Bard swung his bō nonstop, whacking anything in his way. Rei followed closely as he sprinted toward the bunker, suppressing any questions she wanted to ask Bard about his appearance.
"We're almost there, Rei. Once we are in --"
The ground started to rumble, cutting him off. An enormous creature as wide as the bunker hole itself leapt out, spewing fire from one of its two heads. Keena caught up with them, noticing the giant alien. She tried to speak in shock.
"Is that a…a…?!"
"Cerberlisk!" Bard finished.
One of its mouths opened and expanded. Bard drove his bō into the dirt and grabbed Rei's arm.
"What are you doing? We need to run!"
"Grab on, Keena!" He called to her, completely ignoring Rei. She hastily obeyed.
Cerberlisk's other head began to inhale profusely, almost pulling Rei off the ground completely. Bard was using his staff as an anchor, and thankfully went nowhere. Shortly Cerberlisk closed its mouth and began to open the other one. Bard released Rei's arm and grabbed the back of her armor.
"Hey, what are you…!"
"Getting you inside."
Bard took a step and slung her forward. She had just enough momentum to slide all the way behind Cerberlisk. Rei drew her cutter quickly and got up, killing what few aliens stood between her and the bunker hole after gathering her bearings. She dropped in and swapped to her bow. Keeping her breath to a minimum, she took a few steps forward with her draw up. Something dropped behind her lightly, causing Rei to whirl around and take aim.
"Hold on, don't point that at me!"
Rei relaxed at the sight of Keena. "I'm incredibly nervous right now, be careful where you drop in."
"Sorry…He told to go with you."
"Oh…I need to thank him for getting me in here, then hit him for literally throwing me…but you did see what I saw, right?"
"Saw it? I actually feel quite stupid for not seeing it sooner."
"So werewolves are a thing? Mom and Dad always told me stories, but I never actually thought any more of them than fairy tales."
"It's no fairy tale. Before humans or other aliens, they were here. Used to be civilizations, but that's all gone now."
"Bard told me back at Nightmoon that it was such a settlement, but never mentioned wolves specifically. He also told me they disappeared, but his description was kinda vague. What exactly did happen to them?"
Keena thought for a moment. "Pretty much just wiped out almost singlehandedly."
"…It's probably better I not say, for your own sake."
"I don't think I need a further explanation."
"I'm sorry, Rei."
"Don't be. If what we were told about Dad is true, then so be it. I don't want to think about that right now. Let's move."
Keena nodded. "Alright then. Be on your guard, soldiers and aliens are probably everywhere."
"Ray, what the hell are you doing?"
"Trying to get out of here. I can travel through teleporting portals without a conduit or those cursed rocks. But It seems I can't manifest my powers as well as I used to. The real problem is I don't have enough strength to keep them open long enough to swing into one. If I can get one closer…"
"How long have you been at this?"
"Tried a few different times since we've been in here, you were just either knocked out or asleep during almost all of it."
A portal formed on the farthest wall for only a second or two, causing a random machine to disappear.
"Oh COME ON! How the fuck is that supposed to help anybody?!"
"Ray, I understand you're frustrated, but you haven't used any of your abilities in a long time, you're malnourished, and you're going to kill yourself. Just stop straining, please."
Ray sighed. "I tried to do it back at our place before they could take me away, but the portal spawned on the ceiling. I can still use them, but they're just unpredictable. Sometimes it works well other times it doesn't."
"You think being away from the Gems for so long has something to do with it?"
"Possible, but I doubt it. It wasn't until you were pregnant with Rei that my sword beams started behaving like giant boomerangs. I pretty sure I'm just out of practice."
"And shape I should add. Surprised you haven't grown portly. When we get out of this mess, you start working out again."
"I told you I would, dear."
"That was nearly a year ago. Or do I need to take away your…bedroom privileges?"
"…………………First thing I'm doing when we get out of here."
Pressure doors unlocked, and Ladon strolled in briskly, along with an associate.
"You're still here. All I need to know." He said with a light smile.
Ray rolled his eyes. "Thanks for checking up. I'm glad you care."
"Anyway, good news, bad news, and news that makes the bad news better than the good news. The good news is, your daughter is here. All I have to do is wait for someone to bring her to me. The bad news, I'd been conducting tests and found out she's likely going to be too powerful to extract and contain her power without the machines overloading, even with ordinary mithril. The better news, I've found a source that will make that possible. And even better, I'd gotten the opportunity of a lifetime and had them retrieved. Thankfully they were delivered to me right before the conflict outside occurred."
"Is that what all the explosions and shaking have been about?" Asked Ashe. "There's a fight in the surrounding area? And Rei is involved in it?"
Ladon pointed at her. "Bingo. She's somewhere among the opposing soldiers. But anyhow…"
He snapped his fingers and his associate handed him a remote. Ladon clicked once and the monitor flipped on to a news add.
"…say that it was a small group of red uniformed men. It supposedly consisted of a man in a ski mask, a larger, balding man with a DD2C model gatling mini-gun, a man in a hardhat and overalls, a rude individual with a headset and baseball cleats, cap, and even wielding a baseball bat, a giant-syringe wielding man in a doctor's coat, and an explosive expert in an eyepatch and a kilt. Somehow these strange men were able to breach the base and get into the vault holding the five pieces of rare mithril that have rested there for years. The vault was supposed to be impenetrable, but the bald gentleman was able to tear right through after saying…" The reporter was handed a piece of paper. "…'Charge now, doc-tah', and getting an Enhance increase from the other man in the medical coat. These men tried to made a swift get-a-way with the Gems, and authorities are now dealing with timed explosives and sentry turrets they left to keep military and police personnel at bay. Thankfully they managed to down all of the men with the exception of the large bald man and medical professional who got away with the jewels. Currently the Gems are being searched for relentlessly while --."
Ladon clicked the remote, turning the program off. Ashe was dumbfounded.
"Just tore through and impenetrable vault from a boost? That's not how this works. That's not how any of this works!"
Ray was equally as baffled. "Actually, I'm not even mad. That's amazing. But you can't just use the Gems. Do you have any idea how dangerous those things are?"
As if on cue, the doors slid open and another henchman in Chaos armor rolled in a table displaying four glittering pieces of mithril, and a large, zweihander sword. The edges of the blade glittered likewise.
Ladon laughed. "I always thought of these things as a myth. Even after those strange events with the floating war factory, robot army, and whatnot years ago, I still had no belief that these were related. But if they're as powerful as I have heard, extracting Rei's power should be simple."
"By using the Gems, one of two things could happen if she is exposed to those things. Either she will die during your little process, or she will become powerful enough to destroy the planet." Ray grumbled.
"I'm perfectly aware that she will likely not survive the extraction process. But I care little to none. As for your second theory, I don't believe I understand where you're coming from. Again, I really don't care."
Ray's lips lifted into a sinister smile. "Then bring them over here, and I'll show you. I 'dare' you."
Yet another one of Ladon's armor-clad men rushed in. Ladon looked at him after being relayed information.
"Is it really that hard to apprehend a teenage girl?" He snarled. "Where is my bounty hunter?"
"Nowhere to be found, sir. We have not heard back from him. And one of her guards are with her."
"Then send my heavy after her. I don't care if he just got back, I want her captured NOW!"
"Damn! Another empty room. All I see are monitors with random alien genetic stuff."
"They're in this place somewhere, Rei. I know your tired of running through Ladon's men just to find empty rooms, but we'll find them eventually."
"It would save a whole lot of time if we at least had means to locate them…wait a minute. Jace? Can you hear me?"
Static played through the radio, but Rei could make out his voice.
"A bit fuzzy, but I should be able to manage. How is your condition? Do I need to come get you?"
"I'm fine, and that won't be necessary. But I have a question. I'm staring at some monitors and I believe they might be able to tell me at least where Mom and Dad are, but I don't know how to do that."
"Let me hack into your visor and I'll take a look…hmm…Magnum tech? Child's play. Ok, first…"
Jace ran through instructions with Rei, and after a few moments, some security cameras came into view.
"…There. Flip through those and see if you can locate them."
Rei obeyed. She almost gave up until she found what she was looking for. She zoomed in a little, pulling both Ray and Ashe in clear view. They were bound beside each other.
"It's them. There's an 'O-8' displayed in the corner."
"Go to the floor layout screen, then search 'O-8'. It might be the room that they're held in."
"Got it. I should be able to remember from here."
"Good. I'm backing out for now, good luck."
Rei ran out of the room with Keena following. They turned a corner, only to come face-to-face with a large man carrying a DD2C Whirlwind. He had a lack of hair, and spoke with a Russian accent. There was another man in a doctor's coat holding a tubular-like weapon. The large man held his weapon up and spoke.
"I am Heavy Weapons Guy, and this is my new weapon! All of you are dead!"
Keena grabbed Rei and pulled her into a random room as soon as the minigun began to fire. The room was spacious with a few pillars, and some conveyer belts moving test tubes and other chemical containers. They took cover and prepared themselves for combat right as the man walked in.
"Entire team is babies!" He yelled. "What sick man sends babies to fight me?"
His minigun started to go off again, spraying bullets everywhere. Rei and Keena were safe behind cover, but he was slowly advancing, and as long as he kept firing they were stuck.
"New gun is unfair to tiny baby enemies."
Keena slid down and exposed her relaxed hand. She let her dagger slip out of her hand. Rei wasn't quite sure what she was planning at first, but the bullet storm stopped.
"Pow! Haha! You are dead, not big surprise."
Rei immediately realized she was feigning death. Footsteps were approaching. Rei tried her best to keep her breathing low. She had to bite her tongue when the minigun's barrel came into view. At that same moment Keena was on her feet prying the weapon from his hands, and putting him sliding on his back with a well-placed kick.
"How do you…? Where's the trigger thingy? Ugh!" Keena couldn't figure the weapon out, and instead bent the barrel over her knee before tossing it aside.
"Stupid, stupid, stupid!" The heavy cried. "Docta!"
Rei was not only shocked by the sudden maneuver, but also by how easily she bent gunmetal.
"Keena, how did you…?"
"Not now, Rei. I'll take of him, you keep going!"
Rei didn't argue and ran toward the door. The other man in the doctor's coat stepped in right as she got there.
"Vhat is happening?! Ooof!"
Rei plowed into him with a shoulder charge. She sprinted down the hall, narrowly being missed by a large syringe flying over her right shoulder.
"Thanks, guys." She whispered to to herself. "I hope you'll be alright. Now let's get Mom and Dad."
Ladon was pacing back and forth with his arms folded. Other than a helmet he was clad in an armor. Corrosion, he called it. Ray kept chuckling.
"You know, I'm not sure this ended up going however you planned it. Ever considered the possibility of failure?"
Ashe kicked him with the side of her foot. "Can you please be quiet. I think you're annoying me more."
Ladon's expression tensed. He stopped and looked at him.
"Stop your teasing. I never fail. You'll see. I'm surprised that possible success isn't compelling you to shut up!"
Ray snickered. "Does it, Ladon? Do I look compelled, Ladon? Let me tell you, it's not very compelling."
Ladon growled. "I've had enough of you!" He approached Ray with a jab to the face.
"Thank you sir, may I have another?"
"Very well!" Ladon said as he pulled a knife from underneath his armor, immediately sticking it into Ray's right obliques.
"Oof! I was just kidding…" he gurgled, nearly passing out.
"Stop! Stop! STOP!" Ashe cried. She tried her hardest to kick at him, succeeding in kicking the knife from Ladon's hand as he withdrew it. Ladon face was red with anger. He pointed toward two of his associates in the room.
"You, get me the iron. And you secure her legs."
He stepped in front of Ashe as his associate rolled what looked to be a small furnace beside him. The other had already gotten a few kicks to the head trying to shackle her feet.
"While he's almost completely unconscious and bleeding out, I'll have some fun with you." Ladon nodded and one of his men ripped her tattered shirt back. Ladon grabbed a black rod from the furnace. The end had a "C" shape to it, and was glowing with a deep orange light. A branding iron.
"Hopefully you won't feel this. Actually, I hope it hurts. A lot." He applied the brand to her bare skin. Ashe screamed in response. The new mark on her midriff began to shrink and fade, not even leaving a scar.
"You're quite the powerful healer. I honestly was not anticipating that. But that just makes this more fun for me." He reapplied the brand again. The pain was so great that Ashe couldn't hold back her tears. Like the first one, the new brand went away within moments.
"You're going to run out of stamina eventually. I'll just wait until then." He said, applying the iron a third time. Ashe again screamed and her burnt flesh regenerated itself into new tissue. She was panting heavily.
"I can do this all day!" He went to apply the branding iron yet again, but a force struck his back and exploded, causing him to drop the iron.
"That's quite enough! I'm ending your act here."
Ladon turned to see a young armor-clad female holding a glowing blue bow. He knew exactly who she was.
"Ah, you must be Rei. I've been expecting you for some time."
Rei's expression was stern underneath her helmet. "You're Ladon, correct? I believe you know why I'm here. Why don't we skip the acquaintance-making, and give me what I want."
"Quite impatient. Did you truly believe you could just walk in here and that I would comply to your wishes? I don't suppose you know, but I'm also wanting something from you."
"I know all about your scheme. You took my parents hostage when I got away, so that you could try to manipulate me. Well all of your attempts to capture me too have failed."
"As a child you truly are ignorant. While I did try to have you apprehended as soon as possible, some of it was pure deception. Your parents are what baited you here, was it not? I knew you'd show up eventually."
"Whether you were purposefully trying to lure me here or not, I was coming for you regardless. I intend to bring an end to you and take back what you took from me!" She drew her bow at full draw, with an arrow gleaming brightly.
Ladon raised his hand. "Let's not be hasty. You and I aren't as different as you think. And remember, their lives are on the line."
"I am nothing like you! All you do is steal and cause other people misery!"
"Heh. And you find yourself innocent? I've been following your actions. You've got quite a bounty on your head right now. The misfortune you've brought to the places you've been, or the lives you may have taken, however few, just to reach your own goal. Those people had families, too. But it's all about you, isn't it? No one else matters, right?"
"I…I…" Rei tried to find the words to say, but she had nothing. In the back of her mind she knew he was right. She only remembered killing two people. But everywhere she went was met with disaster. How many people had died or lost their homes to the alien attack on Rashid? What of Titansburg when Hunter pursued? All of those places had befallen with suffering, only because of her. Had she not been to any of them, casualties would have been almost non-existent.
"I can see it though your helmet. You can understand the truth in my words. I know you'd love to kill me personally, but you can't bring yourself to. You would hate to see your dear mother and father witness the stone-cold destroyer you've turned into."
Rei released her draw. 'Stone-cold destroyer' continued to ring in her head. She thought back to Bard's tale about her father's dark past, and then back to the Black Knight, the Demon Commander, in the Howling Woodlands. Was she truly reliving her father's forsaken legacy?
"I'll make you a deal then. I know you've been wanting me. I know that's what this has been all about. If I surrender myself, then I want you to free them. Got it?"
"Rei…no…!" Ashe groaned from behind.
"I can accept your terms." Ladon said with a light grin. "I'm glad to have your cooperation."
Rei put away her weapon. She removed the HYD-00-IX from her back and dropped it in front of her. She then removed her armor. Ladon waved and one of his associated bound her arms behind her back. He turned to his other henchman.
"Dispose of them as you wish. And make it quick, I don't need him bleeding all over the place."
"We had an agreement! Let them go!"
"Quiet, child. I don't need them speaking about us to authorities. It's just business. Get over it."
"LADON! I'LL FUCKING KILL YOU!" Rei fought against her restrains, but to no avail. She was pulled from the room with Ladon following. The pressure doors closed behind him.
Ladon's Chaos-clad associate faced Ashe with a AUNC-2 Dawn. He loaded the weapon and raised the weapon toward her. He hesitated when the room rumbled heavily.
"Damned explosions. What kind of bombs are they dropping on us?"
The left wall immediately blew apart. Cerberlisk broke it down and charged the Chaos-armored man, who screamed as one of its heads bit down on him. The beast turned toward Ashe and a near-unconscious Ray. Ashe was almost in shock.
Cerberlisk sat on its hunches obediently.
Ashe was confused. She was relieved to see a familiar face descend from the creatures back.
"I heard someone needed rescuing?" He spoke, approaching her.
"Canis! You've no idea how glad I am to see you right now!"
"I'm sure. Brace yourself!"
Canis pulled a small object that extended into a bō staff. He swung, with blue fire extending from the tip. He cut through the chains binding her legs, and then her hands. He broke the shackles with his hands. Ashe tried to stand up, but nearly lost her balance.
"I can only imagine you haven't been walking for a while. Take your time."
"There isn't any time left! Help me up to him, please."
Canis helped her up, supporting her while she closed the gash in Ray's side. Having lost a lot of blood, he groaned weakly. Canis set Ashe back down long enough to free Ray. She crawled beside him and began to pat the side of his face.
"Ray? Ray! I need you to stay with me."
Ray slowly came to, but his vision was a bit hazy. He blinked a few times.
"Where…? Why am I on the ground? Ashe? Honey, is that you?"
"Yes, I'm here. Listen to me."
She helped him sit up. He began to focus a little.
"Canis? That you? Am I just in some kind of dream? Please tell me this isn't really happening and it's all just a dream."
Canis shook his head. "No. It's real. You've been bleeding quite profusely, how do you feel?"
"Like a piece of shit."
Canis helped him to his feet. Ray staggered a bit but held his ground. He then helped Ashe, but she needed continuous support.
"I've had to do a lot of healing between the two of us, so I'm pretty bummed out. Ladon has Rei, but I don't know where he took her."
"He's got Rei?" Ray turned around. "I can't waste more time. I'm going after her. I'll make sure Ladon gets what's coming to him!"
Newfound energy surged though him. He turned to Canis.
"I'm going to get my daughter back. Can I ask you to get Ashe out of here safely?"
"Don't worry, I will handle it. Your daughter needs you now more than ever, Ray. Go."
Ray ran for the HYD-00-IX laying on the ground, completely ignoring the Cerberlisk. He only stopped when Ashe called out to him.
"Kick his ass, Ray."