! I don't think I'm a god! I indeed know for a fact, I AM A GOD!"
Shadus stood up. The Gems rotated around him and he began to levitate high in the air. Transparent digital wings spread on both sides of him. A cybernetic aura surrounded his head, like that of a halo.
"Now I will show you how much more I've become than you ever were!"
A helmet enclosed around his head. The visor was yellow and jaw-like. A strange weapon formed around his right hand. It looked like a Gatling with a rotating buzz-saw blade protruding from the bottom.
"Now, allow me to demonstrate the Gems' full power!"
Shadus began to glow with a purplish-blue aura. The aura faded and Shadus clutched his shoulder.
"You…did you…DID YOU JUST SHOOT ME?!"
The fire surrounding the Gems faded and they fell to the floor below. Shadus remained in his current state however.
Ray looked around. A thin trail of smoke rose from his LIT07.
"Who me? It couldn't have been me." He said in a sarcastic tone.
"YOU! YOU RUNT!"
"Look man. I'm ready to go home, I’m tired of putting up with your shit, and I’d like to see my girlfriend, so I'm not wasting time by actually waiting while you power up.”
"I WILL MAKE YOU NOTHING BUT A PUDDLE OF SLAG!"
Shadus revved the minigun on his arm. It fired a small, pumpkin shaped projectile. Ray was quick enough to dodge it, only to realize it was also explosive. Shadus immediately followed up with a stream of bullets. The rate of fire was so rapid that it looked like a solid beam of hot lead.
"YES! SCAMPER LIKE THE RAT THAT YOU ARE!"
Shadus showed no signs of releasing fire soon. Ray knew he'd eventually run out of steam and Shadus would turn him into Swiss cheese. He needed to think of something fast. Ray suddenly got an idea. He dove behind the throne. The bullets clanked off of the large chair uselessly.
"Oh, my! When a bullet-proof chair backfires! You cannot hide from me, Ray! I have more than enough tricks to catch you off-guard!"
Shadus waved his hand. A red wave flew through the air. It passed through the chair. Ray was not expecting this, and got hit. Instead of feeling pain, he suddenly felt weary, as if his own health had been leeched from his body. He shook it off and stood. Shadus launched another wave. This time Ray saw it coming. He stepped back, and retreated again behind his makeshift bunker. Shadus grew angrier.
"Stop your cowardice! Face your inevitable doom!"
"I hope you soon cooperate! I need you out of my way so I can focus on my tasks down below!"
"And I hope you step on a LEGO!"
Shadus's face grew red underneath his helmet. "DON'T YOU PUT THAT EVIL ON ME, RAY HADRON! YOU WILL PAY FOR THIS INSULT!"
The saw blade began to spin. Shadus dove and jabbed as soon as he faced the back of the chair. Where Ray was, a small portal began to close.
"What is this? Now just where did you vanish to?"
A bright light emitted from the center of the room. The Gems that had lay on the floor began to lift and revolve around where Ray now stood. They resonated with a low hum and started to close in on his body. By the time Shadus noticed what was going on, the light became too bright for him to see. The light slowly began to fade. In the center of the room where Ray stood, he now floated. His armor underwent slight changes; his helmet had a curved horn protruding from the forehead area. A pair of translucent blades lined the outside of Ray's gauntlets. Behind him was a large pair of translucent, feathery wings that like the blades on his arms, appeared to radiate a strange energy as if they were on fire. Like that of a Phoenix. Twin tails flowed from his backside, that likewise appeared fiery and birdlike. The hilt of the Gem Blade rested in Ray's hand. He swung, and three large greenish-blue crescents flew in a cone-pattern manner toward Shadus. Still dazed from the light, he was caught in the chest by one of them. Ray immediately followed up with his LIT07, which he still possessed. Several yellow beams flew from the barrel and pelted Shadus. His armor began to smolder. He lay on the ground. The effects of the poison had not eaten completely through his armor, but left black craters within it. Ray quickly dove to the ground. He placed the barrel of his LIT07 on the ground, and a tall wave of flames raced toward Shadus. His armor was now black as soot, with only the visor and a few areas of innerglow shone through the burns.
"Time for you to chill, Shady!"
Ray swung the Gem Blade in a diagonal, upward motion. An icy hurricane flew at Shadus horizontally. Ice surrounded his body, and was frozen. Ray smirked.
"Man, what a pushover. Now time to close this carnival."
He turned to leave. As soon as he began to walk away, bullets struck the hilt of the Gem Blade, knocking it out of his hand. An explosive struck his back and he flew forward. Shadus's hands were blazing with a blue fire. He had melted his icy prison.
"Even with the power of all of the Gem pieces, you failed. Now let me end this once and for all." Shadus pitched his hand forward, and a blue fireball flew toward Ray. He couldn't get up in time, and was blown further.
"What's the matter, Ray? Powerless without a weapon?"
He hit Ray with another blue fireball. He picked up the Gem Blade with his free hand and walked toward Ray. He kicked his LIT07 away from him and hovered up a foot from the ground.
"I thought so. Without a weapon, you cannot channel your power. How pathetic!" Shadus lifted the blade over his head.
Several thoughts flashed through Ray's head. Was it already over? Had he truly failed? Even earning a second chance to right his past mistakes, he could not succeed. I can't fight him without a weapon. I've no way to use my abilities without one... Yet another thought entered his mind.
Don't forget, spoke a familiar voice. Always hold your arms up and ready, and don't let down your guard. Watch your opponents' moves carefully. Defend against their blows, and as soon as an opening is visible, hit it fast, hard, and aggressively. Don't give them another chance to attack. The most important rule is to remember: Even without a gun or a blade, you always have a weapon.
Shadus brought the blade down. Ray rolled to the left and narrowly avoided being hit. He got on his feet and rose into the air. Shadus flew after him. When he swung the blade again, Ray ducked and drove his palm into Shadus's chest. The force knocked Shadus backward. He regained his balance before he hit the the ground. Ray pursued him. Shadus again swung, but Ray maneuvered and grabbed his arm. He twisted, forcing the blade out of Shadus's grasp. Ray pulled his arm behind him and forced his knee into his enemy's backside. Shadus fell to the ground. When he tried to stand back up, Ray landed and released a series of jabs and punches. Shadus was pinned against the wall. Ray backed up slightly and quickly waved his arms in a scissor motion. Two greenish-blue disks flew from the blades that lined his arms. They struck Shadus, and he crumpled to the ground. His right arm was torn from his body. One of his legs was only connected by a few wires. Sparks flew off of his broken body.
"T-that's, not p-possible! You're p-powerless without a w-weapon! How c-could you perform s-so well without one? And s-still manifest y-your p-powers?"
"No weapon is more powerful than the human body, whether physically or mentally. I've been taking private lessons from a personal instructor.”
"I-Is that s-so? V-very well t-then. You m-may have won this b-battle, but you R-Ray, have l-lost. E-even if t-the human race r-remains flawed and incomplete, I'll be t-truly happy as l-long as I can t-take you w-with m-me!"
One by one the aliens stopped and looked around confused. Then began to attack the drones. Ceasing the opportunity, Glenn ordered a full-scale retreat. Ships overhead beamed downward and transported several military personnel up into the ships themselves. Jace landed and picked up Glenn and a couple other soldiers. In the distance, the floating Crazy Carnival began to erupt in explosions…and fall to the ground. Glenn's heart sank.
"Ray! Report! Can you hear me! What's going on!"
There was nothing but static through the radio.
"Ray! Come in! Do you copy!"
Jace tried as well. "Ray, this is AE-Z, can you read me?"
Glenn began to shout. "Ray? Ray!"
The Carnival collided with the ground. Anything in its wake was destroyed, aliens and drones alike.
Glenn sat down in the co-pilot's seat and buried his visor in this hands. Jace attempted to cheer him up.
"I hate this as much as you do. His sacrifice will never be in vain. If it wasn't for him, we would chances are be dead right about now."
Glenn gave a broken smile behind his visor. "Yeah. I'll never forget this day. We are all indebted to him. Let's get back to base and access the casualties and survivors. It's gonna be a rough time counting..."
Static continued to buzz through the radio. Slowly it began to fade and clear. A strained voice echoed through it.
"This…this is Ray. Yeah I hear ya."
- Canis's reference - Biblical reference. Canis was referring to 1 Corinthians 13:13 in the New Testament. These are words of the Apostle Paul delivering the message concerning the "Greatest Gift" to the citizens of ancient Rome. The verse is as follows:
"And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity." (KJV)
"And now abide faith, hope, and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love." (NIV)