If you haven't read all of Part 2, please READ IT before you read Part Three.
If you haven't even read all of Part 1...what the hell are you doing here?! You're gonna spoil the story! Finish reading parts 1 and 2, then you can read this!
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The Darkstar Knight Lives
“Are you saying that...that Darkstar is alive?!” Shitekijo glared at Nadell and the other brigands and shouted, “You idiots said that was Darkstar!” Nadell stammered, “B-but it-it was! I-I mean, it looked...exactly like him!” The bowman said, “Do not be upset with them, Miss Shitekijo...as he said, the body did mimic Darkstar's with incredible detail. However, we have uncovered some disturbing evidence which seems to suggest that was not really the body of Darkstar.” Shitekijo looked back to him and said, “Talk. What is this evidence?” The hunters all sat down, Shitekijo returned to her seat and the bowman said, “I started to become suspicious of them on the night of Darkstar and Joel's return. They immediately set up a private dinner party...not too out of the ordinary, considering how long Joel had been gone; he would want some alone time with his family. But what struck me as odd about it was the people involved; it wasn't just Darkstar, Joel and their family...Lydia and her parents, I could understand ...but it also included Tensai's former apprentices, Virgil (the elder of Valhar), Captain Dilan (cousin of Ghilad, the only one killed in Tensai's last attack), Ghilad's parents and “one empty seat”.” Shitekijo said with a puzzled expression, “One empty seat?” The bowman nodded and continued, “I still don't get exactly what that was about, but what stuck with me was that Darkstar invited Dilan and Ghilad's parents...but not the rest of Ghilad's family. It was like he felt a need to involve them for some reason, but didn't want to involve anyone more than he had to. He'd only planned on inviting Ghilad's parents; it was Lydia who persuaded him to invite Dilan as well. Darkstar threatened anyone who attempted to eavesdrop on their private party, but this lug-head here,” He pointed at the obnoxious hunter, who grinned and gave a laugh, then continued, “tried to, anyway. He couldn't hear anything, which meant that Darkstar was somehow using his Unleashing to prevent any sound from getting out. They were in there for a long time, your guess is as good as mine what they spoke of, but when they came out...all of them looked dead serious. I'd even go so far as to say tears were shed and stomachs emptied based on the way they looked. When we tried to ask what it was about, Darkstar repeated that it would remain a secret; that they'd taken oaths and anyone who tried to force the information from them would regret it. Darkstar was a good man, and that's a fact...but ever since what happened between him and Tensai, he has changed. Some of it can be excused, considering what Tensai put him through, but...I couldn't help but feel there's something even darker there... something...evil.” He sat there, thinking for a moment, then gave a start and continued, “But back to it, that night after their party they gathered in Darkstar's room for a little while. Everyone left eventually... everyone, that is, except Lydia. They were an item, but not married or engaged to be married...and yet her parents left her, knowing she would be alone with Darkstar! But before you jump to conclusions about what they were doing, listen to this: some of the people I talked to who were outside said the window of his room was open for a while, then closed. Some of them even thought they felt gusts of wind after it was first opened, then again shortly before it was closed. Gusts of wing...but no visible cause.” Shitekijo thought for a moment, then gaped and said, “Like a Chameleos!!!” The bowman said, “Yes, exactly! I think Darkstar didn't just stop by his place in Banruun to pick up a new weapon and armor set. I think he also brought some Chameleos parts to Unleash, so he could make himself invisible and come and go from his room without being seen! After the window was closed, the others saw...and I saw...a pale light coming from his room. It was not natural light; I think he was Unleashing something.” Shitekijo asked, “And do you have any idea what it was he was Unleashing?” The bowman said, “I'll get to that, be patient! So the next day, rumors of what happened to your brigand friends reached us, as well as King Atillart's statement that it was a false rumor. Additionally, as I'm sure you know, Darkstar was summoned for audience with King Atillart. Again, my suspicions rose. How could King Atillart know whether or not this was a false rumor? After all, Darkstar was in that area at the time in question...and he did have Tensai's body, a Dark Tigrex body, with him. What the King had to say to Darkstar is unknown, but he comes back knighted a King's Knight; so, even if the rumors were true, he would have immunity! That's when I started to realize the seriousness of the situation. He made his party private so he could tell them about what he did, which would explain why they all looked ill when they came out. He made them swear to secrecy, but he may well have threatened them if they tried to rat on him...I don't know. But that still didn't explain why he involved Dilan and Ghilad's parents, so I continued to dig. I had a little chat with the man who delivered the summons to Darkstar, and he was reluctant to talk...but I was able to bring him around. The messenger said that Darkstar asked when the escort would be arriving, and when he asked how Darkstar knew about the escort, he seemed to think the summons was an arrest warrant. So when the messenger asked “What arrest warrant?” Darkstar said, and I quote, “What do you mean, “What arrest warrant?” What about the brigands?!” Darkstar tried to deny it afterwards, told the man not to jump to conclusions, but when he told me that...that's when I knew the rumors must be true.” Shitekijo said, “You're damned right it's true! Finally, someone who doesn't think I'm lying just to get attention!” The bowman continued, “So, Darkstar returns a King's Knight, and he meets his group in Silver Shan's common room. Joel says to him, “You must've made quite the impression on King Atillart!”, and Darkstar replies, “I suppose I did. He was very understanding, both him and the High Council.” To that Joel says, “Good. Then we have their support?” And Darkstar nods and says, “More so than I imagined possible. We should discuss the details in private, though.”” Kurt said, “I knew it! Darkstar must've threatened King Atillart!” The bowman said, “Possibly, or it could be that they were already covertly allied, or it could even be Tensai's doing...I still don't know the full truth of it. But anyways, they went up to Darkstar's room for another private talk, came down about half an hour later, and what's the first thing they do? They begin the upgrade of the Neptune Slasher, which according to you was the weapon used to kill your brother.” Shitekijo scoffed and said, “Figures they would alter the evidence as soon as possible.” The bowman said, “After the upgrade was done, and I'm sure you've heard this already, Darkstar went up for his “practice break”...not with his Auroros Shiroi Z, not even with his Ceanataur ZX...but with Diablo X and the Scythe of Diablos, a set that he's hardly ever used! And on top of that, it was ungemmed!” Shitekijo said, “A set he didn't have a strong attachment to, and no jewels wasted. A perfect sacrifice if you want people to think you were killed in a training accident.” The bowman said, “Exactly! So Joel tells him he needs to be careful with it, and Darkstar blows off his father's advice. It was all an act! They tried to be nonchalant, but they were tense like they knew something bad was about to happen.” Shitekijo said, “They did know! Darkstar must've told them he planned on faking his death!” The bowman nodded and said, “Naturally, he would tell them. He knew how hard it was when his father faked death, and they didn't know...he obviously didn't want to put them through it again. I'll give them credit for the acting they did after the explosion and Darkstar's “body” was brought down...that part was very convincing...but by then, I could see right through it. And after further investigating, I was able to figure out how they did it. Joel used unrecognizable remains with the same blood type, which Darkstar told us, so Darkstar knew his “death” would need to be much more convincing to fool everyone...hence an intact body that looked just like him. Not just that, but a body that was still fresh.” Shitekijo gasped and exclaimed, “Ghilad!” The bowman nodded and said, “Ghilad...his physical appearance was different, but his blood type was the same as Darkstar's. It explains why he involved Dilan and Ghilad's parents in his private talks; bad as the things he's done may be, Darkstar must've felt it would be wrong to use Ghilad's body without at least getting his parents' permission. As for how much was given and how much was coerced, I don't know. But at some point that night Darkstar snuck out, invisible by Unleashing Chameleos parts, dug up Ghilad's body and brought it back to his room...where he altered the body with Unleashing until it matched his appearance as closely as possible.” Shitekijo gaped at him for a moment before she asked, “You are certain of this?” The bowman nodded and said, “We exhumed Ghilad's grave early this morning. The body was gone.” Shitekijo exhaled sharply, then said after a moment, “So, he really is still alive. Do you know where he is?” The bowman said, “Not exactly, but I have a good idea. After you left, Joel announced that he, his family, Lydia and her parents were leaving Valhar. Darkstar's belongings arrived less than an hour ago; by now, their transports are heading south. Joel wouldn't say where exactly they were going, but if we follow them...” Shitekijo stood up and said, “There's a good chance they'll lead us to Darkstar!” She turned to look at the brigands and said, “Pack your things, and be quick about it! We're heading south, as fast as my transport can take us!” As the brigands hurriedly gathered their things, she looked back to the bowman and said, “Thank you for letting me know this, it means a lot to me. How can I repay you?” The hunters got up, and the bowman said, “All we ask is that you let us come with you. Valhar's pretty boring most of the time, anyways, and before all the commotion with One -Eye started we were planning on leaving. It'll be boring again, now that Darkstar and his group are gone...and besides that, we want to know what exactly he's up to. I'm sure you will agree, there must be more to this than simply avoiding jail-time; his King's Knight badge would've taken care of that.” Shitekijo nodded in agreement, and she said uneasily, “Whatever it is, it must be very serious...for him to so elaborately fake his own death.” The bowman replied, “I'm sure it is...because when I shared my findings in private with Virgil, our village elder...he pinned me up against the wall! He told me I'd better not tell anyone, he said, “This is bigger than you can possibly fathom! I cannot say how, but I tell you...do not attempt to find Darkstar! If you find him, if you learn the truth, you'll come to regret it!” Then he told us to leave, so we can't really go back to Valhar, anyways. But that just makes me want to track down Darkstar even more, and find out what the hell is going on!” Shitekijo said, “I hear that. I am interested to know what's going on, but what interests me even more...” she clenched her fists, then continued, “Is paying Darkstar back for what he did to my little brother!” The bowman said, “Were you anyone else, I would laugh at that...but I've heard rumors about you, Shitekijo Hebifukai. Is it true that you've been training yourself to Unleash?” She chuckled and said, “I have. It is difficult, but I know in time I will unlock that power! When I do...when I find where Darkstar is hiding...woe to him, for I will inflict upon him 10 times the pain he gave my brother and his subordinates! No, 100 times!!!” The bowman said, “Just be careful that you don't go too far; even if you match Darkstar's power in Unleashing, he's had more experience... and he's a force to be reckoned with when he's angry. I strongly advise against harming his little brother, or anyone else he cares about.” Shitekijo said, “Oh, I'll be careful...and I have no reason to take it out on Darkstar's family; just him. So he's a force to be reckoned with when angry? Well, so am I!” Kurt returned a moment later and said, “We're ready to go, Shitekijo.” She picked up her bags, looked at the hunters from Valhar and said, “My transport is full; you are welcome to join us, but you'll need to get your own transport.” The bowman pointed towards a cluster of trees and said, “Our transport is back there. We are good to go.” Shitekijo smiled and said, “Then lead the way, and we'll be right behind you!” And so they boarded their transports and headed south past Valhar; the hunt to find Darkstar had begun!
The Devil of Rekusara
Miles south of Valhar, the hunters stopped their transport at a fork in the road. The other transport, driven by Shitekijo, came to a stop behind them. She jumped out and stepped up to stand beside the bowman, and they looked at the paths before them. Joel had taken care to erase his path by Unleashing wind, so it was uncertain which way they had gone. The bowman said as he looked down the southeast path, “Well, I think we can rule out Jio Wandoreo. Joel, a.k.a. Saizen spent some time there as I recall, so he wouldn't risk returning and being recognized.” Shitekijo nodded in agreement, and the bowman added, “He said they would be headed south, but that doesn't mean he planned on keeping south all the way to Jumbo. That leaves...” Shitekijo said, “Rekusara.” She walked over to the turn-off, crouched down and began carefully examining the dust road. The bowman asked, “Need help?” Shitekijo said, “No.” So he stood there and watched, and the hunters and brigands also watched from their transports. After a few minutes, Shitekijo stood up, walked back to the bowman and said, “Rekusara... that's definitely where they're headed.” He asked, “How could you tell?” and she replied, “Saizen did a good job at covering his tracks, but if you feel beneath the surface you can find indentations which result from the weight of transports. Additionally, it was still slightly warm...meaning they were here an hour ago, more or less.” The bow -man said, “Good. We'll keep moving, but we need to be careful; if Joel realizes we're following him, he may work harder to hide his path. For all we know, he could use Unleashing to give his transports flight and invisibility!” To that Shitekijo replied, “Well, I doubt that, but I agree it would be best if he doesn't realize we are following him. Now, let's go.” They returned to their transports, then continued on southwest for Rekusara.
Meanwhile, Joel's group of transports maintained their lead, and they kept moving until the next day. They were forced to stop and refuel near the intersection of the Southwest Rekusara Road and the North Riveru Road. Zan and two other apprentices went to get fuel for the transports (if Joel had gone, he could've been recognized), and when they returned they filled up and immediately began moving again. Zan had made sure to get extra fuel, so they could continue riding longer. Finally, after another 25 hours of non -stop riding, they arrived in Rekusara. Ideally, they would've simply refueled and kept on going, but they were getting road-sick and needed a break. Zan took care of buying their rooms, and after securing the transports in a parking garage the others went inside... disguised with cloaks. They used the side door so as not to attract unwanted attention, but the few people they passed on the stairs and in the hall gave them strange looks. So they went to their rooms and stayed inside for most of the day, occasionally visiting each other. In one room, Jiva sat on the floor with her legs crossed, and in front of her...sat a man who the world thought was dead. Darkstar also had his legs crossed, and his eyes were closed as he focused. On the right bed sat his mother and father, and on the left sat Joey and Lydia. Jiva asked, “Are you ready?” Darkstar said, “Do it.” Jiva reached out, and with one quick swipe she scratched his left forearm. Darkstar wasn't wearing any armor, so it broke the skin and quickly began to bleed. Jiva said, “Now, change your breathing, as before...let that rhythm become your natural breathing pattern. Relax yourself as much as possible.” Jiva had spent much of the past three days teaching Darkstar healing. Additionally, some time was spent on energy recycling (the technique Jiva had used to maintain her sound shields), the creation of sound shields, and how to become invisible. Darkstar managed the basics with Unleashing, but now he was training without any equipment to assist him. That made it much more difficult, but Joel had told Darkstar it would prepare him for the coming training. Jiva continued, “Once you've done that, focus on the cut...nothing else. Multitasking will come later, when you're experienced enough, but for now you must let nothing else distract you. Cellular regeneration is an autonomic response in humans, slow and inefficient when compared to the recuperative powers of most hybrids. But if you can learn to take control and focus all your energy on it, with time and practice...you should be able to heal damage just as well.” Darkstar kept his eyes closed and focused, and Jiva and the others went quiet. After a moment, the cut stopped bleeding. Jiva said, “Good, now don't stop; keep going.” Darkstar continued to concentrate on healing the cut. At a nearly imperceptible rate, the cut began to close in on itself. Eight minutes went by, before Jiva said, “Alright, open your eyes.” Darkstar looked at his forearm, and after wiping away the blood he gasped; the cut was gone, and there was barely a mark left! He smiled and said, “I did it! But man, that was tough! Without Unleashing, it takes way too long! At that rate, it could take a whole day to heal a more serious injury!” Jiva said, “In fact, a serious injury would be easier to heal, as long as it wasn't too serious...because you would be more determined to heal it. Still, it will take time before you can easily heal without Unleashing to assist you. But when you do reach that point, Unleashing will give you an even greater capacity for healing. You may even be able to heal decapitation! At least...under the right circumstances.” Lydia and Rebecca gaped, and Joey asked, “What's decapa...whatever? What does that mean?” Joel said, “It means to have one's head cut off. As for healing it, I find that doubtful. Let's hope we never have to find out whether or not it's possible.” Joey also gaped, and Darkstar asked, “The “right circumstances”? What do you mean by that, Jiva?” Jiva said, “Well, to work, the head must be reattached quickly... no more than ten seconds, ideally, but any longer than a minute or two...” Darkstar said, “Ten seconds?! Yeah, right!!!” Jiva said, “Additionally, you would need someone else to position your head for healing, since you wouldn't be able to do it yourself. Accuracy is also essential; all the arteries, nerves, the spine, etc. must line up well, or it won't work. Finally, whether or not healing is possible depends on the cut. The sharper and cleaner the cut, the better the chance for healing. But if the cut is uneven and done with a blunt cutting tool, recovery is impossible.” Darkstar gaped at Jiva for a moment before he said, “Well, then...let's not practice healing that.” Jiva laughed and said, “Of course not! Even the best healers among hybrids struggle with healing decapitation, and oftentimes can do it only once.” Darkstar asked, “Why only once?” and Jiva replied, “No matter how good you are at healing severed limbs, you can't be 100% accurate. There are always issues with alignment, whether it's off by a few micrometers or a few hundred nanometers. The record for healing decapitation among hybrids is 3 times, and that went to a high-level Khezu/Chameleos Daken. But by the third time, his alignment was so far off that he was bedridden for the rest of his life!” Darkstar said, “Wow...definitely no practicing that! But how could I heal decapitation without any practice, even if I had help?” Jiva said, “Even in the best of circumstances, you either can...or you can't. The only way to know for sure is to loose your head, and like Joel said...hopefully you'll never have to find out. All you can do to prepare is become skilled at healing other injuries, and hope it's good enough.” Darkstar laughed and said, “Well, that's not very encouraging! By the way, that reminds me of the day we met. Can you heal decapitation, Jiva?” Jiva said, “I've never had to, and that's why I didn't risk it...the day we met. The closest I've ever come was a deep gash to the jugular. That wasn't fun.” Darkstar said, “Sure doesn't sound fun. Who did it to you?” Jiva frowned and said, “Who do you think?” Darkstar thought for a moment, then said, “Hanya?” Jiva nodded and said, “Uh-huh!” Joey asked, “Who's “Hanya”?” Jiva sighed, and Darkstar looked over his shoulder at Joey and said, “She's a bad Chameleos hybrid, one who's hurt Jiva repeatedly for a long time. I doubt Jiva wants to talk about it, so let's change the subject.” Joey said, “Oh...I'm sorry, Jiva.” She nodded and said, “It's okay, you had no way of knowing.” Jiva looked towards the door a moment later and said, “I think someone's outside.” She'd put up another sound shield, so they hadn't heard the knocking. Jiva opened the shield around the door and cloaked herself, and Lydia went to answer the door. When she opened it, Victor and Drago came inside. Lydia closed the door, and Jiva re-established the shield and uncloaked. Victor and Drago both said, “Hi, Jiva!” She smiled and said, “Hey there! How's it going?” Victor looked up at Joel and said, “We're bored, and hungry! Can we go down to the common room and get some lunch?” Joel said, “I suppose so. But Max should go with you, to be safe.” They nodded, and Drago said, “Dad said he would already.” Joey asked, “Can I go? I'm also hungry, and I'm tired of eating rations!” Joel turned to look at his son and said, “Go ahead, Joey. I doubt anyone will recognize you. The rest of us, however, must remain in our rooms as much as possible.” Joel reached into his bag, then pulled out some money, gave it to Joey and said, “But if you could bring us some lunch, I'd appreciate it. I think we're all tired of rations.” Joey smiled and said, “Thanks, dad! I'll get something good!” Jiva cloaked and reopened the shield, and the boys left. When the door closed, she brought the shield back up and appeared again. Darkstar asked, “So, Jiva...what now?” Jiva said, “Now...we'll see if you can heal two cuts.”
Downstairs in the common room, Joey, Max, Victor and Drago went to the farthest booth and sat. A waitress came over before too long, and they ordered lunch for themselves as well as some food to go. The waitress left once she had their order down, and as they sat there waiting they talked quietly...oblivious to the man watching them from the other end of the room. He turned back around before they noticed, but one of the men sitting next to him at the bar asked, “You know them?” The tall man with short, blond hair replied, “I thought I recognized one of them, but now I'm not so sure. How about you? Anyone you know?” The man asked, “Who's asking?” The blond man replied, “Mr. Nobody.” At that the other man laughed and said, “Alright, “Mr. Nobody”...seems you're not the only one who favors anonymity. No, I don't know them or their group. I passed them on the stairs when they arrived a few hours ago, and most of them were well cloaked.” “How many in all?” The man replied, “Well, let's see...there were at least 20 of em'...21, 22...yeah, that's it; about 22.” Mr. Nobody asked, “You're sure it was 22?” The other man replied, “Yeah, I'm sure...22.” The blond man said to himself, “Strange...there should only be 20. One I could understand, but two extras? Who could the other be?” The man said, “So, you do know them, eh? Anonymous travelers aren't unheard of, but such a large group...with 3 transports, two carrying a heavy-duty safe and loads of luggage; lot of people are curious. Do you know who they are?” The blond man said, “Perhaps.” The other man said, “Well, out with it, who are they?!” Mr. Nobody said as he stood up, “I think it would be best if I didn't say...but you look like an intelligent man; I'm sure you can figure it out yourself. If you do, be sure that you keep it to your self, as well.” The blond man left, and the bar-maid stepped up and asked, “Sir, your drink?” The other man said, “He's leaving. I'll take that, thanks.” Max caught a glimpse of the blond man as he went outside, but didn't see his face. If he had, he would've realized it was the bowman from Valhar. The bowman went to the inn across the street, The Thirsty Cephalos, and entered the common room. He went to a large table where Shitekijo, the brigands and the other hunters from Valhar waited, and took his seat. Shitekijo asked, “Well?” and the bowman said, “As I thought, they're staying at the Royal Daimyo Inn. I saw Max and his boys, as well as Joey. A man at the bar confirmed that they're all there, in addition to 2 extras.” Shitekijo asked, “Two, huh? Well, I think I can guess who one of them is...” She clenched her fists, then asked, “Any idea who the other might be?” The bowman said, “It must be someone Joel knows. Who exactly that is, I haven't a clue.” Shitekijo said, “We'll find out in time, but for now it doesn't really matter. However, we need to keep a constant watch over the place...in case they decide to leave early.” Shitekijo looked at one of the brigands and said, “Go up to your room and keep watch; someone will come take your place in two hours.” The man nodded, got up and left. The obnoxious hunter grinned at Shitekijo from across the table and said, “I'm surprised you haven't gone over there and given Dar...” The bowman covered his friend's mouth again and whispered, “Don't use that name, you loud-mouthed fool!” Shitekijo raised an eye- brow, and the obnoxious man cleared his throat and said in a softer voice, “That is to say, I'm surprised you've not gone over and given you-know-who a piece of your mind.” Shitekijo chuckled and said, “Well, unlike you, I like to think first and act later. Though I hate to admit it, I'm not yet strong enough to win a fight against him. I need more practice with the sensing technique, and even once I can...” Shitekijo whispered, “Unleash,” then continued in her normal voice, “...I'll need practice with that, as well as a place where I can do so without attracting unwanted attention.” The bowman said, “If Joel and his group keep going the way they have been, their next stop will be Nanseika. So, if you can manage to Unleash while we cross the Sekumea Desert, you'll have all the privacy you need to practice your techniques.” Shitekijo sighed and said, “The problem is time; if we stop for too long, we could loose track of them.” He replied, “Don't worry about that, Shitekijo. I have a few friends who live in Nanseika; they can tell us which way Joel's group heads from there.” The hunter with the switch-axe said, “They could be headed to my old home, Moga. I wouldn't mind stopping by there again; it's been a long time.” The bowman said, “I doubt that's where they're going, especially from Nanseika. They could reach it from the port here in Rekusara, but if that was their destination I think they would've gone from Jumbo instead. Joel masked his trail, but so far there's been no attempt at misdirection.” The switch-axe hunter said, “Well, if he does keep going the way he's been, I know what their final destination is.” They all looked at him, and the bowman asked, “What? Where are they headed?” The man took a long drink and set down his mug, then looked up at him and said, “Araishima.” They looked at each other for a moment, and the obnoxious hunter asked, “Araishima? Where the bloody hell is that?!” The bowman said, “I've never heard of it,” and Shitekijo said, “Nor have I.”
So the switch-axe hunter said, “That's not surprising, considering that it was only recently discovered and is far out of the way of normal shipping paths. It's a large island located approximately 1,060 nautical miles southwest of Nanseika, and was discovered last year by a group of explorers from Moga.” The bowman said, “Joel did say they were headed away from civilization...this Araishima sounds like the ideal place. So, it's a large island? Is it as big as Aya?” The switch-axe user said, “No, according to the explorers it's about 10,000 square miles...only a fraction the size of Aya, but still big enough. They explored all of the island's coasts, but weren't able to make it very far inland due to some minor setbacks.” The obnoxious hunter asked, “Minor setbacks?” and the other man nodded and said, “They were low on supplies because they'd been out mapping the island for so long, and aside from a few sandy beaches...the island is bordered by sheer cliffs with few safe passages to the inside. One of them got a peak, but he had to scale a near-vertical 5,000 foot cliff-side to do it. Apparently he had several close calls, so the others weren't willing to try it.” Shitekijo asked, “What did he see? What kind of land is beyond the cliffs?” The switch-axe hunter said, “He saw a vast jungle with hills and plateaus, scattered grassy plains, rivers, distant snow-capped mountains and a beautiful blue lake. He said one of the furthest mountains he saw appeared to be volcanic, and he could barely make out a desert with scattered rocky outcrops at its base.” Shitekijo said, “That's where Joel and the others are going...it has to be! All those different environments bundled together on one big island, and bordered by barely passable cliffs...isolating it from civilization! It's the perfect hiding place!” The bowman said, “I agree it's a likely candidate...though they may still head off in another direction. If we do loose track of them, it's certainly a good place to start searching. For now, all we can do is wait...and when they do move again, follow from a distance.” Shitekijo said, “Well, you guys can sit around waiting. As for me, I'm going up to my room to practice the sensing technique.” She stood up and added, “Don't forget to send someone up every two hours for shift changes.” Then she left. The hunters and the brigands sat there, looking at each other for a time, until finally the obnoxious hunter said, “Well, this is bloody boring! I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm gonna go down to the Guild Hall and see if there's any good local missions up!” Kurt said, “Hey, don't look at us...we're not hunters!” Nadell said, “I...uh...would you mind if...if I joined you?” They all turned to look at him, and the obnoxious man said, “Well, yes, actually...in your case, I would very much mind! I've no wish for a man on my team who's liable to stab me in the bleedin' back!” Nadell said, “Please, mister...uh...” The obnoxious man said, “Call me Baeddan.” Nadell said, “Please, mister Baeddan...just give me a chance! I only did what I did because you-know -who threatened to kill me if I didn't! I'll be good, I swear!” The obnoxious man, named Baeddan, looked at Kurt when he said, “It's true, he's a good guy...he was thankful that we stopped him, in spite of how terrified he was of...you-know-who...coming back and killing him. It was the first time he ever did anything like that. If we can forgive him for what he did in that situation, you should be able to. Give the guy a chance.” Baeddan sighed and crossed his arms, and he looked Nadell in the eye for a moment before he said, “Alright, alright, you can come!” Nadell smiled and said, “Thank you so much! I won't disappoint you!” “That remains to be seen,” said Baeddan, “Considering this will be your first hunt. I was hoping to go on a higher-level mission, but if you're tagging along... we'll have to do a HR 1 One Star quest. The Guild won't let anyone start at a higher level. Your usual gear won't cut it for what I have in mind, if it's available, so you'll have to use one of our spare weapon and armor sets. Which would you prefer, a bow or a blade? Or a hammer?” Nadell said, “A blade.” and Baeddan said, “Now, what kind of blade? Greatsword, switch-axe, longsword, or dual sword?” Nadell thought for a moment before he started to say “longsword”, but one of the other hunters interrupted, “Actually, Baeddan...I only brought one longsword with me. So...” Baeddan looked at him and asked, “Did you think we were going on a bloody daytrip?! You don't have to bring all your weapons, but always bring at least two back-ups! And they call me a fool!” He sighed, looked back at Nadell and said, “Probably just as well...when it comes to longsword, you'll never be able to match Da...you-know -who ...and I have a feeling it isn't really your style, anyways. So, what will it be; Greatsword, switch-axe or dual sword.” Nadell thought again, then said, “Dual sword.” Baeddan said, “I thought so,” looked over at one of the other hunters and said, “That means you'll have to borrow one of his spare sets. You brought spares, right, Gerik?” The dual sword user, known as Gerik, said, “Of course! He can use my Shinobi Night armor and my Hi Ninja Kodachis.” Nadell looked at Gerik and asked, “Is that a good set?” Gerik laughed and said, “Yes, it's a good set! Do you think I'd have it as a back-up if it wasn't? With the Shinobi Night armor equipped you'll have a defense of 471, and you'll have some handy skills to go with it. Evade +1, Movement Speed Increase, Runner, Element and Status Up, and Stealth! Also, I've had it gemmed to cancel the negative fire and thunder resistance. The High Ninja Kodachis have a 320 raw power, 35% affinity and large blue sharpness. Actually, they have a sliver of white sharpness, but that won't last long once you start using them. Additionally, they've been gemmed for a Teal Ball Lightning attribute of 237 which will go up to 296 thanks to the Element/Status Up skill. You'll find them more than adequate against low-level foes. In fact, with that weapon and armor set...you shouldn't need any help, even on your first hunt!” Baeddan chuckled and said, “Yeah, shouldn't... but I've a feeling we'll be rushin' to the rescue plenty of times.” The bowman asked, “So, what mission did you have in mind, anyways?” Baeddan chuckled mischievously and said, “Assuming it's available...we're gonna go hunt a Cephadrome!” Nadell asked, “A “Cephadrome”? What's that?” The others laughed, and the bowman said, “Oh, boy!”
After going upstairs to get changed into Gerik's spare equipment, Nadell, Baeddan, the switch-axe hunter and the bowman went to the Rekusara Guild Hall. Sure enough, when they looked through the local HR 1 One Star quests ...there was a Cephadrome quest up for grabs. Baeddan posted the quest and the others signed up for it. Since Nadell was a beginner and using borrowed armor he had to get permission from the elder of Rekusara and have a Guild Card made. When that was done and he was signed up for the quest they exited the Guild Hall and boarded the transport. As they sat down Baeddan said, “Gerik gave you plenty of supplies, and you're better off than most rookie hunters thanks to it...but don't get overconfident. Even the best hunters can loose their lives if they're care -less. Don't wait to heal any damage you get...unless the damage is less than a potion's worth.” Nadell asked, “Well, how will I know if...?” and Baeddan said, “You'll know, trust me. And if for some reason you don't know, we'll tell you when it's time for you to heal.” The transport began to move, and Baeddan laughed and said, “Here we go! Now...your first hunt begins!” The transport made its way out of Rekusara and headed west into the desert. Less than an hour later, they arrived at the base camp. The transport pulled back to its waiting position after dropping them off, and the bowman said, “Nad, go ahead and open that blue box; there's supply items in it.” Nadell opened the item box and looked inside, then asked, “Does using this stuff cost extra?” Baeddan said, “No, the quest fee covers it; take all you can carry, and maybe you won't need to use up Gerik's supplies. He'd certainly appreciate it.” Nadell asked, “What about you guys, do you want any of these supplies?” The switch-axe hunter said, “No, we're good; we probably won't even need to use one potion.” The bowman said, “Make sure you take a drink of water before we head out, or you'll begin to loose health.” Nadell nodded, and after gathering the supplies and taking a drink they left the base camp and entered the desert.
The Sekumea Desert was a vast expanse of sand and dunes, with few mountains and less foliage. The section they entered was an oasis compared to some parts of the desert, but it was still hot and barren. After jogging a ways across the sand, the group came to a stop. Nadell caught up with the others, breathing heavily, and Baeddan said, “Keep your mouth shut, boy, and breathe through your nose! You'll be sweatin' enough, you don't bloody well need to waste more water by mouth-breathing!” Nadell started breathing through his nose, and the bowman said, “Go easy on him, Dan...he's new to this, remember? Besides, what do you think all your talking does?” The switch -axe hunter chuckled, and Baeddan said, “Eh, whatever...this ain't nothin' compared to Mount Latio.” Nadell saw movement ahead, and when he looked closer he noticed several sand-colored fins circling around in random directions. He asked, “What are those?” Baeddan said, “Those...are Cephalos'.” The bowman said, “The Cepha -drome we're after is an alpha male of this species, bigger and darker-colored than these. Go ahead, Nad...go get one of them.” Nadell watched the fins for a moment before he asked, “How can I? They're moving so fast, and I can't tell which way they'll go next!” The bowman said, “True, it is challenging to hit a Cephalos while it's moving. However, they can't keep moving; they'll all eventually stop, and they tend to rest in places they've rested before. Just wait until one of them stops, then go over to that spot and wait for the next one. Cut the fin with your swords, and eventually it will jump up from the sand. Then, you keep cutting until it's dead. Just watch out for its tail.” Nadell said, “Okay, I'll try.” They watched the Cephalos' swim around for a while, but it wasn't long before one of them stopped. The bowman said, “There! Go, Nad!” Nadell began running, this time with more force, and was surprised when his running speed suddenly accelerated; he'd unlocked the Movement Speed Increase skill. He reached the Cephalos before it could swim away, and when it felt his footfalls it stopped and turned around to face him. Baeddan shouted, “Get your blades out, Naddy boy!” Nadell reached over his shoulders, fumbling at first, but he unsheathed the Hi Ninja Kodachis and looked at them. The bowman said, “Hurry up, attack!” Nadell hauled back to swing his right-hand Kodachi, but the Cephalos jumped out from the ground with a grunt and knocked him over. The others said, “Aw!” and Baeddan said, “See, that's why you can't wait! You gotta attack before it does!” The switch-axe user said, “He didn't know that, but he sure does now!” Nadell got back up, still in good health thanks to the Shinobi Night armor, and he turned around and gaped; the Cephalos was up and staring at him from 30 feet away. He said, “Huh...so that's a Cephalos? You're not so scary.” The bowman shouted, “Move!” and Baeddan shouted, “It's gonna shoot, nub! Get out the flaming way!” Nadell said, “Huh?” and the Cephalos took a breath and spat a ball of sand from its mouth. It hit Nadell in the chest, sending him and sand flying, and he cried out until he hit a sand dune with a soft thud. The others said, “Oh!!!” and the switch-axe hunter said, “Been a while since I got hit by one of those. It stings, as I recall. At least he's got armor.” The bowman said, “Yeah, he should be fine...that armor is tough.” Nadell coughed as he got back to his feet and spat out some sand. The Cephalos went under, and Nadell ran over to try and find it. The bowman said, “Hey, watch where you stand, Nad, it could...” but before he could say any more, the Cephalos jumped up from below Nadell to spit another sand ball, sending him flying again! The switch-axe user said, “Man, he's really catching a beating! Do you think we should help him?” The bowman said, “Only if he's about to die, which will take a while even at this rate. If he can't handle one Cephalos on his own with that weapon and armor set...he has no business hunting.” The other two nodded, and Baeddan said, “That's why I picked this mission...well that, and because he's not allowed to go any higher than this yet.” Nadell got up and frowned at the fin of the Cephalos, then he yelled in anger as he charged towards it. They tried to warn him again, but the Cephalos flew out from the sand. Nadell tried to dodge, which he almost did thanks to the Movement Speed Increase skill, but its wing still clipped his head and knocked him over. Again the others said, “Oh!!!” and Baeddan said, “This is ridiculous!” The switch-axe user said, “I knew this was a bad idea. He'd of been better off starting with a genprey quest.” Nadell got up, dizzy and struggling to keep his balance, and Baeddan shouted, “Common, Naddy boy! Snap out of it!” The bowman added, “Hang in there, Nad! You'll get it!” Nadell got his bearings after a moment, and just in time he saw the Cephalos turn toward him. He glared and growled, “No you don't, not again!!!” Sure enough, it jumped out and flew for Nadell, but he side-stepped and held out both blades. They cut the Cephalos in mid-air, one blade along the abdomen and the other down its left wing. The Teal Ball Lightning, a combination of dragon and stun, shocked the Cephalos in the process. It fell to the ground and flopped about like a fish, and Nadell ran over and yelled as he cut its fin. Finally, the Cephalos jerked and let out a breath; it was dead. Baeddan and the others ran over, and he let himself fall to his knees as he caught his breath.
They gathered around Nadell, and the bowman said, “Congratulations, Nadell! Your first kill, and much bigger than what most hunters start out with!” Baeddan laughed and said, “Not to mention more exciting! I wish my first hunt had been half that epic!” Nadell gave him a confused look and said, “But I did terrible! It kept knocking me around!” Baeddan said, “Sure, you had a bit of hard luck, but every hunter has times like that! The important thing is you kept getting back up; you didn't give up!” The bowman said, “That's right! I know you'll do better next time, now that you have a better idea what you're up against. There's plenty more for you to practice with, but for now...go ahead and make your first carve.” Nadell looked at the Cephalos for a moment and asked, “Where should I carve?” Baeddan said, “If I were you, I'd carve that fin off. It's the most valuable part you can get from a Cephalos, and it'll come in handy if you wanna make yourself Cephalos armor.” So Nadell took out his knife and began cutting the fin, and before long he had a Cephalos Fin. The others also carved, getting a Piscine Fang, a Tail Fin and a Piscine Liver, which they gave to Nadell. He said, “Thanks, guys! You sure you don't want any of this?” The bow- man said, “We're good, we can get more on our own. Now, are you ready for another one, Nad?” He nodded agreement, and they watched as he went after another Cephalos. Two Cephalos' later, Nadell ran up to them and said, “Hey, I think I'm starting to get the hang of this! Those ones were easy compared to that first one. But where's that...uh...the Cephadrome? You said it's bigger and darker, but I haven't seen one like that.” The bow-man said, “Yes, we were just talking about that...it's strange. The Cephadrome should've sensed the activity and come here by now, but there's been no sign of it.” He looked over the surrounding land again, then to the others, and they nodded. The bowman said, “You go ahead and keep practicing, Nad...we're gonna have a look around; see if we can't find the drome. If you have any problems, or if it comes by here while we're gone, use your beacon.” Nadell asked, “Beacon? What beacon?” The bowman took out a whistle and showed it to Nadell, and when he blew the whistle it made a high-pitched pinging sound that echoed across the desert. Nadell reached into his bag and found his beacon, and he said, “Oh, I was wondering what that was for! Okay, I'll signal if the Cephadrome comes by or if there's a problem.” So the hunters left to search for the drome, and Nadell kept on fighting the Cephalos' one by one. He did have trouble with their tails, but he kept getting up...and it wasn't long before there weren't any left in that area. Nadell finished carving, and he used one of the Cephalos bodies as a chair and waited. Five minutes later, he got up when he saw Baeddan and the others approaching. Nadell ran up to them and asked, “Did you find it?” Baeddan said, “I searched all the areas north of here, and I didn't see it anywhere.” The switch-axe user said, “Same here; nothing south of here.” They turned to the bowman...and soon noticed he wore a troubled expression. Nadell asked, “What is it? What's wrong?” The bowman looked up and said, “Baeddan...do you remember one of the missions we took part in years ago; where we went to pick mountain herbs?” Baeddan thought for a moment, then he gasped...chuckled and said, “Oh, ho, ho!!! They didn't, did they?!” But the bowman didn't look amused; he wore a grave expression. Baeddan asked, “What? Well, is it a Tiggy, or isn't it?!” Nadell asked, “Tiggy?” and the bowman said, “A nickname for a Tigrex...and no, it isn't a Tigrex.” Baeddan said confusedly, “Well, why the Tigrex reference if that's not it?! You're not making sense!” The bowman said, “That's because you didn't let me finish. What I was going to say is...whether it be intentional or not, it was a bad idea to go on this quest...because what I found makes that Tigrex mission seem like nothing.” Baeddan and the switch-axe hunter gaped, and Nadell said nervously, “What do you mean? What's going on?!” Baeddan said, “Hey, common, man...you're starting to creep me out! We're G-rank hunters, remember?! This is a rank one mission, one star! Whatever it is, it can't possibly be a threat to us!!!” The bowman said, “You say that now, but I haven't told you yet what I found. Remember that Cephadrome, how we were wondering why it hasn't come here yet? Well, it hasn't come here yet...because it's laying dead in area 9! It's been torn inside out and burnt to a crisp!!!” Again they gaped in shock, and Baeddan said, “No way, man, no way!!! I know what you're thinking, and it's just not possible! No way in hell would they...” His words were cut short when sand exploded into the air, followed by a wicked roar! They jumped and turned to look at the source, and Nadell screamed, “AAAGH!!! WHAT IS THAT THING?!!” The others immediately drew their weapons and prepared for battle, and Baeddan said grimly, “Playtime is over...draw your swords, boy, and prepare for the fight of your life.” Nadell shuddered as he gaped at the monster and said, “No way, you're crazy!!! I literally just started hunting, and you expect me to fight THAT?!!” The bowman said, “Sorry to involve you in this, Nad, but I'll put it to you plainly: against this opponent, if we don't all work together and fight at full strength...none of us will come out of this alive!!!”
The beast turned to face them, and it roared again. The others started running to either side, and the bowman shouted over his shoulder, “Move, Nadell!” But he just stood there and gaped in horror as the monster prepared to charge. The bowman screamed, “MOVE, NAD!!!” He finally snapped out of it and started running, and thanks to the Movement Speed Increase skill he barely avoided the charging monster. He stopped next to Baeddan and exclaimed, “What kind of monster is this?! I've never seen one like it; it's terrible!!!” Baeddan said, “Not surprising you don't know what this is...few people have lived to tell the tale. Allow me to introduce you to...The Devil!” Nadell said, “The Devil?! You can't be serious!” Baeddan said, “I am...anyone who's fought this kind of beast calls it that; its pure evil. But it's also known as...The Crimson Diablos!” Nadell gasped and said, “That's a Diablos?! I've heard of that before, but I've never heard of a Crimson Diablos.” The red Diablos turned and charged towards the bow -man and the switch-axe hunter as they attacked it, and Baeddan continued, “That's cause they're extremely rare, even rarer than a Golden Monoblos! Blos' are usually herbivores, but this subspecies is so aggressive that it's turned carnivorous! Their bodies are slimmer than normal Diablos', meaning they're faster...especially when en- raged. They're already mean enough, but when in rage...look out! And as if all that isn't enough...” The bowman ran and shot as the switch-axe hunter slashed at the spiked/clubbed tail of the Crimson Diablos. It reared its head, and on the down-stroke a ball of fire shot from its mouth and exploded where the bowman had been standing! Baeddan added, “...this breed of Diablos can use fire!” Nadell gaped at it and said, “Oh, man! I-I don't know, I think you guys would be better off if I just...” Baeddan interrupted, “Do not be a coward again, Nadell!!! You heard what Rowan said; if we don't work together ...we're dead!” Nadell stammered, “B-but...” and Baeddan shouted, “BUT NOTHING!!! Just follow our lead; attack when we say, where we say and how we say... and when we tell you to get back...you bloody well better get back, or you'll be in for a world of hurt! Now, no more wasting time, they need our help! LET'S GO!!!” Baeddan charged into the battle and shouted over his shoulder, “Common!!! Don't make me come back and drag you into this, Nad...don't you dare!!!” Nadell's heart was racing, faster and faster, and he thought, Common...don't be a coward! Not again, not like last time...when I...I... He had a flashback of that fateful day; he saw Darkstar punch him in the face, and he fell to the ground...darkness descended. He looked up, and saw Reijin as he fell to pieces. He heard the others screaming as their legs were burned away. Darkstar walked towards Nadell, and he gaped in terror at that glowing eye...the power given to him by Tensai, which had taken control of him. The words Darkstar had spoken echoed in his mind: “Which is more evil...the monster, or those who make monsters?! I'd have to say the latter.”...“They abandoned you…not to mention those other two I injured…and you call them your friends?! A friend who betrays you can hardly be considered a friend.” Nadell thought, They didn't betray me...I betrayed them...I let my fear control me. He recalled the looks on their faces, pleading and terrified, as he slit their throats. “I'm so sorry! Please, forgive me!!!” Nadell frowned, and he thought, No, never again will I let my fear control me...as it did then. I will fight. I WILL FIGHT!!!
Nadell started running towards the Crimson Diablos, and he drew the Hi Ninja Kodachis as he reached full speed. The others smiled, and Baeddan thought, That-a-boy...now, he is ready! The bowman, known as Rowan, shouted, “Get under it and attack the stomach, Nad!” Nadell said, “Right!” as he continued his approach. The Crimson Blos turned to face Nadell when it saw him, and he repeated his new mantra; I won't let my fear control me!!! The Diablos snarled and tried to bite Nadell, but he side-stepped in time to avoid it ...and once underneath the crimson beast, he charged his swords and began slashing away at its stomach. The switch-axe hunter said, “Woo wee, look at him go!!! He's a natural! Is that really Nadell, or did Gerik come out and switch places with him?!” Baeddan laughed and said, “Yeah, now we're in business!!!” The Diablos flinched, and Baeddan used the opening to charge his greatsword. He brought the blade down hard on its head, and at the same time the switch-axe hunter gave a hard upward slash to the tail. While Nadell kept slicing its chest, Rowan repeatedly shot the Crimson Blos with pierce lvl 5 ice arrows. The Diablos tried to bite Baeddan, but he blocked just in time, and the switch-axe hunter managed to block its ferocious tail swings. Soon, though, it clawed at the sand with its right foot and snarled angrily; the Crimson Diablos was entering its first rage. The others got back, and Rowan shouted, “Run, Nadell! He's having his first rage!!!” So Nadell ran out from under it and joined them, and he turned just in time to see the Diablos digging into the sand. Rowan said quickly as it dug, “Now we scatter, so it can only attack us one at a time! If you see it coming for you, Nadell, run like hell and dive! Now, let's move!!!” They each ran in separate directions, and seconds later the ground shook as the Diablos chose its target: the switch-axe hunter. Nadell gaped at what he saw; the hunter dove just in time as the Crimson Diablos flew from the ground and spun around 720 degrees, while its heavy spiked tail was on fire! When it stopped spinning, the flame extinguished itself. Nadell asked in a stunned voice, “How much damage...would that do, if you were hit by it?!” Rowan said, “You don't wanna know. But as powerful as it is, that isn't the Crimson Diablos' most powerful attack.” Nadell felt faint as he said, “You can't be serious!” The Diablos turned around and looked towards them, and Rowan said, “I am, now run!!!” It charged again, only this time it ran even faster and flapped its wings, giving it a push-off which accelerated it to an unreal speed! Nadell screamed, “AAAAGH!!!” and dove for dear life, along with Rowan. But no sooner were they face down in the sand than the bowman helped him up and shouted, “Move, keep moving!!!” The Crimson Diablos had come to a stop, spun around and was preparing to attack again. As they ran the Blos shot another, even larger fireball from its mouth...which hit the ground behind them, exploded and sent sand and flames flying! Baeddan and the switch-axe hunter approached it from either side, and as Rowan shot more arrows he said, “Attack, Nad, but watch out for its tail!” After the last ferocious attacks, it took him a moment to regain his courage, but he did and ran towards it. The Diablos spun itself around in circles, and Baeddan and the switch-axe hunter carefully timed their attacks to avoid being hit by its tail. Nadell waited, and when there was an opening he ran in and began attacking its chest. The Crimson Diablos raised its head and let out a deafening roar, and Nadell screamed and plugged his ears. When it was done, he was dazed and his ears were ringing. He had to pick up the Kodachis, since he'd dropped them to plug his ears. When Nadell got up he saw the others were shouting something, but he couldn't make it out. He gasped and thought, They must be telling me to run! I've gotta get... But it was too late.
The Crimson Diablos crouched down and suddenly did a back-flip, and Nadell cried out in pain when he was struck by its flaming tail! He was sent flying from the force of the blow, and when he landed his armor was on fire! The others shouted for him to roll, but because he was injured and his ears were still ringing he didn't move. So as Baeddan and the switch-axe hunter distracted the Diablos, Rowan went over to help Nadell. First he put the fire out, and then he helped Nadell sit up. He got out the supply potions and said, “Here, Nad, drink these.” Nadell was still having trouble hearing, but he drank the three potions given to him. Rowan asked as he helped Nadell stand up, “You feel better now?” Nadell groaned and said, “Yeah, but I'm still sore. Man, that really hurt!!! I mean, I-I don't think I've EVER felt that kind of pain before...not even when Darkstar busted my jaw!” Rowan said, “Yeah, but at least the Devil didn't use its most powerful attack; if it had, you'd most likely be dead now.” Nadell shivered, and he said, “Its roar is so loud, I dropped the swords to plug my ears...and I still couldn't hear! How did you guys recover so quickly?!” Rowan said, “Well, we usually take earplugs on Diablos missions, but since we weren't expecting this ...we have to anticipate when it's going to roar, and plug our ears just before it does. Though this subspecies is very different from the others, it will stop to raise its head before roaring. So, try to watch for it, though it will be difficult while you're attacking its chest. And flip your swords and use your thumbs to plug your ears; then you won't have to bother picking them up again.” Nadell said, “Okay, but if I'll have trouble seeing from below, shouldn't I...” Rowan interrupted, “No, keep attacking the chest; it's the safest spot you can attack, and also the best since you're using dual swords. The Teal Ball Lightning attribute will eventually stun it, at which point you can attack either his head or tail, but when the effect wears off you should go back to...” They turned to look when they heard Baeddan shout, “Incoming, guys, look out!!!” The Crimson Diablos was underground and headed for them, and Nadell exclaimed, “OH, SHI...!!!” Rowan took his arm to get him running and shouted, “DIVE!!!” They ran and dove, and the Diablos flew out where they'd been standing and did another 720 spin, also known as its Ring of Fire attack. Nadell said breathlessly as they got up, “Man, that was close! I felt the heat and the wind from that! I still feel hot!” Rowan said, “You'd better have some more water; it's been awhile since your last drink.” Nadell nodded and got his canteen out, but he didn't notice that the Diablos was preparing to charge again. As he took a drink, Rowan shouted as he ran, “Move, it's charging again!!!” Nadell almost choked on the water and started running, but the Diablos tracked him; it was going to hit! Desperately, Nadell braced for impact and held out both swords point-first. Amazingly, the Teal Ball Lightning was just enough to finally stun the Diablos, stopping it in its tracks! It cried and shook as teal bolts shot out from it, and Rowan shouted, “Alright, Nad! Now, hurry and attack!” Nadell cut away at its face, and Baeddan and the switch-axe hunter also attacked. The Diablos' tail was harder to cut off than a normal Blos tail, but the switch-axe hunter was almost half-way through. As Rowan shot more arrows, Baeddan charged his sword and said, “Look out, Naddy boy, I'm gonna cut his horn off!” Nadell stopped slashing and stepped back, and as Baeddan said...when he brought his sword down, it cleaved off the Blos' left horn! It reared its head and cried out, and the big red horn fell to the ground. The Crimson Blos once again kicked at the sand, and Nadell took a fearful step back as it glared and snarled at him. Black smoke came from its mouth, and its eyes glowed like fire. “Get back, Nad,” said Baeddan, “The Devil's having its second rage!” Nadell snapped himself out of it, and he started running just in time. The Diablos went flying, shooting fire from its mouth and tail as it did! Nadell said, “Second rage? How many rages does this monster have?!” The switch-axe hunter said, “Well, it depends on how long the fight lasts and the amount of damage you deal it in that time. The best you can hope for is six levels of rage, but more commonly you'll get nine. However...” After a pause Nadell looked and asked, “However what?!” Baeddan said grimly, “The limit of this beast...is thirteen levels of rage. Once it reaches level 13...” Rowan concluded, “It becomes so powerful, so fast and so absolutely merciless in its attacks...it's damned near impossible to defeat!” They looked back when they heard the Diablos roaring in the distance, but it was far enough away that they didn't have to plug their ears. As it roared a second time, Nadell asked, “Nearly? You mean it's been done before? Who did it?!” They looked at each other, and Rowan said, “Only three hunters are known to have done it. The first time was a two-man team, Saizen and some one else...can't remember what his name was.” Nadell asked, “Saizen?! You mean Joel...right?! Then that means...the one who did it alone was...?!”
Their battle against the Crimson Diablos raged on. Back in Rekusara, Darkstar and the others had just finished eating lunch…so his training with Jiva resumed. He had managed to heal two cuts simultaneously without the assistance of Unleashing jewels or armor, so he was about to attempt healing a more serious injury. “I don’t like this,” said his mother, Rebecca, “Can’t you just practice healing more small cuts? What if you can’t heal it?!” Jiva said, “If he has trouble, I’ll finish the healing process; I see no reason to worry. Now, are you ready?” Darkstar nodded and said, “Ready.” Jiva took hold of Darkstar’s right forearm, and with her other hand above it she said, “Alright, here goes.” A green droplet formed on the nail of her right forefinger, and when it fell on Darkstar's bare arm it made a sizzling sound and began dissolving his skin. He cringed and growled as he bore it, and though Joel managed to keep a straight face...Rebecca, Lydia and Joey also cringed. In a moment, the drop of acid emerged on the opposite side, and Jiva caught it and neutralized the acid. This left a quarter inch hole through Darkstar's forearm. Joey said uneasily, “It looks like...it must really hurt!” Darkstar said in a rough voice as he continued to bear the pain, “Yeah, like you wouldn't believe!” Jiva said, “Now, no wasting time; go through the same steps as before so you can begin healing as quickly as possible.” They silently watched as Darkstar closed his eyes, altered his breathing, relaxed as much as possible in spite of the pain and focused entirely on healing the injury. It was still a long and tedious process, but compared to the cuts it was a much faster rate of regeneration. In just ten minutes, the hole was gone, and again there was a barely noticeable mark! Jiva looked closely at it and said, “Good...now, try opening and closing your hand.” Darkstar did so, and he winced and said, “Well, I can move it, but it hurts when I do.” Jiva said, “As I thought, you healed most of the damage...but it wasn't a perfect recovery. It is your first time healing acid damage, so that's to be expected. It would heal on its own naturally in time, but I'll finish the process for you now...so you won't have to bear the pain. You've done well without Unleashing, but I suggest you Unleash your eye now so you can see what you missed.” Darkstar Unleashed his eye and looked at his arm, but before Jiva had the chance to begin healing he said, “Wait. I can see what I missed; let me try to heal it myself.” Jiva said, “Alright...go for it, if you think you can.” With the Unleashed eye to assist him, it was much easier and much faster. In less than a minute, Darkstar completely healed the damage he'd missed, and Jiva said, “Wow, you got it! Good job, Darkstar...I couldn't have done better myself!” Joel chuckled and said, “That's the way Tensai taught me how to heal damage. The technique you've been practicing is a good one to know, in any case, but when you need to heal damage quickly...” Joel scratched his own arm, then he Unleashed his eye and looked at the cut. In less than two seconds, the cut was gone, and Joel finished, “...using your eye really helps.” Darkstar said, “Yeah, I guess! Do you also know Tensai's full body recovery technique...the one he used when I fought him?!” Joel said, “I know it, or at least a variation of the technique...but even with Unleashing to assist you, you can't use it frequently. How often depends on the extent of damage you repair, but for damage comparable to what you inflicted upon Tensai ...no more than once every three to four months.” Darkstar gaped and said, “Three to four months?! But why so much longer?! Tensai was able to do it over and over...” Joel said, “Because he was a hybrid; we aren't. The majority of our power we get from Unleashing monster parts...but for full body regeneration, you must Unleash yourself.” Darkstar said, “Unleash myself?” Joel nodded and said, “That's right. You've done it once before, after Tensai died. That was why your power was so much greater than it normally is. So think about it; do you think you could handle that kind of stress over and over again without some serious co...” Joel stopped, and he stood up, turned to look the other way and gaped. The others also got up, and Joel said, “Jiva, lower the shield.” But she was already doing so, and she said, “I felt it, to! What was that?!” Darkstar asked, “Felt what, what's going on, dad?!” Joel said as he pointed, “Focus your eye that way, and you should be able to feel the residual of it.” Darkstar focused in that direction, a few degrees below east, and after a moment he gasped and said, “I think I can feel it! It feels like...dragon...and paralysis...and something else. What is that?!” Joel said, “I'll give you a hint ...it has to do with something we were just talking about.” They all gasped and gaped, and Darkstar exclaimed, “Do you mean to say that...that was someone Unleashing?!! But I thought that...!?” Joel said, “Raise the shield again; we don't want anyone outside overhearing us.” Jiva nodded and brought the sound shield back up, and Joel said, “You thought right, son...by now, the others are all waiting for us in Nanseika. Whoever that was, it wasn't one of them. Based on the source of that power, I'd say it was most likely someone on a local hunt...it may even have been accidental.” Darkstar asked, “What do you think; should we risk tracking them down and bringing them with us?” Joel said, “I don't know.” He looked at Jiva, and she said, “Are you thinking what I think you're thinking?” Joel said, “Possibly. Your expertise in stealth and tracking would make bringing this person here easier, but...a hunter suddenly disappearing would attract unwanted attention. As for extending a personal invitation, that would also attract attention we don't need...especially if it becomes known that he or she can Unleash. Either way, it's a risk.” Darkstar said, “If we take the risk, I vote for the former; at least that way there won't be anything tying him...or her...to us. Now, here's what I have in mind...”
In the desert, Nadell and the others continued to battle the Crimson Diablos. The minutes dragged on like hours; dancing with the Devil requires such speed and adrenaline, one’s perception of time slows down. With each rage, it became harder to dodge or block the monster’s attacks. Fireballs, flying fire charges, rings of fire, flaming hip- checks, flying screaming charges, flaming back-flips and tail-whips…with all the heat being put out by the Crimson Diablos, the already scorching desert was beginning to feel like an oven. If they didn’t manage to kill it quickly, they were going to run out of water. Nadell fell to his knees, gasping for breath and ready to pass out from exhaustion, as Rowan, Baeddan and the switch-axe hunter continued fighting. The Diablos was a ways away and facing a different direction; his first chance at a rest break in a while. Rowan noticed him and said, “You okay, Nad?!” Nadell said breathlessly, “Yeah…never been…more tired…in all my life! Give me a minute…I’ll be…right there…” He opened his supply bag, dug around to find the canteen, got it out and took a long drink. Rowan shouted, “Eat a ration, Nad; you could probably use one by now!” So he had a ration, as well. Nadell drank a little more to wash the food down, then gasped when he realized that was the last of his water. Nadell shouted, “Hey, I’m out of water! Is this thing almost dead yet?! Seems like we’ve been at it for hours!” Baeddan said, “We’re getting close; his tail’s about ready to come off! Just hang in there, Naddy boy, we’ll put this Devil down before you need another drink!” He made himself stand back up, and his tired legs shook from the effort it took. Nadell felt like he was on fire; though he did well for a beginner, he had taken several more hard hits since his first. He now knew what it felt like to be hit by the ring of fire, not to mention tail-whips and hip-checks. The worst, however, was yet to come. As he ran back towards the Crimson Diablos, Baeddan once again charged his sword and cut off its right horn. It reared and cried out again, then immediately kicked and growled as it entered yet another rage. Rowan asked, “Anyone know what rage this is? We’ve been so busy, I forgot to keep track.” Baeddan said, “It’s gotta be at least 9…maybe even 10.” As it dug under and they took evasive action, the switch-axe hunter said, “Guys, I’ve got some good news and some bad news.” The Diablos started moving, but it was leaving for another area. As they chased after it, Rowan asked, “What's the good news?” The switch-axe user said, “I will be able to cut its tail off with three more hits, and it will die shortly afterwards.” Baeddan asked, “And the bad news?” The switch-axe hunter said grimly, “That rage we just saw... was number 12; unless we catch up to it, cut off its tail and kill it as quickly as possible... it's gonna reach its final rage.” Nadell exclaimed, “Oh, no!!! Does that mean we won't be able to beat it?! It'll kill us?!! We need to get out of here while we still...” Baeddan cut in, “Don't loose your courage now, boy! You've done well, far better than I expected...but in spite of the danger, we must see this through to thee end!” Rowan added, “Even if it goes into its 13th rage, we must finish it! If we don't, the Crimson Diablos will be locked in permanent rage! Then, after it's had time to heal, it will become an even greater threat!” Nadell shivered in spite of the heat, and he said, “How could it possibly be any worse than it already is?!” Baeddan chuckled roughly and said, “If we can't stop it from going unlucky 13...you'll know soon enough, Naddy boy!”
They entered the southern area where the Diablos had gone, which just happened to be area 13. As soon as they got there, the beast screamed as it charged and flew towards them! Nadell and the others were barely able to avoid it, then were forced to evade again as it stopped and began spinning around. But this wasn't like a normal standing spin that stopped once every 180 degrees; it kept spinning, like the ring of fire attack! Rowan was able to shoot at it, but all the others could do was stand there and watch. The Crimson Diablos finally stopped at 13 rotations, then began charging chaotically; its equilibrium was off from spinning, and that combined with its sheer rage meant predicting its attacks was nearly impossible! The switch-axe hunter was able to get in another hit on the tail, in spite of the difficulty, but it screamed without warning and they were forced to cover their ears. This was followed by a lightning-fast back-flip, which hit Baeddan and sent him flying. Rowan shouted as he kept shooting, “Are you alright, Dan?!” Baeddan said as he coughed and rolled to put the fire out, “Yeah, bloody dandy!” The Diablos turned to face the switch-axe hunter and tried to hit him with a back-flip, but he managed to block just in time. Nadell ran up as it was landing, and he sliced at its tail where the switch-axe hunter had been cutting. The Teal Ball Lightning attribute took effect again, and Rowan shouted, “The chest, Nad, attack its chest!” So Nadell ran over and began slicing as fast as he could, and the switch-axe hunter ran back to the tail and cut it once more. The end was limp after that, but still barely attached. Baeddan got up and only had time to cut its wing. The Crimson Diablos suddenly spun around, knocking both the switch-axe hunter and Baeddan over, and Nadell and Rowan plugged their ears when it let out the loudest, most horrible scream yet! Baeddan shouted as he got up, “Run for it, Naddy boy!!! This is rage #13!!!” As they ran, the Devil crouched down and jumped up, and it flapped its bat-like crimson wings...ascending higher and higher. Rowan shouted, “Keep moving, it's gonna use its final attack!!!” Nadell panicked and, in spite of his fatigue, started running at full speed. But in his haste to get away, he failed to see the tip of a boulder buried in the sand. His foot caught on it, and he gasped as he fell. Baeddan and the others stopped when they were far enough away, but they gaped in horror when they saw Nadell had fallen. Rowan screamed, “GET UP, NAD!!! GET OUT OF THERE NOW!!!” Baeddan growled and said, “Bloody hell!!!” But as he was about to run back, the switch-axe user caught his arm said, “No, Baeddan, it's too late; if you try, you'll be hit as well!” Rowan screamed, “NADELL!!!” The Devil began its rapid descent, spinning faster and faster as it plummeted from over 1,000 feet above the scorching sand. Nadell coughed and spit up sand once again, and when he heard the others shouting he remembered what was going on and frantically tried to get up. But by then, it was too late. The Devil was coming, and it was out for blood. When the Crimson Diablos reached terminal velocity, it whipped its tail down and flapped its wings hard. The end of the tail snapped off where it had been cut, fire enveloped it and the downward wind sent it falling even faster. Nadell got up and looked over his shoulder, and he gaped in horror when he saw the spiked fireball about to hit him. His adrenaline surged, and he went to his top speed and beyond...but there just wasn't enough time. Rowan screamed, “NAD, NO!!!” The fireball hit just behind him. He heard a roaring sound and felt an intense burning pain for a fraction of a second, and then ...there was nothing...only darkness.
Endless black, deeper than the darkest night, colder than the coldest ice. How long did it last? A few minutes...a few centuries...there was no way to tell. But suddenly, the dark depths began to brighten. A point of light grew until the darkness was gone and only the blinding light remained. But the light gradually dimmed, and forms took shape. Then, a sound...like people talking. The world was returning, blurry and muffled at first, but in moments it became clear. The sound of sand blowing in the wind, the bright blue sky and the sun above...and three faces, gaping down at him. They were shaded, but Nadell soon recognized Rowan, Baeddan and the switch-axe hunter. It was hard for him to speak, but he asked, “What...happened? Am I...dead?” Rowan said, “No, Nad...you're not dead...but you had quite a close call.” Baeddan said, “You had us worried there for a moment, Nad ...but I'd bloody well be eating my hat now if I'd bet against you!” Nadell gaped and said, “The Diablos!” He tried to sit up, but they stopped him and Rowan said, “Easy, Nad... you need to rest! Don't worry; the Crimson Diablos is dead.” Nadell sighed in relief, and he said, “Thank gods...that was a nightmare. I never want to go on another hunt like that again.” Baeddan said, “Nonsense! Sure, it was a hard way to get you started, but now you're well prepared; the other HR 1 quests will be walks in the part for you now! Don't you dare complain, Nad...you've officially had the most epic first hunt EVER!!!” The switch-axe hunter said, “All the Blos parts are yours, Nadell...you've more than earned it.” Nadell said, “Are you sure? I thought...it was really rare. You'd really let me have it all?!” Rowan said, “Absolutely...after all, you need your own weapon and armor set. The Guild normally takes a good portion of slain monsters, but in exchange for the reward money and an additional fee...all the usable parts can be made into a basic weapon and armor set for you. The weapons and armor can be upgraded, but you'll need some more Crimson Blos parts to take it to its full potential.” Nadell said, “Sounds good...thanks. You guys didn't...have too much trouble killing it without me...did you?” They looked at each other, and then back down at Nadell, and he asked, “What's wrong?” Baeddan said, “You really don't remember, do you?” Rowan said, “Nad...you killed the Crimson Diablos.” Nadell looked at him confusedly and asked, “I did? But...how did I ...?!” He turned when he noticed a red shape to his left, and the others helped him sit up so he could get a better look. He gasped and gaped in shock at what he saw. There lay the Crimson Diablos; the sand around it was red from its blood...and its head had been cut in half diagonally! Nadell exclaimed as he gaped, “I...did that?!!”
Sail Away to Araishima
With the setting sun at their backs, they began their return trip to Rekusara. The Crimson Diablos body and parts were in tow behind them. They'd carved a few Cephadrome parts from what the Diablos had left, but most of its body had been rendered useless. Nadell looked back at it, then out into the desert, as he recalled what the others said happened. The Crimson Diablos had gone into its 13th rage and immediately used its greatest attack, known as Hell's Heart. Because Nadell had tripped, he'd been unable to get out of its range in time. The tail was still intact in spite of the massive fireball its impact had generated. If Nadell hadn't ran when he did, he surely would've died. As it was, he suffered bad burns across his entire backside, was sent flying from the blast wave and knocked out, within an inch of dying. It “wasn't supposed to happen that way,” Baeddan had said. Nadell frowned and clenched his fists again, and he thought, Those assholes! They could've gotten me killed with that prank!!! It turned out that Baeddan and the others had known all along there would be a Crimson Diablos. It was similar to the “Taboo of Negligence” quest; the Guild had “accidentally” labeled it a Cephadrome quest. It wasn't a G-level, or even a high -level; it was a low-level Crimson Blos! Rowan and the others had intentionally dragged the fight out so they could see its 13th rage, and intentionally delayed cutting off the tail so they could see the Hell's Heart attack. They'd wanted Nadell to see it, as well...just not from close up. When they told Nadell, he gave them an ear-full that even Baeddan had gaped at! But as furious as Nadell was about their prank that nearly cost him his life...what really occupied his thoughts was what they said had happened afterwards. Rendered unconscious by the Hell's Heart attack, Nadell was once again tended to by Rowan...while Baeddan and the switch-axe hunter diverted the Blos' attention. Though it was a weakened Crimson Diablos, its 13th rage had proved to be quite challenging. Its attack speed and unpredictability were further enhanced, thus preventing them from getting near enough to counter-attack. The crimson beast turned its attention to Nadell and Rowan before long, and it began to charge. Nadell was still out, so Rowan tried frantically to wake him. He ran off to the side, trying to get the Diablos to chase him instead...but it ignored him and continued straight for Nadell. Rowan shouted as he shot at the Diablos, “Wake up, Nad!!! You've gotta wake up NOW!!! YOU CAN'T SURVIVE ANOTHER HIT!!! NADELL!!!” Nadell finally started to wake up, and when he saw the approaching Diablos...he froze and gaped in shock. Rowan screamed as loud as he could, “MOVE NOW, OR YOU'RE GONNA DIE!!!” The Crimson Diablos went to full speed, snarled viciously and let out another screeching roar as it closed in. Thirty yards...twenty...ten...it was going to hit! And that's when it happened. Nadell stood up, and he screamed in terror and rage as a dark green aura surrounded him. Both eyes went from green to gold, and the teal-colored energy shot out in bolts and formed into a sphere of energy around him! The Crimson Diablos collided with the energy barrier, was stopped in its tracks and paralyzed by the Teal Ball Lightning. With demonic malice and a duotone voice, Nadell screamed, “DIE!!!!!!!” He swung his right sword in an upward diagonal, and along the path of the swing the energy barrier formed into a blade. It sliced through the blos' head like a hot knife through butter, and blood sprayed out as the top half slid off and the beast fell dead! Nadell screamed once again, and the dark energy exploded out in all directions...knocking Rowan and the others to the ground. Nadell stood in the crater as dark bolts occasionally shot out from him, and he continued to glare at the Diablos' body. But after a moment, his eyes returned to their natural color...he dropped the swords and fell over, unconscious once again. Rowan and the others insisted that was what happened, though Nadell had no memory of it. Is this the reason Darkstar let me live, thought Nadell. Could he tell that I have the ability to Unleash?! They'd agreed to keep Nadell's Unleashing a secret, because if word of it got out Darkstar's group would surely discover them. Then, again, thought Nadell, what's to say they don't know already? Hopefully we were far enough away, but if not... He didn't want to think what that would mean. But even as Nadell thought it, he was unaware that he was being watched. High above, Jiva hovered invisibly and looked down at them. As she looked at Nadell, she thought, He's the one, definitely. His scent is familiar, but I can't remember where from. For that matter, the others...wait a minute! Those other three are each hunters from Valhar!!! What are they doing here?!
They couldn't have followed us here...could they?! No, Darkstar's “death” was as near perfect as possible, there's no way they could know! I remember them saying they were going to leave Valhar soon...it must be coincidence they came this way. Still, I need to let Darkstar know they're in Rekusara. Jiva turned her attention back to Nadell and thought, That man...who is he? I know that scent...if only I could remember. It will come to me, eventually. Alright, I have enough for now...time to report back. Jiva flew ahead of the transports to Rekusara...and upon arrival entered through the window of Darkstar's room, which was left open. Darkstar signaled Lydia to close the window, and after Jiva re-established the sound shield she let herself become visible. Joel asked, “Did you find the Unleasher?” Jiva informed them of her findings, including the presence of the Valhar hunters, and Darkstar asked, “They followed us here?!” Joel growled and said, “I had a feeling we were being followed! But they can't know you are still alive; there's no way!!!” Darkstar nodded and said, “I agree; we would've heard rumors by now if it was discovered the body was a fake. I seem to remember them saying they were bored with Valhar and planned to move elsewhere. Could it be coincidence the hunters from Valhar also came this way?” Joel said, “I don't know...I have a bad feeling about this.” Jiva said, “Their transports should be getting back any minute now; I can put up a cloak so you can watch them from the window without being seen.” Darkstar agreed, and they sat there...waiting for the transports to return. After ten minutes of waiting, Jiva perked up and said, “They're here!” Darkstar and the others got up, and Jiva extended the cloak and sound shield around the window. They looked out and down the road, and saw the approaching transports. The Crimson Diablos body also attracted attention from everyone else outside or at a window. They stopped in front of the Guild Hall, and as the body was unloaded to be processed, the hunters jumped down from their transport. Darkstar knew at first glance the three from Valhar, and Joel said, “Yep, they're definitely hunters from Valhar. So, the one in the Shinobi Night armor...he's the one who Unleashed?” Jiva said, “Yes.” Darkstar Unleashed his left eye for a closer look, and he said, “Could it be?” The man took his helmet off, shook his head and sighed in relief...but he was looking at the Crimson Diablos. After a long moment of antici -pation, he turned to look back at the Thirsty Cephalos Inn and they finally saw his face. Darkstar's eyes widened, and he said, “It's him!!! He's the one I...what in the hell is he doing here?!!” Lydia, Rebecca and Joey also looked out, and Lydia asked, “Who's he?” Joel frowned and said, “This is not coincidence! I refuse to believe they know about you, son...but if the hunters have joined with that group of brigands, there can be no doubt that they have followed us! I erased our tracks with wind, but an experienced tracker could've still picked up our trail.” Darkstar said, “Then it's time to quit fooling around!” He looked at the others, then Jiva, and said, “Let's go ahead with the plan, as discussed. He'll tell us what exactly they're up to when I put him to the question!”
Though there were some suspicions concerning the Crimson Diablos’ fatal wound, the Guild agreed to have its parts made into a basic weapon and armor set for Nadell. With the help of Rowan and the other hunters, the commission fee was negotiated and paid at just under 12,000z…a steal, even for a basic Crimson Diablo set. Although any left-over parts were given to the craftsman as part of the deal, upgrades would require parts from another Crimson Blos, anyways. There was some mining to be done for metals needed to craft the set, so Nadell and the others were busy with that past sunset. When they finally returned for dinner, they were promptly taken aside by Shitekijo and shouted at for being “A bunch of gods damned reckless fools” and jeopardizing her mission by “screwing around in the desert while Joel and his group could’ve left them in the dust!” But after Rowan shared with her what had happened, she was slightly less aggressive…though she did add, “You’d better hope you were not sensed by Joel or you know who!” So after dinner, Shitekijo spent several hours with Nadell trying to learn how to Unleash. He still couldn’t remember what happened, though, so even with the focus training they didn’t get very far. “Can I please go to bed,” asked Nadell, “I’m exhausted! I’d help you if I could, Shitekijo…you know I would… but I just can’t remember any of it!” Shitekijo sighed and said, “Alright…yeah, this is going nowhere, so we might as well go to bed. But I’m not about to give up; tomorrow, when we’re fresh, we try again. I want you to try hard to remember, Nadell…keep thinking about it as you’re about to fall asleep, and you might dream about it. Okay?” Nadell sighed and nodded, and Shitekijo got up and added, “Don’t worry about the watch; one of the others can take your place. Goodnight, Nadell.” He nodded and said, “Goodnight.” As soon as the door closed, he let himself fall back on the bed, sighed in relief and said, “Finally! Sleep, take me now…” He yawned and added, “I hope I sleep…all the way to…the next…” With that, he fell asleep.
Nadell never tried to retrieve the memory through lucid dreaming, but he didn’t need to. The memory came on its own. He saw the ferocious Crimson Diablos, charging faster and faster towards him. Screeching and snarling, surrounded by flames and kicking up sand with each step. It was terrifying…only one other thing rivaled the fear he felt in the path of the Devil. It came closer and closer…it was about to reach him. Then he was introduced to a new kind of terror. Nadell saw himself, surrounded by dark energy and roaring with rage…and both of his eyes were golden. Then he saw himself change into Darkstar, who screamed as he had; “DIE!!!!!!!” Nadell gasped and panted as he sat up in bed, and after a moment of catching his breath he realized it had been a dream. He sighed and let himself fall back on the bed. The room was still mostly dark, but there was a faint light from the window; it wouldn’t be long before dawn. But after a moment, he noticed something strange. Though the room was dark, he could tell it was different from the room he’d fallen asleep in. For one thing, the window was on the wrong side of the bed, and for another…he’d had a one-person room, whereas this room had a second bed. He rubbed his eyes, sure he must be imagining it, but when he looked around again…it was still different from what it should’ve been. Then, a horrible thought occurred to him, and he thought, No-no-no-no!!! Shitekijo or the others must’ve moved me for some reason! Yeah, that’s it! I’m… But try as he might, Nadell was brought back to reality when he heard someone say, “Figured it out yet? You’re not where you’re supposed to be.” Nadell whimpered; he recognized that voice. It continued, “And, unfortunately for you, this isn’t another dream.” The lights of the room suddenly came on, and Nadell sat up, squinting as his eyes adjusted. But when he could see again, he gaped and shook in terror. On the bed next to his sat the man he feared more than any other: Darkstar! Nadell was so shocked and scared, he just sat there gaping for a long moment. Finally, Darkstar said, “Boo!” Nadell jumped and started screaming, and he covered himself defensively and wailed, “SOMEBODY HELP ME, HE’S GONNA KILL ME!!! PLEASE, NO!!!! PLEASE DON’T KILL ME!!! AAAAAGH!!!!!!” Darkstar said, “You’re wasting your breath. There’s a sound shield around this room, so you could scream til’ you loose your voice and still no one would hear you.” That just made him scream even louder, so after a moment of waiting Darkstar finally ripped the covers away and threw a cup of cold water in Nadell’s face. He immediately stopped screaming, gasped from the cold and wiped his face off as Darkstar said, “Snap out of it! If I wanted to kill you, you’d already be dead.” Nadell shivered as he gaped at him, and Darkstar continued, “There, that's better. Now, keep quiet and listen to what I have to say. First, allow me to apologize for what I did to you…I was far from my normal self when that happened, thanks to what Tensai did to my eye. Maybe you've heard about that already; if you have, I can save some time by not having to explain it again. Well?” Nadell quickly nodded and Darkstar said, “Good. Now, to answer the question that must be on your mind, you are here because I have questions for you. Also, from this moment forward, you are a member of my team. And no, it’s not negotiable; you know that I’m still alive, and you have the ability to Unleash, therefore you MUST come with me.” Darkstar waited for a reply, and after a moment Nadell stammered, “W-why?! What…are y-you going to do t-to me?!” Darkstar grinned and said, “I’ll explain everything to you in time, but for now…I ask the questions.”
The interrogation began, and Nadell answered the questions. However, Nadell was able to keep three important facts from Darkstar. Nad didn't tell him that the others knew he was alive, or that they knew he was most likely headed for Araishima. He also excluded the fact that Shitekijo was training to Unleash, intent to hunt Darkstar down and avenge her brother. When Darkstar was done asking him questions, he proceeded to explain the situation to Nadell; the hybrids, Thee Abomination, all of it. After sharing the details, and the video, Nadell was left shaking and horrified. He said as he gaped and shook, “I can't believe this...this can't be happening!!!” Darkstar said, “Oh, it's happening, Nadell! Now do you understand why I need your help? I'm gathering people with the ability to Unleash ...as many as I can find. We're going to a distant island with plenty of space and a variety of environments. It's the perfect training ground, from what my father tells me. We will spend the next 2 ½ years training...I intend to become at least ten times stronger than I am now.” Nadell exclaimed, “Ten times?!!” Darkstar nodded and said, “The Platinum Lord is rumored to have a power of 500,000 DPU or higher, and my maximum was measured at around 54,000 DPU. So, to stand a decent chance, I figure I need to at least be able to rival the Platinum Lord. But that still leaves thousands of other hybrids, dozens of which have powers over 100,000...and the 12 remaining High Lords, each over 300,000! The odds aren't good, but the more Unleashers I can gather, the better. So, what do you say, Nadell...can we set aside our differences and work together?” Nadell said grimly, “You ask as if I have a choice, when I don't. But yes, if it'll help to protect the world from that ...that thing...I'll join your team.” Darkstar smiled, held out his hand and said, “Then I welcome you, Nadell. You may not have the hunting experience I do, but I have a feeling that once you master Unleashing...you'll be one of the strongest members of our team.” Nadell looked for a moment before he reluctantly shook Darkstar's hand, and he thought to himself, I can't believe this is happening! Either this is one hell of a crazy dream, or... or I'm royally screwed!!! When they stopped shaking hands, Darkstar added, “By the way, I should tell you now that there are two Chameleos hybrids on my team. One is in the other room, and the other will meet up with us in Nanseika. They have both seen the Abomination video, and that is why they've joined the cause; they know that not even the High Lords can control Thee Abomination. Just thought I'd let you know, so you don't freak out again when one of them appears.” Nadell said, “Thanks...I just wish you'd been that considerate when I woke up.” Darkstar chuckled and said, “I didn't see any way of waking you up and not scaring you half to death, so I didn't even try to.” Nadell said, “Fair enough.” They talked some more about Nad's experience with the Crimson Diablos, but it wasn't long before Jiva entered the room. Darkstar said, “You can reveal yourself, Jiva; I've already told him about you.” She appeared, and Nadell said, “Wow...so, that's a Chameleos hybrid?! Not at all what I expected! She's...beautiful!” Jiva giggled as she sat down next to Darkstar and said, “Why, thank you!” Darkstar asked, “Is everything ready, Jiva?” She nodded and said, “All set! Everyone's ready to go, and I loaded all of his stuff onto the transport.” Nadell said, “You've brought all of my things? What about the armor and swords?” Jiva looked at him and said, “That, too...how did you manage to get that set at your hunter rank, anyways? The Shinobi Night and Hi Ninja Kodachis are a high-level set, unless I'm mistaken.” Nadell said, “I was borrowing it from Gerik, but that isn't what I was talking about. What about the Crimson Diablos set? Did you get that?” Jiva looked at Darkstar, and he said, “We're trying to avoid attracting attention, and if anyone but you picks it up, you can bet it'll be noticed. If you really want that set, Nad, you'll have to get it yourself. But honestly, you're better off with the Shinobi Night and Hi Ninja Kodachis. Blos weapons and armor are unstable when Unleashed, which is why I used a Diablo set when I faked my death.” Nadell said, “I don't care...Rowan and the others gave up a lot of money and materials to help get me that set, and I don't want it to go to waste. She can come with me, to make sure I don't try to tell the others about you, if that's what you're worried about.” Darkstar grinned and said, “Alright, Nad...but you can leave them a note, if you'd like...just be sure to leave out what I've told you about the Yakunan, or any other sensitive information. Also, warn them not to follow us any further.” Nadell said, “Okay, I will.” Darkstar got out a pad and pen for him, and when Nadell was finished writing the note Darkstar looked over it...just to be sure. When he was done proof-reading it, Jiva took the note and left it on the inn table in Nadell's room. When she got back, she walked with Nadell (invisibly) to the hunter's shop, where he picked up his brand new Crimson Diablo weapon and armor set. They returned and went straight to the parking garage, and as Nadell boarded the middle transport Jiva left him to be watched by Lydia and the rest of the group. He looked around at them for a moment as he set down the bag containing his Blos weapons and armor, then asked, “Hey, where'd Jiva go?” Lydia shushed him and whispered, “Keep your voice down!” Nadell sat down and whispered, “Sorry. But where did she go?” Lydia replied, “She's with Darkstar and Joel. If we fire up the transports it'll wake up the whole town, so the three of them are going to pull the transports until we're far enough away. Also, Jiva is going to cloak the transports so your friends don't see us leaving.” Nadell whispered, “Oh, okay. But why do we need to whisper? I thought Jiva could keep sound from getting out.” Lydia replied, “She doesn't have the energy for a mobile cloak and a sound shield large enough to conceal all three transports, so we have to keep quiet for now.” Outside, the garage door was opened as quietly as possible, and Jiva brought up a cloak around the transports, including herself, Darkstar and Joel. The Chameleos parts Darkstar had brought along, placed on each of the transports, made it easier. When the cloaks were secure, Jiva whispered, “Go!” Darkstar began dragging the lead transport, Jiva pulled the middle with Nadell and the others on board, and Joel pulled the last transport. It still made some noise, but not nearly as much as three transports with engines running. They pulled out onto the main road and turned southwest for Nanseika. They had to move slow at first, four to five miles per hour, to minimize the noise of the wheels and, at least in the case of Darkstar and his father, the noise of their footfalls. But once they reached the edge of town, they were able to pick up the pace. Before long, they were hauling the transports at their usual operating speed. When they were out of sight of Rekusara, Jiva discontinued the cloaks and they boarded the transports, started them up and continued on to Nanseika.
Morning came, and the brigands and hunters from Valhar continued to watch over the inn across the street, switching watches every 2 hours. They had no idea that Darkstar and the others were already gone, but it wouldn't be much longer. As Shitekijo locked her room up to head downstairs for breakfast, she was stopped by Rowan. He asked, “Shitekijo, is Nadell still in his room?” Shitekijo said, “Yeah, he's pretty tired from that Crimson Blos quest you guys took him on. He hasn't left his room; he's probably still sleeping.” Rowan looked puzzled, then asked, “Are you sure he never left?” Shitekijo frowned and said, “Yes, I'm sure, I would've heard if he'd left. Why?” Rowan said, “I went to go pick up the Crimson Diablo set for Nadell, but the craftsman said Nad already came by and picked it up...shortly before dawn.” Shitekijo gaped and said, “That's impossible! I would've heard if he'd left! Unless...” She suddenly looked worried, and Rowan said, “We'd better check on him!” They rushed over to Nad's room, and Rowan knocked and asked, “Nadell, are you there? Nadell?!” But there was no answer, so Shitekijo said, “Stand back...I'll let us in.” She reached into her bag and pulled out a pin, which she used to pick the lock on the door. She picked the lock in seconds, and they rushed inside. Nadell and all of his things were gone; all that remained was the note. Rowan picked it up and read it, then he said, “They've taken Nadell!” Shitekijo took the note from him and read it. It said:
- To Rowan, and the rest,
- Early this morning, I was brought to the Royal Daimyo Inn and questioned by Saizen. Apparently
- he sensed me when I Unleashed against the Crimson Diablos. They know now that we followed
- them here from Valhar, and they intend to work harder at hiding their trail. In fact, by the time you
- read this, we will be out of Rekusara and headed to another city, which I'm not allowed to name.
- From that place, we will continue to another unknown location. I'm sorry to tell you this, but now
- that I know the truth about their plans and what's going on, I have no intention of resisting. I can't
- tell you just what the truth is, but Virgil was right; it's beyond what you can imagine, and the stakes
- couldn't be higher. I beg you, for your own sakes, do not try to rescue me. I know too much now
- for them to let me go, and if you learn the truth you will be trapped, too. Please, just keep away.
- I'll be fine now. Thank you for all that you've done for me. Perhaps we'll meet again someday, but
- for now...goodbye.
- ~ Nadell
Shitekijo growled as she folded up the paper and said half to herself, “Damnit, Nadell!” Rowan asked, “Was that really Nad's writing, or did Joel or...you know who...forge it?” She said grimly, “It's Nadell's writing, no mistake. It doesn't appear to be forced; the writing is relatively calm and unhurried.” She put the note in her bag and clenched her fists angrily. Rowan looked at her and said, “Try not to be too upset; I have a feeling that even though Nadell was questioned, he didn't tell them everything.” Shitekijo started and asked, “You think so?” Rowan nodded and said, “Think about the way he worded it. Did you see the slight emphasis on Saizen's name? I think he was trying to tell us some-thing.” Shitekijo said, “Of course! I should've seen that! He warped the S so it slightly resembles a D! Saizen wasn't the one who questioned Nadell; it was...!” Rowan nodded and said, “Exactly!” He closed the room door then continued quietly, “And if he wasn't allowed to say Darkstar questioned him, that means they still don't know that we know Darkstar's alive!” Shitekijo grinned and said, “He didn't say anything about Araishima, either! If that's their destination and Darkstar learned we plan on looking there, he'd have tried to mislead us; said they've decided to go elsewhere!” Rowan said, “Well, perhaps not...but if Nad was able to hide that we know about Dark -star, it stands to reason he also kept that secret.” Shitekijo said, “I'm counting on it. In any case, we'll find out when we reach Araishima. Now, let's go get the others and head out.” As Shitekijo went to open the door, Rowan said, “So, we're continuing the pursuit, in spite of Nadell's warning?” Shitekijo looked over her shoulder and said, “Do you really need to ask? I don't give a rat's ass about saving Nadell, especially now that he's apparently sided with the enemy. My only concern is making Darkstar pay for what he did to my brother.” Rowan said, “Nad must have a damned good reason to join Darkstar and his group, considering what he did to him. Whatever this “truth” is, it must really be something big.” Shitekijo said, “The reason is simple; he's being manipulated. Darkstar sensed his power, and he wants to use him...probably for world domination, or something like that. So, he's told Nadell some elaborate lie and convinced him it's true and in his best interests to join Darkstar.” Rowan said, “I don't know ...it would have to be pretty convincing, maybe undeniably real ...for Nadell to join him.” Shitekijo turned around to face him and frowned as she said, “I was convinced that Darkstar was dead, until you came after me and told me otherwise! If he could fake death well enough to fool even me, do you really think it would be that hard for him to fool Nadell?! You need to get this through your head, Rowan; as long as you're with me, you're against Darkstar! If you're having any doubts, settle them or leave; it's me or Darkstar...you can't have both.” Rowan sighed and said, “You're right, I'm sorry ...I'm just trying to see some good in a bad situation, some reason why Nadell would join Darkstar. But fear is a powerful motivator; perhaps he is being manipulated.” Shitekijo stepped up to him, smiled and said as she put a hand on his shoulder, “If it'll make you feel better, we'll rescue Nadell...but first, I intend to settle things with Darkstar.” Rowan nodded and said, “Do what you have to, Shitekijo...just be careful.”
After gathering the others and telling them about Nadell, they boarded the two transports and resumed the chase. They moved southwest towards Nanseika, following the trail that had been left. Shitekijo was surprised by the presence of a trail, especially after what Nad said in his letter, but a thorough examination left no doubt. Apparently Darkstar and his father had used Chameleos parts to make the transports invisible and pulled them out of town manually; it explained why no one had seen them leave. There were three sets of prints, one of which had a surprisingly light step considering the weight they had hauled. Who that could be, Shitekijo had no idea. Another Unleasher, certainly, to be capable of such a thing...probably one of Joel's friends. It had her worried; Darkstar would be hard enough to deal with, but if his father and the other Unleasher fought alongside him, or for that matter...if Nadell mastered his Unleashing and sided with Darkstar...how many more Unleashers were there? Dozens? Hundreds?! However many, she would have to find a way to get Darkstar alone to stand a decent chance. But Shitekijo still could not Unleash, and until she could...facing him was out of the question. She handed control over to one of the brigands, and moved to the back of the transport to resume her training. The armor and weapon jewel phases were done, and she was trying to sense a novacrystal. Darkstar had apparently Unleashed after a day of this training, which Shitekijo still found hard to believe. After all, she'd been at it for a week and still couldn't Unleash. Even Nadell had managed to Unleash, and without trying...but no, she still couldn't do it, and it infuriated her! But she tried to keep calm and focus on the crystal. As she looked into it, her mind began to wonder ...and suddenly, and revelation hit her. Of course! she thought, That's how they did it! Darkstar is said to have spent the whole first day of his trip practicing the sensing technique, and well into the night when he finally finished ...he fell asleep! When he woke up the next morning, he Unleashed for the first time against that Rathian! And Nadell, he'd been knocked unconscious by the Diablos; when he woke up and saw that his life was in danger, he Unleashed to save himself! Though he hadn't yet practiced the sensing technique, he'd handled gemmed weapons and armor. Somehow, in that life or death situation, that was enough...because he slept on it! I've heard that if you sleep on a problem, oftentimes you'll come up with a solution the next day...it must be true! Now I know what I have to do to Unleash. Shitekijo continued to focus on the novacrystal. It was more difficult to concentrate on the road, but she persisted. However, it wasn't long before her training was interrupted. The transports came to a sudden stop, and Shitekijo looked up and frowned in annoyance. Rowan got down from the lead transport, and as he approached Shitekijo asked, “Why are we stopping?” He said, “I think you'd better come see this.” So she got down and followed as Rowan led the way, and when he stopped the reason became clear. “This must be a false trail,” said Shitekijo. Rowan said, “It looks real to me, but you're welcome to check it.” The trail, rather than continuing on towards Nanseika, suddenly turned west down a desert road. A road to the middle of nowhere. It was more than suspicious, but Shitekijo still got down and checked the trail. She got up after a moment and said, “It is a real trail, but based on the indentation I'd say only one transport went this way. But what's strange is... there's no hidden trail continuing on for Nanseika. It's like the other two transports...just vanished!” Rowan thought for a moment before he said, “You know, Darkstar was able to throw One-Eye (Tensai) around without much difficulty during the latter half of their battle. If he could do that with Unleashing... what's to stop him from picking up a transport and flying it around? You didn't want to believe that was possible when I first suggested it, but that may be the only explanation.” Shitekijo sighed and said, “I guess it is. So, Joel must've taken one of the transports west to try and throw us off their trail. Then, he flew it back to rejoin the others further down the road. The course is clear; we continue on to Nanseika, and can safely assume that any more trails we encounter are false. Now, let's get moving.” Rowan nodded, but before he made it back to his transport Shitekijo said, “Oh, and one more thing, Rowan.” He looked back at her, and she said, “Don't interrupt my training again unless it's an emergency. I'm nearing the end of the focus training, and with luck and a good night's sleep...I should be able to Unleash tomorrow.” Rowan smiled and said, “Alright, then, I won't disturb you for anything less than a Fatalis attack.”
The hunters and brigands resumed their course, and Shitekijo spent the rest of the day training to Unleash. Darkstar and his group, however, had gained a considerable lead in spite of the time they spent laying false trails. Just 30 hours after leaving Rekusara, they arrived at Nanseika. The port city was bustling with activity, so few people noticed the arrival of three more transports. Still, as anxious as everyone was to get out, they waited until they reached the docks. At the far end, isolated from the other ships, the transports stopped...but everyone who got out remained cloaked. Once outside, they all gazed upon the next phase of the journey: the HSV Amenbo. Though designed for high speed, the Amenbo was disguised as a pontoon boat to avoid attracting extra attention. After all, its true design and capabilities were unknown to most people, and for good reason. It had 3 decks, was 50 yards from stem to stern, weighed about 90 tons (unloaded), and had room for 10 transports and 100 people. There were already seven transports onboard; four were dedicated to equipment, including Joel's, which had been brought by a friend (one of the Unleashers). The other three had carried the Unleashers themselves. Of those three, one belonged to the “King's help”; the Unleashers found and trained by Teiojin in secret! As they boarded the Amenbo, Zan, Joel and Max drove the transports up the ramp and secured them with the others. When that was done, Joel signaled the captain on the upper deck, who then signaled for the lines to be loosed and the engine started. With that, the Amenbo left Nanseika and made its way into the South Sea. As they gathered in the small remaining space on the transport deck, Joel pointed and said, “The passenger deck is up those stairs. Let's not keep the others waiting.” They went up the stairs, entered the passenger space one by one and closed the door when they were all inside. The windows were one-way, so even if someone had been close enough they couldn't have seen inside. Darkstar and the others finally took off their disguising garments, and introductions soon began. The space was somewhat cramped, but not as bad as it would've been if filled to capacity. Adding Dark -star's group of 23, there were 70 passengers; 50 Unleashers! So 30 of the 100 chairs had been unclamped from the deck and folded into storage, which left a decent space for them to stand and introduce each other. As soon as Jiva spotted Teiojin, she made a cute squeaking sound and exclaimed, “Teiojin!” She rushed toward him, and he smiled as he embraced her and said, “Hello, Jiva. How have you been?” She said with a smile, “I'm great, it's so good to see you!” Darkstar watched them for a moment, but he looked back when Joel began introducing him to the Unleashers. There were many names and faces, most of which Darkstar didn't recognize, and just as wide a variety in weapon and armor selections. Bowmen, gunners, lancers, greatsword users, hammer users, and even a few more longsword users. There were also some rare weapon types; from small to large mace balls, to knife-throwing specialists, bladed disks, boomerangs, melee, etc. When Joel finished introducing all of Tensai's pupils, his second in command said, “Now, allow me to introduce Teiojin's pupils, courtesy of King Atillart IV!” There were 15 Unleashers among that group, mostly normal weapon types, but some were oversized weapon types; an ōdachi (like longswords, but with a longer and thicker blade), a giant hammer, an extra large mace ball, a mega lance, a super greatsword, and last but not least ...an ultra heavy bowgun sniper. The sniper caught Darkstar's attention, because it was a hunter he knew. “Hey there, Darkstar,” he said, “...how goes it?” Darkstar exclaimed as he shook his hand, “Unknown Avenger?! You're one of Teiojin's Unleashers?!” The man, whose true name was unknown and went by the hunter name Unknown Avenger, nodded and said, “I am. Sorry I didn't tell you before, but it was on a need-to-know basis, and at the time you didn't need to know.” Darkstar said, “It's alright, I get it. And I guess that is also need-to-know!” Darkstar was referring to Unknown Avenger's ultra heavy bowgun, and he replied, “Indeed, it is. My Quick Quiver S+ has decent range and power, as you know from the hunts we've gone on together. But even that pails in comparison to the Omega Lao-Shan Lung Cannon! With this baby, I can shoot a tick off a Popo's ass from 500 yards away, and with Unleashing to assist me...add 2,000 yards to that range!” Darkstar said, “Wow...seriously?! That's incredible!!!” Unknown Avenger said, “Yeah, and that's if I focus on accuracy more than anything else. But when I focus on range and power...I can blow chunks off mountains from ten miles away!” Darkstar laughed and said, “Ten miles away?!! Now, you're pullin' my leg!” Many of the others also laughed, but they all stopped and looked when Nadell cleared his throat. Darkstar said, “Oh, of course. This is Nadell, the newest member of our team. You may have sensed his power when he fought a Crimson Diablos near Rekusara and Unleashed for the first time. He's also the former brigand you were told about; it hasn't been an easy transition for him, but he's done a lot better than I'd expected.” They all looked at Nadell, nodded and said hello. Nadell said to Darkstar, “Thanks for the introduction, but that's not really what I was getting at. I thought you said we're going to an isolated island, but it looks like we're headed for the Moga islands!” Darkstar said, “Yeah, that's the general direction.” Nadell exclaimed, “You call that isolated?! We'll be found in no time!” Darkstar said, “I said we are headed in that direction...I never said we would actually land there.” Nadell gave a start, then said, “So...are we going to Aya, or some other island beyond Moga?” Darkstar grinned and said, “No, not quite. Once we're 25 miles out from Nanseika, or beyond their perceived horizon line, we'll turn southwest toward our true destination. So, even if your friends try to follow us and actually make it to Nanseika, they'll think we're headed for Moga. It would take them months to search all the islands, and years if they're foolish enough to search the lands beyond! Also, since we will be out of Nanseika's visual range, we can uncouple this ship's façade and accelerate to full speed!” Nadell said, “Oh, okay. And how fast can this thing go?”
Darkstar looked at Joel, and Joel said, “The maximum speed of the HSV Amenbo has yet to be determined. In past tests, we've been able to get it up to 200 knots, but that's not...” Nadell said, “Two hundred knots?! But I never heard of a ship going more than 30 knots! It's just not possible!!!” Joel said, “True, with conventional propulsion... which it is now running on...30 knots is the limit. But when the façade has been discarded and the hydro-foils lift us out of the water, we can be at 200 knots in no time! However, as I was about to say, there is a much faster method of travel that this ship is capable of utilizing...but I'll have to check with the captain, to make sure it's ready.” Joel's second in command said, “No need...I've already talked to him; it's ready to go!” Joel smiled and said, “Excellent!” Nadell said incredulously, “A method of travel faster than 200 knots?! What is it?!” Joel said, “You probably aren't familiar with a hunter's tool called a farcaster, are you?” Nadell nodded no, and Joel continued, “It's like a smoke bomb, but when you use it you're sent back to your base camp. In basic terms, it allows 2 equal masses to switch places with each other at very high speeds. Typically, the mass you switch with is no more than a few miles away, but with the help of our Unleashing we can extend that range to thousands of miles! Two hundred knots is pretty fast, but when we use our Mega Farcaster...it'll be the equivalent of traveling at over 200,000 knots!” Nadell said, “TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND KNOTS?!!” Darkstar said, “That is pretty hard to believe, but then again ...with Unleashing a farcaster...that's probably about right.” Joel said, “Of course, it's not just any ordinary farcaster; a normal farcaster uses a single Exciteshroom. However, our Mega Farcaster requires four dozen Exciteshrooms to teleport us that distance, even with Unleashing to assist.” Darkstar said, “That's a lot of shrooms! So, how many of us will need to Unleash for it to work?” Joel said, “All of us, to be safe. I'm sure you remember what happened to the unfortunate man who tested the limits of a farcaster; I won't risk a repeat of that incident.” Nadell asked, “What ...what happened?” Darkstar said, “Trust me, you don't wanna know.” That made Nad nervous, but he soon forgot as they went on to explain how they would Unleash the Mega Farcaster. Each chair was equipped with two UPA (Unleasher Power Absorption) nodules at the ends of the armrests. All one had to do was sit down, place both hands on the nodes and Unleash a weapon and/or armor set. That power would be absorbed from the Unleashers and combined inside the Power Core, and from there the power would be channeled by a Master Unleasher (Joel, in this case) to properly Unleash the Mega Farcaster. The UPA system could be used to power main propulsion (200 knots for ocean travel, 300+ for flight), Energy Shields, and Amenbo's primary weapon: The Aurora Cannon. The cannon could utilize any element or element combination, including Aurora, because it was isolated from the passenger and command decks. They all eventually sat down and continued to talk about various things, until 50 minutes had passed and the ship was out of Nanseika's visual range. The props were put in reverse for a minute, and the ship came to a complete stop. The captain said over the intercom, “May I have your attention, please? This is your captain speaking; we are out of Nanseika's line of sight, so we may now make use of the Mega Far -caster to expedite our journey. Saizen, report to the command deck to supervise the Unleashing process. All other Unleashers, keep your hands on the UPA nodes at all times and prepare to Unleash on my command. If you can't Unleash, please keep your hands off of the UPA nodes to avoid any possible disruption of the UPA grid. You may experience strange audio/visual sensations while in transit, as well as dizziness and ringing of the ears upon arrival...these are normal side-effects of farcasting over such vast distances, and will only last for a few minutes. The farcasting will begin in a few moments. That is all for now.” Joel stood up and said, “Alright, time to go. I'll try to make the ride as smooth as possible.” “Good luck with that,” said Darkstar, and Joel nodded and said, “See you on the other side.” He went up the ladder to the command deck, and the rest of them prepared. While Darkstar and the other Unleashers kept their hands firmly on the nodes, Lydia and the others did just the opposite; most had their arms crossed or hands folded. Darkstar looked to his right, and Unknown Avenger grinned and nodded. To his left, however, Nadell was a nervous wreck. Darkstar said, “Hey, just relax; you'll do fine.” Nadell asked, “What should I use ...dragon, stun...something else?! What if I do something wrong and we don't come out right; bodies all scrambled with legs for arms and heads for feet, or something?!!” Darkstar said, “Nadell, relax...everything's gonna be fine! Now, just take deep breaths and calm down, and focus on your swords and armor like before. You know the sensing technique now, so you can do it. Just stick with dragon and stun; you know that combination well, and the Power Core will automatically convert it into whatever my dad needs to Unleash the Mega Farcaster.” So Nadell took several deep breaths, and after nearly a minute he was finally calm enough to Unleash. Moments later, the captain said over the intercom, “All hands, prepare for farcasting. Unleashers, ready.” Darkstar said, “Alright, here we go!” The captain continued, “Ten...nine...eight...seven...six...five...four...three...two...one...now, Unleash!!!” Darkstar, Nadell, Unknown Avenger and the other 47 Unleashed, and they immediately felt the power being drawn into the nodes. Aurora formed in the Power Core and was stabilized and converted into pure spirit energy. The power continued to grow, to the equivalent of 100,000 DPUs and beyond! As it approached 120,000, the captain said, “Farcasting will commence in ten...nine...eight...seven...six...” But as the captain counted down, Darkstar's eyes widened when he heard Jiva gasp and say, “Oh, no!” He and all the others looked at her, and they gaped; both of her hands were on the nodes of her chair! Darkstar exclaimed, “What're you doing, Jiva?! Remove your hands!!!” She shouted, “I can't, they're stuck!!!” Teiojin got up and tried to help her pull them off, but as he pulled the chair groaned and several bolts of static shot out. Teiojin gaped in horror and said, “I can't get her off, not without breaking the UPA lines!!!” A green fog surrounded the ship as the countdown finished, and no sooner did an alarm start blaring. Joel shouted over the intercom, “Emergency, emergency!!! We have a power surge in the UPA grid!!! PCM is off-balance, I'm getting anomalous readings!!! What in the hell's going on down there?!!” Darkstar shouted, “Jiva's hands are stuck, we can't get her off without breaking the chair and damaging the UPA lines!!! We have to abort!!!” Joel shouted, “We can't abort, we're already beginning to farcast!!! Jiva, you have to calm down and stabilize your power output!!!” She shouted, “Okay, I'll try!!!” Joel shouted, “I'll do my best to get us through this in one piece, but it's gonna be rough!!! EVERYBODY, HANG ON!!!”
From outside, the HSV Amenbo was suddenly surrounded by a glowing green fog, and several bolts of energy shot out from it. The fog thickened until the ship couldn't be seen, but just as quickly it faded...and the Amenbo was gone. No one from Nanseika saw this, and there were no other ships near enough to see it, either. However, from several dozen yards above the water's surface, there was a sound...like chuckling. “Well, well,” said a husky yet feminine voice, “That's quite a trick.” The Chameleos hybrid uncloaked, arms crossed and a wicked smirk on her face...tail waving absent-mindedly, but wings unmoving. She was using her energy to levitate. The hybrid said to herself, “I didn't think these humans were capable of extending the range of a farcaster to such a degree, even with their so-called Unleashing. Still, it would seem that Jiva managed to screw things up again, as usual.” She laughed, then continued, “They are probably dead now, or worse than dead. But perhaps they will make it...the human Joel is a capable Unleasher. In any case, I'll have to check Araishima another time; I'm late enough as it is, and Lord Tau'DrongViles does not enjoy waiting.” She chuckled wickedly, then said, “Don't die just yet, humans... the fun has only just begun!!! HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HAA!!!” With that, the Chameleos hybrid cloaked herself and flew northeast towards the Yakunan and the Black City.
The Training Begins! Return to Ancient Times
Lights of every imaginable color waved and pulsated, and the world was warped like a blob of water in free-fall. Amidst all the chaos, Darkstar could still see Nadell, Unknown Avenger and everyone else on the passenger deck ...even the people behind him, though he wasn't looking back. They looked as he must've looked; like a reflection in a house of mirrors, continuously changing and disproportionate. Everyone was dazed and confused, not just by the sights...but the sounds, as well. The claxon still rang, but it was slow and distorted. It was the same with every other sound; screaming, shouting, crying, retching and so forth. But as strange as it all was, in only got stranger. He started to hear and see events which had already occurred. From their journey to Nanseika, to Valhar and his “death”...upgrading the Neptune Slasher, his audience with King Atillart, the private dinner, Ijinshi and capturing Jiva. Surely these must be memories, he thought, But why do they seem so real? And why...are they all moving backwards? On it went; the incident with the brigands, his battle with Tensai, the first time he Unleashed, driving off the Chameleo-Fatalis, and beyond. Darkstar saw the earliest events of his life, many of which he didn't remember but somehow knew were real. But confusion became worry when he stopped seeing his life...and began seeing the events of his parents' lives; simultaneously, from the point of his conception and moving further backwards! It moved faster and faster; in no time, he was seeing the lives of Alec and his other grandparents. The lives of their parents, then their grandparents...from two to four to eight to sixteen to thirty-two lives, all viewed simultaneously and moving back faster and faster! It made the initial chaos seem simple by comparison, but in spite of its complex nature...a pattern began to emerge. Darkstar somehow knew it was part of something much larger, something... more important. But before he could tell exactly what it was, his view stopped expanding and began to shrink. He didn't have long to wonder why; as the generations continued to move backwards, he noticed something that didn't make sense. His ancestors, however far back this was, no longer appeared to be completely human. With each generation, the human traits receded and were dominated by...Darkstar gasped; he recognized the traits that were emerging, and he couldn't believe what he was seeing! Darkstar had studied the notes taken by Tensai and Teiojin concerning the 13 High Dragonian Lords. Included in Teiojin's was a recent “photograph” of Lord Bao'RaingRidos: the Black Fatalis hybrid. Apparently, close range pictures of the High Lords weren't considered as great an offense as video, but he'd still taken it secretly. Like with Teiojin, the traits were evenly balanced...only part human and part Fatalis. What shocked Darkstar, though, was seeing these traits in his ancestors! He thought, Am I hallucinating, or are these really visions of the past?! Does this mean that...that I'm part hybrid?! Is this why we have the ability to Unleash; our distant ancestors bred with hybrids?!! Why am I seeing this now...what does it mean?!! Thirty-two, sixteen, eight, four, two and finally...the visions slowed and stopped. There, face to face with the progenitor of his bloodline, Darkstar gaped. This was, without a doubt, a Fatalis hybrid... and a strong one, at that. It looked back with a blank expression, though Darkstar got the impression that it was sad. Darkstar asked in the ancient tongue, “Who are you?” He did it almost without thought, though he'd only just begun to study the language. The Fatalis hybrid answered, and again Darkstar was stunned. He thought he must've misunderstood, but after double and triple-checking the translation, there was no doubt. The hybrid had said, “I am...Baelom.” Darkstar exclaimed, “Baelom?! But that's...?!” The vision faded to black, and Darkstar lost consciousness.
Darkstar slowly began to open his eyes, and the bright light seemed to burn the inside of his head. The world felt like it was spinning, and his hearing pulsed with an intensity that shook his mind. He could barely find the will to move; just breathing made the dizziness worse. But still he smiled and thought, We made it! We're still alive! The captain said it would cause dizziness and ringing ears, so we must be! His thought was confirmed as his vision slowly returned, and he saw the others getting up around him. Several minutes passed by before everyone was awake, back in their seats and recovered enough to see and hear. The ear-ringing and dizziness was fading, but it certainly wasn't in a hurry. Nadell sighed in relief, and Unknown Avenger said, “Well...that was quite a ride! If not for this vertigo, I wouldn't mind going again!” Darkstar said, “Yeah...I think we should just stick with the hydrofoils, from now on.” Joel came down from the command deck and asked, “Is everybody okay?! Do we have any casual -ties?!” Darkstar said, “I'm still here, and so is everybody else, I think.” He looked around and was relieved to see Lydia, Rebecca, Joey and the rest of his family were okay. Most of the Unleashers he had known only since they came aboard, but still was glad they were all in good health, as well. Jiva, on the other hand, wasn't looking too good. She had finally pried her hands from the nodes, but they were burned and still smoking...and as Teiojin worked on healing them she shook. Tears were rolling down her cheeks, and she had an anguished look on her face. Though it was still hard to balance, Darkstar got up and walked over. He sat down next to her and asked, “Jiva...are you okay?” She looked up at him, and the look she gave him made his heart clench; this accident had more than physically wounded her. Jiva had been mentally and emotionally hurt, as well, though Darkstar couldn't understand how or why. It didn't help matters when Joel marched over and said coldly, “Just what in the hell did you think you were doing, Jiva? What part of “Unleashers only” did you not understand?! The UPA system was not designed to handle hybrid power. We may all be in one piece, but that's only because I gave everything I had and more to hold us together and get us through, which I still barely managed! That little stunt of yours could've killed all of us! Do you understand, Jiva?! Do you?!!” Jiva sobbed, and by this point Darkstar had had enough. All eyes turned to him when he bolted up and shouted, “Enough!!! Give Jiva a break! Do you understand how seriously she has been hurt, or are you still so dizzy you can't even see two feet in front of you?! It was an accident, she wasn't trying to get us killed.” Teiojin said, “Indeed, she wasn't. I saw what happened. You were right to say the UPA system wasn't meant to channel hybrid power; it was your UPA system that caused this accident in the first place! It pulls in Unleashed power, but it's frequency is of the kind that physically pulls on hybrids like us. I only avoided getting stuck because I saw Jiva's hands pulled in when she adjusted her seat. So, I knew to keep my hands well clear of the nodes...but it could just as easily have been me. If you don't want this happening again, I suggest you either get some chairs without UPA connections or make covers for the nodes when not in use. Frankly, I don't understand why that wasn't part of their design to begin with. Considering the risk, it seems only logical to do so.” Darkstar turned to look at Jiva when she cried, “I'm so sorry, I-I never meant for this to happen! I feel like such an idiot!!! I should've known to keep my hands back, I should've!” Darkstar sat back down and said as he comforted Jiva, “We're all still alive, and un-scrambled. If that isn't good enough,” he glanced up at Joel, then looked back to Jiva and continued, “I don't know what is. There's no sense in throwing fits over almost dying. If I'd made a habit of doing that just a year ago, I'd have a permanent frown on my face by now.” Joel chuckled and said, “Well, you're right son, of course. I'm sorry for shouting at you, Jiva ...I shouldn't have let my nerves get the best of me. I guess it's because, as close as I've come to dying in the past...it's never been this close before. Like trying to balance on a razor's edge while drunk; if I'd made the slightest mistake...just one...we'd all be dead now, or worse.” They all gaped, and Darkstar said, “Wow...we really came that close, huh? Well, that may explain some of the crazy things I saw while we were farcasting.” Unknown Avenger said, “I didn't see anything but weird colors and distortions. Did you see ghosts or something, Darkstar?” He grinned and said, “Something like that. I'll tell you about it later; for now, let's go outside and see the island!” Darkstar looked to Joel and asked, “We are at Araishima, right? Or were we thrown off course by the power surge?” Joel replied, “I don't believe we were...though it wouldn't hurt to have a look and make sure.”
So they all went above to the upper deck, the uncovered part behind the command area. Darkstar smiled as he breathed in the fresh air and looked around. It appeared to be the right place; Amenbo was floating in a beautiful blue lake, and approaching the nearest shores at normal cruising speed. All around them were mountains, forests, plateaus, valleys, a distant volcano surrounded by a wasteland...just as it was described to him. Lydia stepped up next to him, embraced him as they gazed over the water, and Darkstar said, “It's a beautiful land. I'll be busy with training most of the time, but I'll have to spend some of the time enjoying it. With you, Lydia...if you're available.” Lydia smiled and nodded, and she said, “We can be the first people to explore it.” “Yes, we can,” said Darkstar, “The first to explore every part of it, at least.” Jiva joined them, and Darkstar asked, “Jiva...are you feeling better now?” She nodded, but even though her burns had been fully healed, she still looked like she was hurting on the inside. Darkstar said, “Sorry, but I'm not buying that. There was more to it than just the burns, wasn't there? I saw it in your eyes. What exactly did that thing do to you?” Jiva looked at him, struggling to keep herself from breaking down and weeping again, and she said in a sad voice, “I don't want to talk about it right now, not where everyone else can hear; it's something very personal, and I'm trying my best to cope with it. I...I just wanted to say, thank you for standing up for me earlier. You will never know how much that means to me. Would you mind if...if I went off by myself for a while? I promise I won't leave Araishima without your permission, I just...I need some time to myself.” Darkstar looked at Joel, who was looking another direction, then at Teiojin, who also had a somewhat sad look on his face. Darkstar said, “Alright...take all the time you need to sort this out, whatever exactly it is. But I also want you to promise that you'll come back alive. I've seen that look in people's eyes before...not often, but the results were never good. Do you promise?” Jiva said in a shaky voice, “I'll do my best, Darkstar.” He replied in a serious voice, “Promise me, Jiva. If you do anything to hurt yourself...you'll be hurting me, and everyone else who cares about you.” Jiva shook with the effort of holding back her tears, and she said, “I'm sorry, Darkstar, but...that's one promise I can't make. I'll do my best...that's all I ever do.” She turned away to hide her tears, then said with a sad voice, “Goodbye!” With that, she jumped over the guard rail; her wings and tail expanded to full size, and she flew northwest across the lake and towards the nearest mountain. The others turned when they sensed her power or saw her flying away, and Joel rushed over next to Darkstar and exclaimed, “What the...where is she off to?! Why did you let her go?!” Darkstar said, “Jiva promised she would stay on the island...she just needs some time alone. I'm worried about her, though; I don't know just what that UPA surge did to damage her in this way, but I think she may be suicidal.” Joel said, “Well, in that case...” He looked over at Unknown Avenger and motioned for him to join them. Unknown Avenger stepped up next to them, and Joel said, “Alright, here's the deal...Jiva was injured by the power surge, as you know, but for reasons we don't know it's also made her depressed...possibly suicidal. I want you to follow her and keep an eye on her...as stealthily as you possibly can. If she looks like she's trying to kill herself, shoot a signal shot in our direction. If she IS about to kill herself and we're still not there, shoot her with a tranquilizer: no less than pierce level 7, tranq level 15. Years ago, Tensai and I determined that's what it takes to surely tranquilize a low Chameleos hybrid.” Unknown Avenger nodded and said, “Understood...” Teiojin stepped up, and he added, “Assuming that's ok with you, sir?” Teiojin said, “Of course. Jiva's my friend, as well, and I don't want to loose her.” Unknown Avenger nodded, and after checking to make sure he had everything, he Unleashed his cloak and became invisible. Darkstar Unleashed his eye, and he saw the distortion; Unknown A truly was a sniper, to be able to hide himself so well. He waved at Darkstar, who waved back and said, “Good luck.” There was a slight gust of wind as his Chameleos cloak became wings that lifted him into the air, and he flew invisibly in the direction Jiva had gone. Before long, even Darkstar's Unleashed eye could no longer see him, due to the distance. Teiojin said, “Unfortunately, if Jiva truly intends to end her own life, we have little chance of stopping her.” Joel nodded grimly and said, “I know...the Chameleos hybrid Tensai and I captured eventually used its own poison to kill itself. But it takes time, so as long as Unknown Avenger can detect it early enough...” Teiojin said, “He may be able to, but all Jiva would have to do is run and dodge. If worse comes to worst, he'll have one shot at tranquilizing her...and then we'll have only minutes to get the poison out of her.” Darkstar looked at Lydia, and she looked back for a moment, before looking in the direction of the mountain. She, too, was sad and worried, but beneath that... Darkstar could still detect a hint of jealousy. Not of Jiva's state of mind, obviously; of all the attention Darkstar was giving Jiva. He looked back at Joel and Teiojin and said, “Let's not discuss this again, unless worse does come to worst...Jiva's no weakling; she will get through whatever it is that's troubling her, somehow. I have faith in her.” They both nodded in agreement. Moments later, Nadell approached and asked, “So, are we...” He stopped and gasped when he saw Darkstar's Unleashed left eye; it was the first time he'd seen it since the incident on Ijinshi Road. Darkstar made his eye go back to normal and said, “Sorry, Nad...I didn't mean to scare you. I was just using it to watch Unknown Avenger leave.” Nadell sighed and took deep breaths to calm down, and Darkstar added, “But you're gonna have to get used to it at some point; the Unleashed Eye has some definite advantages, and we take advantages wherever we can get them when it comes to our mission.” Nadell nodded and said, “I'll try to do better at that.” There was a pause before he asked, “So, are we where we're supposed to be? Is this...“Araishima”?” Joel nodded, looked out across the lake and said, “Yes...we are in the correct place. This is Araishima, no mistaking it.” Darkstar noticed the emphasis, and the grim and confused expression on his father's face, and asked, “But?” Joel looked back at them and said, “We are in the right place...but I do not believe we are in the right time.” They were all confused by that, and Darkstar asked, “What? Not in the right time? What do you mean by that?!”
“Well, for one thing,” said Joel, “the sun is in the wrong position, even accounting for the distance we've traveled. It should be morning here, but look...” He pointed west towards the sun and added, “It's closer to sunset.” Darkstar asked, “You said the transit is only supposed to last for 20 seconds, right? Well, maybe the accident caused it to last longer somehow…and we just farcasted the day away.” Joel nodded no and said, “Not possible. If we’d been in transit for longer than two minutes, our bodies would’ve been scrambled beyond repair. According to the time- keeper, we were only in transit for 21.3 seconds. But that's not all. The landscape has changed drastically …too much so, again accounting for the time since I was last here.”” Teiojin asked, “What are you suggesting… that we’ve somehow traveled through time?” Joel nodded in agreement, and Teiojin added, “Then I suppose that leaves just 2 questions: how far through time have we traveled, and in what direction; to the future…or the past?” Joel said, “I know a good way to find out. There’s an ancient tree not far from here, over 2,100 years old when I checked it last. If we can find it and check its age, we should be able to figure out how far we’ve gone.” So Joel informed the captain to continue on towards the shore as he, Darkstar and Teiojin lifted off of the boat and flew south. It took some time and searching to find the tree, but when they did…they were shocked. Darkstar asked as he gaped, “Dad…are you sure that's it?!” Joel, looking like he might be ill, said, “Unfortunately, I am. This is the right location. But clearly…it isn’t the right time.” The tree, instead of a 2,100-year-old behemoth, was a sapling …no more than a few years old. Teiojin said as he gaped in horror, “This is bad! We need to figure out how old it is…we need to know exactly how far back we’ve been sent!” Darkstar gave a start, looked at Teiojin and said, “Wait a sec... you’re not thinking…?!” Teiojin nodded grimly and said, “Yes, I am! And if I'm right... we MUST find a way back to our own time, as quickly as possible!” Darkstar said, “But the Yakunan...is thousands of miles away!” Teiojin said urgently, “It doesn't matter, The Abomination wreaked havoc across the entire world! If we have truly returned to the end of the Sixth Age, we're not safe anywhere...not even here on Araishima!!!” Joel said in a grim voice, “Then let's see how much time we have, if any.” He unsheathed his naginata, and in one swift motion he cut through the tree at chest-level horizontally. Joel sheathed the naginata, caught the upper half of the tree and set it down on the ground. Without any further delay, he stepped up and began examining the tree core. A minute passed...two... while Darkstar and Teiojin anxiously waited. Joel finally turned to face them, and Teiojin asked, “Well?! What year is it?!” Joel said grimly, “I quadruple-checked my calculations to be sure, and there is no doubt. The good news is, Thee Abomination will not be paying us a visit today.” Darkstar asked uneasily, “And the bad news?” Joel said, “The bad news ...is that according to my calculations...we have a month, more or less, to figure out how to get back to our time. If we can't by then, we will bear witness to the end of the Sixth Age.” They both gaped, and Darkstar asked, “A month...more or less?! Well, is it more or less?!!” Joel said, “It's impossible to say, based solely on this. When judging time by tree cores, any period of time less than a year is pure guesswork. One of us will have to fly to the mainland to find the exact date, and thus how much time we have.” Teiojin said, “The exact date of Thee Abomination's last return, according to the “legends”, was day one of the year 616. By your calendar ...winter solstice, year 2,012 of the Sixth Age.” Darkstar said, “Wait a minute...if we have even just a few days, why not warn them? We could go to the Yakunan and tell Baelom what will happen if he opens the portal! If we bring the ancient texts as evidence...” Joel interrupted, “That's not possible, son. Even if they were willing to listen, which I seriously doubt, this is the past; it cannot be changed.” Darkstar asked, “How do you know that? Have you ever tried to change the past, or for that matter even been to the past?!” Teiojin said as he looked at Darkstar, “It's not possible, Darkstar, because it can't be possible. But I guess you've never heard of the grandfather paradox before, have you?” Darkstar said, “No, I haven't. What is it?” Teiojin replied, “It explains why the past cannot be changed. Imagine traveling back in time to the night your father was conceived, and killing your grandfather before ...well, before conception takes place.” Darkstar gave him a confused look and asked, “Why would anyone do a thing like that?!” Teiojin said, “The why isn't important; it's a matter of logic. If you kill your grandfather before your father is conceived, he will never be born...and as a result, YOU will not be born. And if you are never born...how could you possibly kill your grandfather in the first place?” Darkstar said, “Uh...you can't?” Teiojin said, “Exactly! That is why events which have already occurred cannot be changed.” Darkstar exclaimed, “What kinda logic is that?! I can't go back and erase myself from existence, therefore I can't change the past in any way?! By that logic, I could walk up to Baelom, stick my ass in his face and he wouldn't even see it!” Teiojin chuckled and said, “Perhaps, but I wouldn't recommend it!” Darkstar said, “I'm talking about stopping a disaster before it starts, not committing retro-active suicide! Why can't that be possible?!” Joel said, “Even if we're wrong and things can be changed, it's too dangerous! The possible repercussions of altering the timeline are too numerous to imagine, and even if we did manage to close the portal...how long before Baelom or someone else reopened it? We'd only be delaying thee inevitable. Our best bet is to get back to our own time, and stop the High Lords from making the same mistake as Baelom.” Teiojin said, “However...we may as well take advantage of our presence in this time. Many ancient technologies were lost in The Abomination's rampage, and at least a few of them should prove helpful to our training. Gravity plates, for example...they were for physical training, designed to increase the force of gravity within the area they were tiled!” Joel grinned and said, “Interesting...that would certainly be useful!” Teiojin added, “Full body training suits of this time were also said to be more advanced. The suits would require some modifications to work for you, because they were designed for hybrids, but they could be adapted to serve as additional training gear. There were also long-range communicators, teleportation tags, matter/energy converters, portable power cells...” Joel said, “Alright, I get the idea. So, it's at least reasonable to risk retrieving as many of these lost items as possible...” He looked at Darkstar and added, “...but no unnecessary risks are to be taken, understood?” Darkstar nodded grimly, and Joel continued, “Good. Now, we can decide later who gets to go “shopping” in the Yakunan...but for now, we need to get back and inform the others of our findings.” Joel lifted the top half of the tree, put it back where he'd made the cut, and once it was lined up began healing the tree. Normally Darkstar would have been intrigued, but his mind was preoccupied by their situation...and the memory of his vision. So, it's true, he thought, It must be...otherwise why would I have seen those things? Baelom...I'm a descendant of Baelom. If he knew that...would he be willing to believe me? Can I stop this apocalypse before it begins...or will trying only make matters worse?
Once the tree had been healed, they took off and headed for the HSV Amenbo. It had laid anchor as close to the shore as possible, and the Unleashers were air-lifting the transports the remaining distance. They stopped when Joel, Darkstar and Teiojin landed, and they all gathered around when Joel called for them to. When everyone was ready and waiting, Joel said, “I'm afraid I have some bad news. While this is, indeed, the right place...we've found irrefutable evidence that it is not the right time. We've traveled over 2,000 years into the past, and approximately one month from now...Thee Abomination will be loosed upon the world. As a result, the end of the Sixth Age and worldwide decimation.” There were several gasps and murmurs, many of them fearful...even from the Unleashers. “But do not give up all hope,” continued Joel, “We WILL find a way to get back to our time before then, no matter how great the challenge. This isn't merely encouragement; we do have a chance. Whenever we use a Mega Farcaster, we always keep a detailed record of the event, in case something goes wrong and we survive. The captain, his assistants and I will give the data a thorough analysis. If travel into the past is possible, then travel into the future must also be possible!” One of the Unleashers shouted, “It's that Chameleos hybrid's fault we're in this mess! She couldn't keep her hands off the nodes!” Many of the others nodded and murmured in agreement, and Joel said, “While I won't deny that Jiva's interference with the UPA system is the most likely cause of this, I don't believe that she ever intended for this to happen. She's having a hard enough time of it as it is, so try to be considerate when she gets back. After all, we may need her power again if we're to get back to our proper time.” Darkstar turned to look at him and said, “Wait a minute, you're not intending to put Jiva through that again, are you? She's become suicidal from just one trip, so what do you think a second will do to her?! She'll die!!!” Someone said, “The hybrid got us into this mess, so it should get us out! Better for it to die than us! Let the hybrid die so that we might live!!!” A few of the others also mumbled agreement, but all went silent when Darkstar's Unleashed eye glowed bright gold and glared into the crowd for a long moment. He said, “Well, go on...say it again. I'll personally come out there and rearrange your face! Any takers?!” It remained silent, and Darkstar continued, “I never thought to see this kind of racism from you. Were you not trained by Tensai, a Dark Tigrex Daken...or by Teiojin; a Chameleos hybrid, like the one you would so carelessly sacrifice to save yourselves, you cowards?!” He turned around to look at Teiojin and Joel and added, “I don't know what exactly you've been teaching them, but clearly they are lacking in the areas of tolerance and respect!” Joel sighed and said, “The ones you mean weren't actually trained by Tensai; they're new recruits, and suspicious of all hybrids. But unfortunate as it is, we may have no choice but to use Jiva. I'll analyze the problem to be absolutely certain, but you need to prepare yourself for the possibility, son; Jiva may be our only hope of returning to our time.” Teiojin looked at Joel and said, “Not necessarily ...Jiva and I aren't of the same family, but our breeding makes us similar in many ways. I volunteer to take Jiva's place, if there's a chance it could work. I may end up like her, but at least we'll both still be alive.” Darkstar smiled and said, “Thanks, Teiojin...that's very brave of you.” He glanced over the Unleashers again as he said that last bit. Joel said, “Until I've come up with a solution, we're stuck here in this time...and like Teiojin said, we might as well make the best of it. Quicksilver?” One of the Unleashers, dressed in Silver Sol ZX armor and a World's End S+ gunlance on his back, stepped up and said as he stood at attention, “Sir!” Joel said, “I want you to fly to Minegarde and find out the date, so we'll know exactly how much time we have. You'll probably have to fly all the way to Rekusara; I don't think Nanseika was established yet this far back. Find the date, and get back here as quickly as possible.” The man, known as Quicksilver, saluted and said, “Sir, yes sir!” With that, he crouched down and jumped a hundred feet into the air. Instead of falling, his armor and gunlance transformed as he levitated in place. In no time, he was surrounded by what appeared to be a silver teardrop with a round opening at the bottom. The point of the teardrop turned 90 degrees and aimed northeast, and suddenly it accelerated to an impressive speed. Fire shot out in a jet from the opening, and its speed jumped up once again. A booming sound was heard as it flew away, and in no time it was gone! Darkstar said, “Wow...I'm not sure, but I think that was faster than my top speed! Is he alright, though? I thought I heard an explosion.” Teiojin said, “Very impressive! And yes, there's nothing to worry about, Darkstar. The boom you heard means he was moving faster than the speed of sound. In fact, I'd say he got up close to 800 miles per hour!” Joel nodded and said, “Yeah, that sounds about right. It'll still be about 5 hours before he gets back, but anyone else would take at least 6 hours.” Joel looked at Darkstar and asked, “So do you still think my men are lacking in respect?” Darkstar chuckled and said, “Well, that one certainly isn't.” They paused for a moment, and Darkstar asked, “Can the High Lords move faster than that?” Teiojin said, “Unfortunately for us, they can. But we have other concerns at the moment. Right?” Joel started and said, “Oh, yes, that's right! We have to decide who's going to the Yakunan!” That caught the attention of the gathering, and Joel said, “Teiojin wants to go to the Yakunan and save some technology of this time, which will be lost when Thee Abomination is free and ravages the world. So, while we're here and we still have time, we're going to save it...because some of this technology will help us with our training.” Joel looked at Teiojin and said, “It pretty much goes without saying that you're going; humans alone would draw too much attention.” Darkstar said, “Hold on ...you're not planning on going uncloaked, are you?! Isn't that kind of like suicide?!” Joel chuckled and said, “These are different times, son...human/hybrid relations were better in the early days, so as long as we have Teiojin with us...we won't need to bother cloaking. Anyways, even if we cloaked they could tell by our power and scent that we were human, so there's really no point in it.” Darkstar asked, “Then why are you opposed to me trying to talk some sense into Baelom?! At least let me try to stop him from releasing Thee Abomination!!!” Joel's expression became grim, and he said, “Walking the streets with a hybrid chaperone is one thing...but confronting the High Lord and telling him he's about to make a fatal mistake, while he's probably under the influence of Thee Abomination... I'm sorry, son, but even in this relatively peaceful time...the danger is too great.” Darkstar said, “You're afraid of loosing me, I get that...but I know something you don't know, and if I can use it to get through to Baelom...” Joel interrupted, “I don't care what you think you know, the risk is too great! We've been over this already, now don't make me repeat myself!” Darkstar exclaimed, “Damnit, will you just listen and let me explain...” Joel shouted, “Enough!!! I am your father, so now you listen! I was considering letting you come along, so you could see the Yakunan and become familiar with its layout, but since you are unwilling to let this go...I forbid you from entering the Yakunan.” Darkstar said, “But...” Joel snapped, “But nothing! I've made up my mind. You'll stay here and spend your time training.” Darkstar stared defiantly into his father's eyes, and Joel stared back with an unbreakable resolve. Darkstar finally said, “Fine...have it your way. Keep your precious timeline, if you're so afraid of thee unknown. Just remember...I could've saved them, but you wouldn't even let me try. Their blood is on your hands, not mine.” Darkstar flew off of the sandy beach, over to the Amenbo and got his bags from the transport. He then put them on the other transport with his safe containing the rest of his things, and after untying it from the deck he flew it to the shore. As Darkstar set the transport down and started the engine, Joel asked, “Where do you think you're going!? I haven't told you the training schedule yet!” Darkstar said without looking at him, “Don't bother; I'll train myself.” He drove south towards the foothills, and the others watched as he left.
While Joel and the others eventually resumed their talks and decided who else would be going to the Yakunan, Darkstar continued south for about 10 miles, until a plateau got in his way. He stopped in a clearing at the base of the plateau, got out, sat down next to the transport and began his training. The focus of his training: portal creation. Darkstar had already looked over Tensai's notes pertaining to it and had practiced some during the drive from Valhar. So far, the best he'd done was an inch-wide portal with only four feet between the entrance and the exit point...and that had only lasted for a few seconds. Still, that had been within the confines of the transport; he could extend the range almost as far as he wanted to now. The hard part was widening the portal, and keeping it open for more than a few seconds. Darkstar Unleashed his weapons and armor, and he focused all of the energy into a pinpoint in the space before him. A bright point of light formed, and when Darkstar felt it catch he willed the point to expand. The portal grew to a little wider than an inch, and its exit point appeared parallel and about five feet away. Now came the hard part, an idea that Darkstar had to hold it open...but had backfired with nearly fatal results when he last attempted it. However, because of the open space, he was able to make it work this time. Using the energy recycling technique taught to him by Jiva, he attached it to the portal. There was a surge of energy, and it almost flew apart again, but he stopped it just in time. The portal remained open; it had worked! It would still fade eventually, but with energy recycling it would last for minutes instead of seconds. Darkstar then focused on increasing the width of the portal; it needed to be at least four feet wide, though five or six would be safer. Tensai had suggested in his notes that the best way to utilize a portal was to turn it parallel to the ground. By doing so, one could drop through to the other side; it was much easier than jumping or flying through, and the portal didn't have to be as wide that way. With energy recycling keeping the portal open, Darkstar was surprised at how much easier it was to widen the portal. Surely the High Lords must use this same technique, he thought, Why, then, is it taking them so much longer to open the portal to Thee Abomination? Could there be some sort of safeguards, designed to make it harder for anyone to free that thing? The gods themselves must've imprisoned that monster; it's no wonder they're having such a hard time getting through, if that's the case! Darkstar gave a start; he'd been so busy thinking that he wasn't paying attention, but the portal had grown to nearly four feet in diameter already! Amazing, he thought, I owe Jiva big for teaching me that energy recycling technique; this is so much easier because of that, it's ridiculous! Darkstar added more energy into the recycling loop, to make sure the portal didn't fade away, and he continued to widen it until it was six feet in diameter. He then repositioned the entrance and exit, so both were parallel to the ground and separated by 100 feet. The entrance was only a few inches above the ground, but the exit needed to be several feet higher; otherwise, whatever went through wouldn't have room to land safely. Darkstar said to himself, “Now, I need something to test it on...to make sure it's safe.” He happened to spot a Mosswine nearby, so he took a sleep knife from his bag and threw it. The pig fell unconscious, and Darkstar walked over, lifted it up and carried it back to the portal entrance. Darkstar looked at the sleeping pig in his arms and said, “Ok, Mosswine ...let's put this thing to the test.” With that, he let go of the pig, and it fell through. There was a surge of energy again, and Darkstar turned when he heard the pig hit the ground on the other side. He ran over and looked at it for a moment...but it wasn't moving. Darkstar ducked below the portal and shook the pig, then checked for breathing or a pulse; there was none. Darkstar said to himself, “Damn, it's dead! What went wrong?!” Darkstar was startled when he heard someone say, “I’d say it was all the extra energy that killed it.” He almost stood up, but then remembered the portal was still above him, so Darkstar crawled out from under it before standing and turning around. He said, “You’re…uh…”
The woman smiled and said, “It’s alright, we only just met this morning. I’m Natasha!” Darkstar nodded and said, “Right, Natasha…I knew it was something with an N.” She was one of the Unleashers, obviously. She had medium blue hair, bright blue eyes, and was wearing full Azure Soul ZX and Wyvern Blade “Delphinium”, which was still in the form of wings attached to her back. She had a second longsword between the wings, but much to Darkstar’s surprise, he didn’t recognize it! Natasha giggled when she noticed his fascinated look, and she said, “It’s a custom longsword, made by Tensai specifically for me. Would you like to see it?” Darkstar smiled and said, “Yes, please!” She reached over her shoulder and lifted the sword from its sheath, then held it out for Darkstar to take. As he examined it, he said half to himself, “A beautiful sword for a beautiful huntress.” She giggled again and said, “Careful, Darkstar; that sounds dangerously close to a flirtation!” Darkstar grinned and said, “Well, it would be, but as it turns out, I’m already taken. This really is a beautiful sword, though. What’s it called?” Natasha said, “It’s called the Sky Slasher; its base element is wind, but I have it gemmed for Sapphire Sandstorm.” The design of the sword was reminiscent of the Divine Slasher, but there were differences. The tip of the blade had a longer transition, and was sharper as a result. The curve of the blade was also slightly greater. Its hilt…instead of perpendicular claws circling out in opposite directions…was two-pronged like that of a sai. The handle was also form-fitted, and instead of jagged spikes along the back of the blade they were wavy and smooth; as if shaped by the wind. The overall color was sky blue, glossy with the exception of the rubberized grip, with some variations in the brightness…again in a wind-like waving pattern. Darkstar knew that Tensai was capable of masterful works, but this was perhaps one of his greatest. He swung the sword with a single hand, and out from its edge shot a crescent of wind and sapphire-colored sand. It cut cleanly through a nearby tree before curving back around and returning to the sword, and it was several seconds before the upper half of the trunk slid down and fell over. He returned the sword to Natasha as he said, “An excellent sword! In fact, I think I’ll have to see about having one made for myself, when we get back to our own time!” Natasha said as she sheathed the sword, “Well, it wouldn’t be quite as good as this original, but I think Zan and the others could still pull it off.” They were silent for a moment before Darkstar asked, “So…you’ve come here to…what, exactly; train with me? Or did my father send you to make sure I don’t fly off to the Yakunan?” She replied with a grin, “Well, I was sent by your father to make sure you don’t do anything reckless…but if you’d like, I can train you, as well.” Darkstar said, “Oh, I see. So, you’re not going to train with me, you intend to school me? I may be relatively new to Unleashing, but I’ve picked up a lot of things in a short period of time. What can you teach me that I don’t already know?” She chuckled and said, “Plenty, I’m sure. The portal you were making, for one thing; it was most likely due to an excess of energy that the Mosswine died.” Darkstar asked, “It died because…I used too much energy?! But…that was barely enough as it was to keep the thing open!!! How am I supposed to make a functional portal with less energy that’ll stay open for longer than a split-second?!” Natasha said, “Like this.” She raised her hand, and above it formed an 8-inch-wide portal. Darkstar started when he saw the exit form next to his left shoulder. Natasha reached through, tapped him three times on his shoulder, then retracted her hand and discontinued the portal. Darkstar was gaping at her, and after a pause he said, “How did you…is your hand okay?!” Natasha laughed and said, “Yes, it’s fine, don’t worry! I’ve done this before.” Darkstar said, “But I was under the impression that among our group, only Tensai had made a portal, and it only lasted for a fraction of a second!” Natasha nodded and said, “I’ve been off by myself for a good while, and I just recently mastered portal creation; that’s why you didn’t know.” Darkstar said, “You’re… more powerful than Tensai was; that’s the only way you could’ve done that!” Natasha nodded and said, “Yes, I’m fourth strongest among the Unleashers; that definitely helps. But did you see what I did differently, Darkstar?” He nodded and said, “Yes…you didn’t use the energy recycling technique; you had to be quick about it, but you were able to hold it open long enough!” Natasha said, “That’s the key to using portals, you have to be fast. For long-range portals, you can use that energy recycling technique so it’s easier to hold open and position the exit. But before you try to go through, you MUST discontinue energy recycling; otherwise the excess energy WILL kill you!” Darkstar said, “I see. But that would mean powering the portal even as you move through it. What would happen if it collapsed while you were in it? Could you get back?” Natasha said, “Well, I’m not too sure. For a short-range portal, you would probably be cut in half. For a long-range portal …you’d probably be left in the tunnel between worlds! Conceivably, if you made a new portal before the tunnel collapsed, you could survive. But as for where you would end up …who knows?” Darkstar said, “Kind of a frightening thought; being trapped in a tunnel outside of reality, or erased from existence. So, there’s no way of surviving with the energy recycler still active?” Natasha said, “Not that I know of. Every time I tried it with energy recycling, the test animals always died. I tried altering the configuration, I even tried putting protective barriers around the animals themselves…but they never made it through alive.” Darkstar said, “Damn! Well, no one said it would be easy.” Natasha said, “That’s right. Portals are challenging to master, but can be very useful once you do. Not just for getting from point A to point B, but for other things as well.” Darkstar asked her, “What else can they be used for?” Natasha grinned mischievously and said, “Well, they can be weaponized, for one thing…” She formed another portal above her hand, but the exit formed in front of Darkstar’s face, and she sent her fist into the portal. Though he was wearing piercing, the punch was still enough to knock him back and make him cry out in surprise. He said, “Hey, what’s the big idea?!” Natasha laughed and said, “I was demonstrating how portals can also be used as weapons! You can use them to punch or kick or stab from miles away. I’m sure your friend Unknown Avenger would find it very useful, to be able to shoot a target from the other side of the world!” Darkstar’s eyes went wide, and he said, “Wow…I hadn’t thought of that. But now that you mention it, I have an idea. Check this out!” Darkstar made a new portal, but instead of enlarging both ends he only did so for one. The entrance was enlarged to 2 inches, but the exit was only ¼ of an inch in diameter. Natasha gasped and exclaimed, “No, Darkstar, wait!!!” But it was too late; Darkstar had flipped the entrance and sent it into the ground. From the exit shot out a beam of matter traveling at over the speed of sound; Natasha tried to dodge it, but cried out in pain as it struck her in the left breast and launched her back! As she tumbled along the ground and lay there moaning in pain, Darkstar gaped in horror and exclaimed, “Oh, no…Natasha!!!” He ran over and got down beside her, checking to make sure she was alright. Her armor was worn away and indented at the point of impact, but that and her dodging had saved her from being impaled! She squinted up at him and said in a pained voice, “Congrats, Darkstar…you discovered…portal beam. I’m impressed…it took me a while to come up with that idea. Any higher of a concentration, and…you’d have pierced my armor. I…” Darkstar said sadly, “I’m so sorry, Natasha…I didn’t mean to hurt you, I was just trying to…” She interrupted, “It’s alright, Darkstar…don’t worry about it. I am going to need to fix my armor, though…and I’ll need a break from wearing it and an ice pack for my tit. It’s gonna be sore for a while, that’s for sure.” She grinned up at Darkstar mischievously and said, “Maybe if you kiss it, it’ll heal faster!” Darkstar couldn’t help but laugh at that, and he said, “You're something else!” Natasha replied, “A good something, I hope.” Darkstar nodded, and helped her back up. Her wings returned to their sword form, and she held her aching chest as they walked back to the transport.
Inside the vault on the back of the transport, Natasha had removed her Azure Soul armor and was sitting in a chair. Darkstar was looking through his things for tools to help fix her armor, and an ice pack and bandages for her chest. “I'd heal it for you,” he said, “but I've only had experience healing my own injuries. Also, I don't think it would be appropriate, considering...where your injury is.” He found the supplies and went to hand them to her, but stopped and gaped; her left breast was uncovered and she was examining the bruise. Darkstar looked away and said, “Uh...here's the supplies you needed.” Natasha giggled as she took the box of things from his outstretched hand and said, “There's no need to be so shy, Darkstar; I don't mind if you look!” Darkstar didn't look back, though, and he said, “Yes, well...I doubt that Lydia would feel the same about it. She has been very lenient in regards to Jiva's flirtations, but...I really shouldn't push my luck.” Darkstar didn't see her sad expression, but heard it in Natasha's voice when she said, “You really care about her; Jiva, I mean.” Darkstar nodded and said, “More than anyone else I've known for less than a week. In a matter of days, we've developed the kind of mutual trust and friendship that normally takes months! She's been more distant lately, but I know that's only because of Lydia; Jiva is infatuated with me, but cares enough not to interfere with my relationship with Lydia. But...I'm worried about her; the incident with the UPA surge wounded Jiva. Not just physically, but in some deeper way that I don't understand. We've hardly known each other, but in spite of that...in spite of the fact that she's a hybrid...I...I don't want to loose her. I don't think I can handle loosing another friend, so soon after what Tensai did.” Natasha said, “Well...if it makes you feel any better, Darkstar, you have gained a friend in me...and perhaps more if you ever become available, assuming I can get to you before Jiva does!” Darkstar chuckled and said, “Thanks, Natasha.” She said a moment later, “Okay, you can go ahead and look now.” Darkstar turned and looked; she had the ice pack strapped to the bruised side of her breast, but it was now covered with bandages. As she got into the tools in preparation for fixing her mail, Natasha said, “It'll be a while before I can give more demonstrations, but you can still continue your training. Forget about using energy recycling for now and put all your focus into portal creation. Here are some of the steps I used to become skilled at it. Step One: practice holding a portal open for as long as possible without energy recycling to assist you. The more you practice, the easier it will become...and the longer you'll be able to keep it open. Step Two: practice widening the portal before it collapses on its own. Do not try to keep it open in this step; this is to improve your speed and force of will. Step Three: practice widening the portal as fast as possible to the desired size, then holding it open for as long as possible. There are more steps beyond that, but you won't make it that far before the day is done. In any case, you'll need my help with the other steps.” Natasha began repairing her armor, and Darkstar asked, “So, then...who helped you?” She replied, “Me, myself and I. Tensai did instruct me briefly in a variety of techniques, as did your father...but there were others who needed teaching; they couldn't spend all their time training me. So, in the case of portal creation, and a few other areas, I was mostly on my own.” Natasha smiled at him as she said, “But you don't have to do it alone, like I did. I'll help you when you're ready, and once I've healed.” He smiled and said, “Thanks...I appreciate it. Well, I'll be over here practicing. If you need anything, just let me know.” She nodded, and Darkstar went back out to train with portals.
Hours passed by, and well into the night Darkstar finally stopped to take a break. Natasha had worked on setting up camp once she was done fixing her armor. There were torches spread around to light the clearing, as well as a campfire that was cooking dinner and a tent made from Darkstar's supplies. His bed was set up in the tent, and she was making it. When he approached, Natasha smiled and said, “About time you took a break! You may have spent a whole day practicing to Unleash, but you can't do that with portal creation; it's much too dangerous!” Darkstar grinned and said, “Hey, I'm fine, see? And besides, it was just a few hours...not a whole day. But it looks like you've been busy, as well. You didn't have to do all of this on your own, Natasha; you could've asked for my help.” She replied, “And interrupt your training? I think not! I'm feeling better now; it's not that big of a deal.” Darkstar said, “Well, thanks again for the help. Dinner smells great...you even got the bed and a set of my casual clothes ready! The only thing that’s missing is a bath!” Natasha smirked as she stepped up to him and said mischievously, “That can be arranged; there’s a freshwater spring and falls not far from here.” She took hold of him and looked up into his eyes as she continued, “We could go there for a bath, after dinner. I’ll wash you if you wash me.” Darkstar grinned and chuckled, Natasha did the same, and then he said, “Sorry, Natasha…but if Lydia found out, it would upset her, and rightfully so. We’ll have to bathe separately.” Natasha nodded and said, “Of course, I understand.” She added with a grin, “What a shame…I know a special washing technique; I think you would have found it very enjoyable!” They both gave a start when a familiar voice said, “Oh, really, is that so?” They gaped towards the doorway of the tent, and Darkstar exclaimed, “Lydia! When did you get here?!” Lydia said, “Only just.” She frowned at Natasha for a moment before clearing her throat, and with a start Natasha removed her hands from Darkstar and took two steps back from him. As Lydia stepped up next to Darkstar, she grinned angrily at Natasha and asked, “So, this “special washing technique”…what does it involve, pray tell?” Natasha chuckled nervously and said, “Umm…nothing, really! I was just joking, it isn’t that big of a deal!” Lydia said, “I see. Well, then, if it’s no big deal, I suppose I’ll let you give Darkstar a bath…on one condition.” She smiled menacingly and said, “All that you do to Darkstar…you must do to me first!” Natasha laughed faintly and said, “Uh…I think I’ll pass!” Lydia frowned and said, “Yeah, I thought so. If anyone is going to take a bath with Darkstar, it’s me!” She smiled up at him as she embraced him and asked, “Well …how about it? Wanna take a bath with me, Darkstar?” He grinned and chuckled, and he said, “Sure, sounds like fun!” They kissed and held each other for a moment, then looked at Natasha, and after a pause she said, “Well, umm…dinner’s ready now! So, how about we go and eat?” The three of them gaped when there was a sudden growling sound, and Lydia asked as she looked around, “What was that...a monster?!” Darkstar said, “No, I’m pretty sure...that was my stomach.” Natasha looked at him, and she grinned again. The three of them started chuckling, and it wasn't long before they were laughing hysterically. Natasha said in between laughs, “Oh, no, it’s a monster!!!” and Darkstar laughed, “Yeah, yeah, I got the appetite of a monster!!! I'm hungry enough to eat one!!!” They continued laughing for a moment, but eventually it died down. Darkstar sighed, and then said, “A monster...Yeah, I think we should go have dinner now, before “the monster” growls at us again!” Lydia and Natasha giggled, and the three of them walked over to get their meals.
They sat down in chairs around the fire and ate dinner; it consisted of steak, potatoes and corn. Darkstar said, “Good job, Natasha; this turned out really good!” Natasha smiled and said, “Thanks, Darkstar; glad you like it!” They continued to eat silently for a time, but the silence was broken when Lydia asked, “Darkstar, I was curious…about what you said before you left earlier. Do you really think you can prevent Thee Abomination’s return in this time? Change history?” They both looked at him questioningly, and he said grimly, “I won’t know unless I try. But as you know…my father is unwilling to even give me the chance. He’s afraid I’ll get myself killed, or that the changes to the timeline will end up making things worse.” Natasha asked, “But what makes you think you can persuade that High Lord…Baelom, if I remember correctly…to just abandon his work on the portal, on his “Supreme Lord of Darkness”? You said you know something that we don’t? What is it, Darkstar?” Darkstar nodded and said, “I have reason to believe that I am a descendant …of High Lord Baelom.” They gaped in surprise, and Lydia asked, “Where on earth did you get that idea, Darkstar?!” So, he told them about the vision he had, and again they were amazed. Natasha said, “I see!!! Wow…well, I guess that explains why we have the power to Unleash. If we have the blood of hybrids within us, however small a portion compared to our human traits…its stands to reason we would still have some unusual powers! That explains why some people can’t Unleash even with training, and why some of us are at a higher level than others. If you are truly descended of High Lord Baelom, Darkstar, then it’s no wonder you’ve been able to reach such a high level of power in such a short period of time!!!” Darkstar nodded and said, “If it is true, if I can prove to Baelom that I am his descendent, maybe he’ll be willing to hear me out! I just have to go meet him, give him a sample of my blood for testing, and show him the ancient texts on Thee Abomination’s coming rampage! He’ll have no choice but to stop it!” But Natasha and Lydia looked worried, and Lydia said, “I don’t know, I still think it is too dangerous. What about your theory that Thee Abomination exerts some kind of mind control over the hybrids in the Dragonian Tower?! If you’re right about that, then Baelom might not be ABLE to stop…in spite of knowing his fate! Then, all you will have done is revealed your existence to Thee Abomination, and given it 2,000 years to prepare for your next confrontation!!!” Darkstar gaped and said, “Revealed my existence...my god…that is it!!! Don’t you see, Lydia?!! That is how Thee Abomination already knew about me!!! It's because I DID try to stop it!!!” They gasped, and Natasha said in a stunned voice, “The prophecy of the Darkstar Knight…from the video that Tensai took! Darkstar…this means that, even though it won’t work, you HAVE to try to stop Baelom! It’s already happened, so if you try to keep your presence from Thee Abomination…you will change the course of events! Tensai will not hear the prophecy, and as a result he may not do what he did to prepare you for this!!!” Darkstar nodded and said, “Point taken. Well, then…father may not approve, but it seems I have no choice. Even though there’s a strong chance that it won’t work…of course I have to try!!!”
The Platinum City
Lydia was worried about Darkstar, but Natasha helped to change the subject and lighten the mood. The two of them did most of the talking while Darkstar finished his dinner, and to his surprise Lydia invited Natasha to join them for a bath. They would be wearing their swimsuits, of course. When they were finished eating, they changed and brought towels, soap, and bags to hold their weapons and armor (in case of a monster attack.) The three of them had fun bathing and splashing around; they were becoming fast friends. After some friendly water fights, not to mention a few dives and cannonballs, they washed off the soap beneath the waterfall, dried off and headed back to the camp. Since Lydia didn’t have her own bed, she shared Darkstar’s bed. Next to the bed, Natasha laid out her pad and sleeping bag. They changed into their pajamas, and after putting out all the lights except four perimeter torches, they went to sleep. But it wasn’t long before Darkstar’s dreams were disturbed.
- Alone, in the dark, she sat with her back to him. A little hybrid girl, part Chameleos and part human. She was crying. Why was this little girl so sad? What had happened to her? Darkstar asked, “Hey, what’s wrong? Why are you crying?” The girl slowly stood up and turned around to face him, and Darkstar gasped. “Jiva…is that you?!” The girl sobbed, “I can’t…take this pain…anymore! It hurts too much!! I have to…I have to end it!!!” Her hand slowly rose up, and she rested the claw of her finger against her neck. Darkstar said, “No, don’t do this! Talk to me, Jiva; tell me what happened, let me help you!!!” She said, “Talking will do no good; mere words cannot change what has been done to me! I know the truth now. I…I know what must be done. Farewell.” Darkstar gaped in horror as Jiva slit her own throat, while injecting poison into the wound! She fell to the ground, and he stood there in shock for a moment. Darkstar ran over, knelt down next to Jiva and tried frantically to heal her wound. But nothing happened; was it the poison…perhaps his lack of experience in healing others’ injuries…was he really that powerless?! “No, no, no, no, don’t do this to me, Jiva!!! Damnit, why won’t it heal, why?!!” The life had faded from her eyes; those big, golden eyes gaped up at him…still wet with tears. She was so young, her whole life ahead of her, and she’d just…thrown it all away. Why did it have to be like this?! Darkstar’s vision blurred as his own eyes filled with tears, and he lost the will to hold them back. He held her lifeless body in his arms as he shook with grief, and he cried out, “JIVA!!!!!!”
Darkstar shouted, gasped and bolted upright in bed. Lydia started awake next to him, and Natasha jumped out of her sleeping bag and asked, “Wha-wha-what’s going on?! Are we under attack?!!” Darkstar sat there, panting for breath and heart racing…eyes gaping at nothing. Lydia sat up next to him and asked concernedly, “Darkstar, what is it? Did you have a nightmare?” After catching his breath, he told Lydia about the nightmare. They held each other, and she cried, “Oh, Darkstar, it was just a nightmare! Jiva will be fine; she’s probably sound asleep along with the rest!” Darkstar exclaimed, “But what if she isn’t?! What if she’s already dead; killed by her own hand while we were sleeping?! I…” He stopped when he heard Natasha say, “She’s still alive.” They both turned to look at her; Natasha’s left eye was Unleashed, and she was looking north with it. She continued, “It’s faint, but I can still sense her power. Jiva flew off towards the mountains earlier; she found herself a nice little cavern to hide in.” Darkstar sighed and said, “That's a relief.” Natasha returned her eye to normal, looked at him and said, “But just because she is alive now…doesn’t necessarily mean she will be in the morning.” Darkstar and Lydia both started at that, and Natasha continued, “Go to her, Darkstar; if you want to save her, you need to go to her now.” Darkstar asked, “You don’t think…that dream I had…?” She replied, “You’ve had dreams like this before, haven’t you?” Darkstar said, “Yeah...like the one I had before my battle with Tensai.” Natasha said, “They aren’t ordinary dreams, Darkstar; they are visions. I’ve only had one myself, but they are fairly common among Unleashers. I believe your dream was a premonition. Jiva made it pretty clear that she is in pain, and she could not promise you that she wouldn’t hurt herself. I believe she does intend to kill herself, and it’s only a matter of time before she follows through. But she cares for you, Darkstar, more than she does for anyone else here. If anyone can stop her from doing this…it’s you.” He gaped at her for a moment, before frowning determinedly and nodding agreement. As Darkstar put his armor back on, he said, “I could use some help with a portal, seeing as I haven’t gone through one before.” Natasha started putting her own armor on and said, “Yes, of course. I’ll take care of the portal, Darkstar; I’ll put you within 100 feet of Jiva’s position.” After a couple minutes of getting dressed and gathering supplies, Natasha and Darkstar left the tent. They both Unleashed their eyes, and Natasha said, “Without energy recycling, I’ll only be able to hold the portal open for a few seconds. I’m going to form the entrance just above the ground in front of you; jump through the second it’s done forming, because any hesitation could cost you your head.” Darkstar nodded and said, “Right!” Lydia watched from the tent as Darkstar took deep breaths in preparation for the jump. Natasha looked off towards the mountain where Jiva was; she was pinpointing the location of the portal’s exit. After a long moment of this, she said, “Ready, and…go!!!” The portal formed and stopped expanding just short of Darkstar’s feet, and he took a deep breath and jumped through. When she saw that he’d landed safely on the other side, Natasha discontinued the portal. She said to herself, “Good luck, Darkstar.”
Darkstar landed hard on the other side, but managed to keep his footing; it felt like the force of his fall had been doubled. He looked up at the portal, and Natasha waved from the other side before it vanished. He would have to fly back when he was done. Natasha’s technique had been different; she’d somehow determined the location of the exit portal without having to form it and move it into place. He would definitely need to learn that trick, but that was something for another time. It was time to find Jiva. Darkstar looked around; he was, indeed, in a cave. There was no sign of Jiva, but Darkstar kept his eye Unleashed in case she was cloaked. Darkstar walked through the passages, trying to sense her power and ascertain her location. Natasha had said she would put him within 100 feet of Jiva’s position, so he used that to determine his search pattern. Darkstar felt a sudden gust of wind, and he turned around…but nothing was there. He asked quietly, “Jiva?” It still echoed, in spite of his lowered voice. “Jiva, I know you’re in here…show yourself.” Another gust of wind, and Darkstar turned around; still nothing. He stood still, listening closely. After focusing for a minute, he could barely make out the sound of her motions, her breathing and heartbeat…all racing at high speed. But because of all the stalactites and uneven walls of the cavern, he couldn’t tell for sure what direction it was coming from. “Enough of this hide and seek,” said Darkstar, “Come out and face me, Jiva; we need to talk.” Suddenly, he heard the sounds growing louder behind him. He sensed it moving towards him fast, and he turned around just in time. Darkstar caught Jiva by the wrists, her hands just short of his neck; she’d tried to attack him!!! She was still cloaked, heaving as she breathed rapidly. Jiva was still trying to reach his neck, and her strength was almost more than Darkstar could resist! Darkstar shouted, “Jiva, snap out of it!!! It’s me; it’s Darkstar!!!” Jiva gasped and started, and she uncloaked…her eyes gaping wide at him as she tried to catch her breath. Darkstar gaped back at her, equally shocked, and he said, “Jiva…what’s gotten into you?! You could’ve killed me!!!” Her breathing slowed, and tears formed in her eyes as she said in a sad yet angry voice, “Damnit, Darkstar, what are you doing here?! I told you I needed time to myself!! How’d you even get in here?!! I sealed this cave; there should be no way in!!!” Darkstar replied, “Natasha…one of the Unleashers, made a portal here for me. I would’ve made one myself, but I’m still learning …I didn’t want to risk it until I’ve improved.” Jiva said, “I see…that explains it. But you should’ve just flown here, Darkstar; given me some warning! I can’t believe I almost…” She shook with grief, and as the tears rolled down her cheeks she cried, “Darkstar…I’m so, so sorry!!! You’re the last person in the world I want to hurt!!! I’m such a fool, I don’t deserve to live, I…” Jiva gaped as Darkstar embraced her, and he said sadly, “I won’t let you do it, Jiva; I won’t let you kill yourself!!! I don't know what horrible things happened to you as a child...but I'm here for you now!!! Please, talk to me...help me to understand this!!! I want to help you, I want to take your pain away…because you’re my friend, and I care so much about you!!! I CAN’T LOOSE YOU, NOT LIKE THIS!!!” Jiva sobbed, and she cried, “Oh, Darkstar!!!” They held each other tight, and Jiva wailed. Darkstar shushed and comforted her, whispered in her ear, “It’s okay…I’m here for you; we’ll get through this.” Jiva continued to cry for a long moment, but eventually she backed up and looked him in the eyes. Jiva asked in a tender voice, “How did you know, Darkstar? As a child, I…how did you know?” Darkstar said, “I had a vision. I saw you as a young teen, crying. You said the pain was too much, that you had to end it. I tried to talk you out of it, but you killed yourself. I tried to heal you, but…I couldn’t. I felt so horrible, so powerless to stop it. Even before Natasha told me it was a vision…I knew I had to see you now; if I didn’t…I would never see you alive again.” Jiva smiled, and as more tears welled up in her eyes she said, “Do you know what this means, Darkstar? It means we're connected! You’re right; if you hadn’t come...I probably would’ve been dead by morning.” Darkstar said, “Jiva…please tell me what happened to you. It’s true that mere words can’t change whatever was done to you, but…” Darkstar stopped when she rested her hand on his left cheek and said tenderly, “It doesn’t matter now. All that matters…is that you’re here, and you care about me. Even if you can never love me the way you love Lydia…Darkstar, I …I still love you…I’ll always love you!” Darkstar smiled at her for a moment, and then he said, “Jiva!” They embraced again, and stood there together for a long time.
They eventually sat down together on Jiva’s sleeping pad, which had been laid out on a slab of stone a foot above the cave’s average floor height. Darkstar explained to Jiva the situation, and he soon learned the reason for her breakdown. Apparently she'd also had a vision during the farcasting; as with Darkstar, she'd seen the events of her life in reverse, followed by the lives of her ancestors. In Jiva's case, however (because she was a normal hybrid) she had also experienced the pain and suffering of all those lifetimes, on top of her own! It was no wonder, then, that she'd wanted to end it. But Darkstar kept close and comforted her as much as possible, and that seemed to help Jiva deal with her pain. “So,” said Jiva, “You’re going into the Yakunan…in spite of the risk, and in spite of what your father wants?” Darkstar nodded again and said, “I heard that human/hybrid relations are better in this time; all I need is for a hybrid to accompany me, and it should be fine.” He smiled at her, and after a moment Jiva sighed, smiled and said, “Oh, alright! I’ll go with you, Darkstar. I don’t wanna go back to the Yakunan, even if it’s a different time, but… how can I resist that smile?” He chuckled, and she giggled. After a moment, they stood up together, and Darkstar said, “Alright, Jiva…get your stuff together; you can stay at the camp with Lydia, Natasha and I.” Jiva said, “I’m feeling better, Darkstar, really! I’m not going to…” Darkstar interrupted, “Oh, no, I insist! You’re coming along, even if I have to tie you up and carry you!” Jiva laughed and said, “Alright, alright…easy there with the bondage! I’ll come for you, Darkstar.” He blushed, and after a pause said, “Um…I think you mean “with”.” Jiva giggled and said seductively, “Either way is fine with me.” She wrapped her tail around him and looked up into his eyes as she caressed him with her hands. Darkstar said after a moment of this, “You’re, uh...gonna have to take it easy with the flirtations when we get to the camp; remember...Lydia is there.” Jiva sighed and said, “Okay…I’ll be good.” She let go of him, and after a pause asked, “So…is this “Natasha” gonna make another portal for us, or do we have to fly back?” Darkstar replied, “We'll fly back. I might be able to get us through a portal, but I'd rather not take the chance until I've had more practice. After all...failing to use a portal properly can be deadly.” Jiva nodded and said, “Of course. Alright, then; follow me!” Jiva rolled up her pad and other supplies, strapped it to her back beneath her wings and walked down a nearby passage. Darkstar followed. A minute later they reached the end of the cavern; a large boulder that Jiva had moved to seal the entrance. Rather than moving it back, Jiva raised her hand; above her palm formed a bright green sphere of concentrated acid. She threw the ball at the boulder, and it expanded just prior to impact. With a sudden hissing sound, it cut a wide hole through the boulder like a hot knife through butter! Darkstar was impressed, and as they waited for the residual acid to fade he said, “Wow, that's quite an attack! Not counting what you did earlier, I've never seen you use such an offensive technique!” Jiva nodded and said, “Well, it's not something I use often. When you're ready to take a break from portal training, I could teach you that and some of my other techniques.” Darkstar said, “Sounds like fun! I’ll make some time for that later today.” A moment later, Jiva said, “It appears the acid has faded; we can walk through now.” Jiva stepped through the hole in the boulder, and Darkstar followed. Outside, he saw they were at the base of the mountain. Jiva suddenly stopped in her tracks, and she said in a raised voice, “You can come out now; I know you're there!” Darkstar turned when he saw a distortion suddenly appear in front of them, and it faded to reveal Unknown Avenger. Darkstar said, “Looks like the secret is out.” Unknown Avenger hesitated before he said, “Yeah, it uh...” Jiva interrupted, “I knew he was there the whole time; he's very good, for a human...but I could feel him watching me.” Unknown Avenger again hesitated, and then he said, “Oh... oh, yes, of course!” Darkstar asked, “Hey, are you feeling alright? You're acting kind of strange.” Unknown A said, “Yeah, I-I'm fine...just a little tired is all; I've kept watch all night, and I didn't sleep much the night before.” Darkstar chuckled and said, “You always do that! Go, Unknown; get some sleep. Jiva will be coming with me now, and she won't do anything to harm herself as long as I'm there for her.” Unknown A nodded and said, “Of that I have no doubt.” He looked at Jiva, and she looked back. Though his eyes were shaded by his hood, Darkstar could tell that their eyes had locked. They stood there like that for a moment, and Darkstar watched them with a puzzled expression before asking, “Uh...Jiva? Everything alright?” She gave a start, then looked at him and said, “Yeah, its fine!” Darkstar said, “Okay, then...are you ready to go?” Jiva nodded, and Darkstar said, “Alright...see you later, Unknown Avenger!” Unknown A waved and said, “Later!” and they flew into the air. Darkstar and Jiva glided side-by side over the lake, south towards the camp. As they flew, Darkstar asked, “Jiva...what was that about?” She looked at him and asked, “What?” Darkstar said, “You know; that long look you gave Unknown A. He was acting strange. I know he can be when he's deprived himself of sleep, but...somehow I think there was more to it this time. Did something happen while he was watching you? He wasn't...surely he didn't...” Jiva said, “Its fine, Darkstar; don't worry.” He looked at her for a moment before saying, “Alright, if you say so.” But as they flew on, Darkstar thought, There's something she's not telling me. I find it hard to believe that Unknown A would've tried anything like that with Jiva, but the way they were acting...something was definitely going on. Maybe it's different than I'm thinking; I hope it is. Oh, well...I'll just have to ask Unknown A about it later. Darkstar and Jiva flew on, across the lake, over the plains and forest, until they reached the campsite.
Darkstar and Jiva walked towards the tent. The entrance had been sealed, so he opened it and they went inside. Lydia was asleep on the bed, and Natasha was back in her sleeping bag to the right of the bed. Jiva laid out her pad on the left side, and after resealing the tent Darkstar began removing his weapons and armor. When he was in his pajamas again, he got into bed as quietly as he could to avoid waking Lydia. He laid on his side facing Jiva, and she looked up at him from her pad on the floor. Though the tent was dark, he could still see her thanks to his left eye. She had a cute look on her face, but Darkstar saw where her hand was a fraction of a second before she could move it. He whispered, “You behave yourself!” Jiva blushed, and she averted her eyes in embarrassment for a moment before replying, “Sorry…I will.” Darkstar chuckled quietly, then whispered, “Goodnight, Jiva.” She answered, “Goodnight, Darkstar.” She closed her eyes, and a minute later he closed his. In no time, they were sound asleep.
Darkstar awoke several hours later when the light of the morning sun peaked in through the screened windows of the tent. Lydia was still asleep next to him, and Jiva was snoring softly from her pad on the floor. He got up quietly and changed into casual clothes, then noticed that Natasha was no longer in her sleeping bag. Darkstar opened the tent, stepped out and saw that she was making breakfast. He approached her, and she grinned over her shoulder and said, “Morning, Darkstar! Glad to see you were able to save Jiva!” Darkstar nodded and said, “Yeah, it was a close one, that’s for sure. But I think she’ll be alright, as long as I stay near her.” Darkstar looked in the pans and saw that Natasha was cooking up scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns and some sort of red sauce. He said, “You’re really good at cooking, Natasha! Did you do this for a living at some point?” Natasha nodded and said, “For a little while. Not as exciting as hunting, but it’s still a good skill to have.” A minute or two later, Lydia and Jiva emerged from the tent. Darkstar asked, “Hey, did you sleep well?” Jiva said, “Yeah, I slept fine!” Lydia added, “And I slept great! We should do this from now on!” Darkstar grinned and said, “Oh, so you’re comfortable with me and two other women, Lydia?!” Lydia blushed and said, “Darkstar! You know what I mean!” He chuckled and said, “Yeah, I know, I’m just messin with you!” Natasha said, “Breakfast is almost ready…go ahead and pull up a chair!” Darkstar and Lydia took their seats from last night, and Jiva sat down in Natasha’s. She got an extra chair out from the supplies, then served the food and sat down. When they were done eating, Darkstar said, “Again, excellent cooking, Natasha! That was delicious!” She bowed her head and said with a grin, “Why, thank you, good sir!” Natasha looked at the others and asked, “I trust you also enjoyed it?” Lydia replied, “Yes, it was good!” Jiva nodded and said, “Very well done! Thank you, Natasha!” She smiled and said, “You're very welcome! I'll make up a good meal for lunch, as well.” Darkstar stood up, put his dirty dishes in with the rest and said, “That won't be necessary. I have other plans for lunch.” Natasha asked, “Oh? And where do you plan on going? There aren't any restaurants around here that I'm aware of.” Darkstar grinned and said, “No...but I'm sure I can find one in the Black City!”
“You're going to the Yakunan now?!” Darkstar nodded and said, “Well, as I recall, my dad wanted to go there this morning. I assume you'll be making a portal for him and the others?” Natasha nodded and said, “Yes...they'll be expecting me soon.” Darkstar asked, “Would you mind making one for me first? I'd do it myself, but...I'm still not sure how you...” Natasha nodded and said, “Yes, of course; I have yet to teach you portal sight, the technique I use for long-range portals. Your father is going to be upset when he finds out, but I'll tell him your reasons for going.” Darkstar nodded, and with that he started putting his armor on. Lydia asked worriedly, “Darkstar, are you sure about this?! Don't you think it would be better to wait; train some more, get as strong as you can before...” He said, “It doesn't make a difference, Lydia. Even if I trained as hard as I could up until the last day, there is no way I could possibly match High Lord Baelom's power in less than a month. I have to have faith that the power I possess now will be enough to get me through this. So, you should have faith in me, as well.” Lydia continued to look worriedly at him and said, “I want to, Darkstar, you know I do, but...what you're doing is dangerous! What if you're wrong?!” Darkstar grinned and said, “There's always the mega farcaster.” Lydia smirked and said, “If you get yourself killed over there, Darkstar...I'll go back in time and kill you myself!” Darkstar chuckled and said, “Don't worry, Lydia; I'll be fine.” He gathered up his weapons and supplies (including the ancient texts on Thee Abomination), then kissed and held Lydia for a long moment. He went back out, and the others followed. Natasha used portal sight to target the exit for the portal; Jiva said, “I'll be going with Darkstar, so please don't close the portal on me.” Natasha nodded and said, “Yes, of course.” After a few minutes, Natasha said, “Alright, it's ready. I've targeted the exit to a vacant alleyway within the Black City; no one should see you there.” Darkstar looked over his shoulder at Lydia, and she said, “Be careful.” He nodded and said, “I will.” Natasha said, “Ready, set ...and...go!” The portal formed in front of Darkstar, and he jumped through. Jiva jumped after him, and he barely moved out of the way in time. When Natasha was sure they had safely landed, she discontinued the portal. As Lydia looked worriedly at where the portal had been, she thought, Oh, please god...help him...let him survive this!
Darkstar and Jiva stood side-by-side in the alley, which was shaded but still surprisingly bright. They looked up, and were surprised to see a light blue sky with a few clouds. As they started walking towards the end of the alley, Darkstar said, “I thought the Yakunan was supposed to be covered in storm-clouds all the time.” Jiva nodded and said, “It is, at least...in our time. A lot can happen in 2,000 years.” She looked at Darkstar; his swords and armor were in their normal forms, and his left eye wasn't Unleashed. “Perhaps you should go to full power,” said Jiva, “Just in case we run into a hybrid that doesn't care for humans.” Darkstar nodded and said, “No, I'm not doing that unless absolutely necessary.” She said, “I get it...I'm just worried that...” Darkstar said, “Don't worry, Jiva...I can still generate a decent level of power in this state. And if a stronger hybrid gives us trouble, I trust you to watch my back.” Jiva smiled and said, “I'll do my best, Darkstar.” They were almost to the intersection, and Jiva said, “Speak only when spoke to; I'll do the talking, if necessary.” Darkstar nodded, and they emerged from the alley. The Black City was not nearly as dark as he'd envisioned it; metallic buildings of varying shapes and heights, as well as the occasional flying vehicle, but very little black. Even the roads were made of a light stone. It was a beautiful city, to be honest...but Thee Abomination's imminent attack would change all of that. Darkstar saw a few hybrids flying above, and more walking in the streets. A Rathalos hybrid here, a Plesioth hybrid there, and even a pale-skinned one with no eyes and a fang-filled smile that was surely a Khezu hybrid. There were others that Darkstar couldn't quite figure out; Dakens, most likely. One of them got in their way, forcing them to stop, and he said, “What is this...a Chameleos hybrid, escorting a human hunter? Now, there's something you don't see every day!” Jiva said, “Please stand aside so that we may continue.” The Daken asked, “What's the rush? Are you running late for a meeting with your Komo Zenpan?” He looked at Darkstar and asked, “Yo, human; what's your name?” He replied, “My name is Lewis, but you may call me The Darkstar Knight.” The Daken noticed the King's Knight Badge on Darkstar's left breast, and his eyes went wide with surprise. “Well, well,” he said, “A King's Knight? It's no wonder you have an escort! Welcome to Shiroganeshi, Darkstar Knight! My name is Tobias, but you may call me Tobi.” Darkstar said, “Nice to meet you. I don't recognize your breed; I guess that makes you a Daken?” Tobi said in surprise, “Yes...I am! You know more about us than most humans do! I'm half human, of course, but the other half is a mix between Basarios, Gendrome and Gypceros traits.” Darkstar said, “Interesting. I've heard that Dakens have unique abilities; what are some of yours?” Tobi chuckled and said, “Well, I do have some “unique” moves, but...I prefer to save those for the arena. I've been in the Wyverian War Games and in the Daken Tournament...but alas, I was not strong enough to...” Darkstar, Tobi and Jiva turned when a rough voice said, “What is this pathetic shit, Tobi?! You're always bitchin' about loosin' the tournament, but now you're tellin' your pathetic tale to a human?! Disgraceful!!!” Standing there before them was another Daken, of a different breed than Tobi. Darkstar asked, “A friend of yours, Tobi?” The other hybrid exclaimed, “Tobi?! A friend of mine?!! Don't make me laugh!!!” Tobi sighed and said, “Allow me to introduce Baeddan; a finalist in the Daken Tournament, and the one who defeated me.” Darkstar said, “Baeddan, huh? That name sounds familiar for some reason. Hmm.” The Daken known as Baeddan laughed and said, “That's right, I kicked Tobi's sorry ass!!! Not that I have to brag about it to a human!” Darkstar frowned, but before he could reply to him, Baeddan noticed Jiva. He grinned at her and said, “Well, hello...what's your name, beautiful? Is it...Angel? You sure look like one!” Jiva scoffed, rolled her eyes and said, “Oh, god...here we go!” She frowned at him and said, “The name's Jiva, not that it's any of your business. Don't think that sweet talk will get you anywhere with me; my heart is not available for the taking.” Baeddan smirked and said, “Come now...you're no Plesioth hybrid; don't be such a cold fish!” He ran his hand down along her cheek and neck, then had the nerve to rest it on her left breast as he said, “Well, aren't you soft?” Jiva gaped at him in a combination of shock and outrage, and Darkstar's frown became a harsh glare. Darkstar said in a cold voice, “Remove your filthy hand from Jiva...now.” Baeddan said incredulously, “A human...dares to tell ME what to do? And what're you gonna do if I don't?! Scratch my back with your little swords?!!” Darkstar said as he continued to glare at him, “Either remove your hand...or I'll remove it from your arm!” He reached over his shoulder and took hold of the Darkstar Slasher, ready to Lightning Stride into position for an unsheathing attack. Jiva gaped, realizing he was not messing around, and she said, “No, Darkstar, don't!” Tobi exclaimed, “Do not be a fool, Darkstar Knight! I don't care how good of a hunter you are; fighting the strongest of monsters can't compare to battle with hybrids!! You'll be destroyed!!!” Darkstar asked, “Really? What's his power-level?” Tobi asked, “What difference does that make?! He's a Daken; you're a human!!!” But he said, “Just answer the question.” Baeddan laughed and said, “You really want to know?! Well, it's probably at about 15,000 DPU right now, but...” Darkstar grinned menacingly, and he said, “Fifteen thousand, eh? Is that all you got?” Baeddan's smile went away, to be replaced by an enraged scowl. He removed his hand from Jiva's breast, then said, “Why, you...you cocky little bastard!!!” The movement was fast, but at the last second Darkstar dodged his fist. In a flash, he drew his sword. His Darkstar Slasher had been gemmed for the Neon Twisterball attribute, a power just two steps short of Aurora. Rather than using it in the standard ball form, Darkstar reformed it around the blade; this left a neon green afterimage in the path of his swing. He slashed at the back of Baeddan's wrist; if not for his dodging, Baeddan would've lost his hand. He jumped back, holding the bleeding cut as he gaped at Darkstar in shock. Darkstar just stood there, perfectly calm and sword still ready. Tobi and several other nearby hybrids were also gaping in shock, and Tobi asked, “How can this be?! He should be dead, and yet...not only did he dodge Baeddan's attack, he...he actually cut him!!!” Baeddan roared, “HUMAN!!! How, how can a measly little human use Ishiki Zōfuku and Kibin Gaidō?!! And what was that combined elemental power, I've never seen anything like it!!! THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE!!!” Darkstar asked, “So, you call those high-speed movements Kibin Gaidō? I call it Lightning Stride. And as for the combined element/status effect...that's Neon Twisterball, reshaped from ball to blade. But it doesn't really matter what you call it; the fact remains...you won't be able to defeat me as easily as you thought.” Baeddan chuckled wickedly and said, “Is that so? Don't get overconfident, boy, just because you've learned a few tricks! I haven't shown you half of my full power!!!” Darkstar said, “Nor have I shown half of mine.” At that, the crowd of hybrids gathered around was full of gasps and murmurs. Baeddan said as he frowned and pointed at Darkstar, “Alright, boy! What's say we settle this; The Arena, in one hour. Be there...or I'll hunt you down like a dog!!!” Baeddan stormed off, and as the crowd closed in Darkstar glared after him. “Fine...in one hour, then.”
“Darkstar, what were you thinking,” exclaimed Jiva. The crowd of hybrids watched and listened as she continued, “Don't get me wrong, I...I appreciate that you're willing to fight for me, but...are you sure that's such a good idea?! What if he's stronger than you?!” Tobi asked as he stepped closer, “And just how strong are you, if you don't mind my asking?” Darkstar looked around, seeing over a dozen different hybrids gathered, and he said, “I'm strong enough, for one who is mostly human.” There were more whispers, and Tobi said, ““Mostly human”...does that mean you're...?!” Darkstar interrupted, “Never mind about me; I need to know how strong that Baeddan jerk is. You said you fought him, right? Can you tell me what his maximum power is, Tobi?” He replied, “Well...I can't say for certain that this is his maximum power, but the most power he used during our match was...about 60,000 DPU! But he was straining; he had to have been close to his maximum!” Darkstar said, “I see.” Tobi said, “You should forfeit the match, Darkstar Knight; that hothead isn't worth risking your life over!” Darkstar grinned and said, “It's not as big of a risk as you seem to think.” The crowd murmured again, and Tobi said, “Surely you're not suggesting that you...” Darkstar said, “It may be difficult...in fact, it may push me to my limit...but I believe I can do it!” Jiva took hold of Darkstar and cried, “Darkstar, don't...don't do this! If anything were to happen to you, I...” The other hybrids were again amazed; they had never before seen a Chameleos hybrid with such a strong attachment to a human. Jiva's eyes started to tear up again, and Darkstar sighed and said, “Oh, Jiva...don't worry...I will be fine.” Jiva shook her head and said, “But you've only ever had one hybrid battle, and that was against a weaker opponent! I haven't had time to instruct you in Kakushi Ryū-Ken, or introduce you to the other styles! You're still relatively new to Unleashing, and your physical condition...while good for a human...is a weakness that could cost you the match! You're up against an opponent that could potentially be more powerful than you, and on top of that he's a Daken!! We have no idea what his special abilities are, and even if we did...one hour isn't time enough to prepare you!!!” Tobi said, “It's a predicament, to be sure...but make no mistake, Baeddan will hunt you down if you don't show up. One hour isn't much time to prepare, but maybe...it'll be enough. Darkstar Knight...fight with me first!” Darkstar and Jiva gasped, and as the crowd murmured Tobi continued, “I have fought Baeddan, and even though I was unable to defeat him...I know his special moves. I can't replicate them exactly, but I can use similar techniques to prepare you for them. The training area isn't far from here, we can be there in a minute if we hurry!” Darkstar smiled and said, “You're really willing to do that for me, even though we just...” Tobi exclaimed, “Yes, yes, of course! Baeddan is a jerk, and if a human, or “mostly human” can put him in his place, all the better! Now common, we don't have time to waste!” Tobi ran through the crowd, and Darkstar said, “Right!” He and Jiva followed, and a good portion of the crowd also went out of sheer curiosity.
Miles away, in another part of Shiroganeshi, a portal opened in a dark alley. Seven people jumped through in rapid succession, and the portal closed just after the last one. Joel, aka Saizen, was the first in line. Behind him was Teiojin, and further back Unknown Avenger and Quicksilver. Ōzan, from Teiojin's team, was next. His super great-sword was folded into 4 parts; for easier carrying, and so he could fit the portal. Next in line was Kenzen, an apprentice of Joel. His primary weapons were spiked, heavily-armored gauntlets. The shield on his back was like Darkstar's Imperial Raven; to give him wings and increase his power. He had a knife, but it was for carving parts; he relied on his fists, and occasionally his feet for kickboxing. The one at the end was, of course, Natasha. She'd intended to tell Joel that Darkstar and Jiva were in the city...but Joel had been in a hurry, and Unknown Avenger asked about Jiva. It had been enough to distract her. Natasha went to tell Joel, but before she could Teiojin surrounded them with a sound shield and said, “Now, here's the plan: we stay together at first, let it be known that I am your escort. We'll survey each store one by one, see what items are available, which of those we need, and calculate the total cost. Obviously, we can't risk stealing, nor can we use money of our time. We must find a way to earn currency of this time, and do it quickly. And I believe...I may know of a way to do just that.” Joel asked, “How?” Teiojin said, “In our time, we have The Arena; a place where hybrids of any type or class can battle each other. Open 24/7, all one has to do is sign in for a specific time. Fights are usually limited to either a half-hour or an hour, though you can request longer if the next hour isn't taken. It is encouraged, not required, that opponents have equal or nearly equal powers. You win the match if your opponent forfeits, is unable to continue by reason of serious injury or death, or if time runs out and you are in the better condition (based on your remaining power and number of injuries.) Whoever wins is awarded 20% of the total bets, while 75% is divided among the winning betters and the remaining 5% goes to Arena workers. The potential for profit depends on the number of bets, the odds for/against, and the amount of money bet. But if the number values are high, and you bet against the odds and win, it can be very lucrative.” Kenzen said, “The question is, do they have The Arena in this time?” Joel said, “Even if they do, I would prefer not to do that. We need to keep a low profile; attract as little attention as possible. If we enter The Arena and start winning battles against hybrids...” Teiojin said, “This is a group of six humans, escorted by a single Chameleos hybid...who might not fit in this time period! Like it or not, Joel, we're going to attract attention. We may as well use The Arena. Assuming it is available, it's probably the quickest way for us to gather up currency, anyways!” Joel sighed and said, “Alright, alright...we can use The Arena. But I want you to fight in the first match, Teiojin. Make sure you win it, so we'll have money to place for bets on the following matches.” Teiojin nodded and said, “Of course.” With that he lowered the sound shield, and as they started walking Natasha thought, Well, Saizen, I tried to tell you...but you were just too busy to stop and listen.
Joel and his group went from one store to the next, attracting their fair share of attention from curious hybrids. With each store, their list of items grew, as did the cost. Money in the Black City (or Platinum City as it was called) consisted of various types of Enban, or 1 by ¼ inch disks. From lowest to greatest: Earth Enban (or eE), Water Enban (wE), Wind Enban (nE), Fire Enban (fE), Thunder Enban (tE), and Dragon Enban (dE). One Enban was worth ten of the previous class; 1 wE = 10 eE, 1 nE = 10 wE, etc. This meant that one Dragon Enban was worth 100,000 Earth Enban! Joel came to realize they would need multiple Dragon Enban for everything they wanted to save. As he talked with the shopkeeper about gravity tiles, a Velociprey hybrid suddenly burst in and asked, “Have you heard the news? Have you, have you?! An Arena battle has been scheduled!!! Baeddan's gonna be fighting in less than 20 minutes!!!” The shopkeeper replied, “No, I hadn't heard, Aokibo, nor would I care to hear! I've got a shop to run; I don't have time to go off to The Arena for each and every fight!” The Velociprey hybrid, known as Aokibo, said, “But this isn't an ordinary battle; Baeddan is going to be fighting a human!!!” Joel and the others all turned and gaped, and Natasha suddenly looked worried. The old shop-keeper laughed and asked, “A human?! You can't be serious!!!” Aokibo said, “I know it sounds insane, but that's what everybody's saying!!! They say...” He paused, seeming to just notice Joel and the other “humans”, and after looking at them for a moment Aokibo continued, “They say this man actually dodged Baeddan's attack using Kibin Gaidō, and then he counter-attacked and actually managed to CUT Baeddan!” The shopkeeper asked, “A human...using Kibin Gaidō, and wounding a hybrid?! Now, that's just impossible!” As they continued to gape, Joel turned and asked, “Teiojin...Kibin Gaidō is hybrid equivalent for Lightning Stride, isn't it?” Aokibo and the others looked at them, and Teiojin replied, “Yes, it is.” He gave a start, then asked, “You don't think...?!” Joel said, “I do.” He turned to look at Natasha, and she averted her eyes for a second before looking back and saying, “I'm sorry, sir. I tried to tell you several times, but...I was interrupted, and you didn't take the time to listen.” Joel frowned and clenched his fists, and he said, “I'm disappointed in you, Natasha. I gave you a direct order, and you disobeyed me. We'll talk more about this later.” She nodded sadly, and Joel approached the hybrid Aokibo and asked, “Do “they” say where this human is now?” Aokibo gulped nervously and asked, “You're not...friends with this “Darkstar Knight”...are you? C-can you use...Kibin Gaidō?!” Joel replied, “I do not call it by that name, but yes...I can, and so can all the other “humans” with me!” That caused all the hybrids in the shop to gasp, gape and whisper, and Joel asked, “Now...are you going to tell me where my son is...or do you require a demonstration?!” Aokibo said hastily, “No-no, no need for a demonstration! They say he's with Tobi and a Chameleos hybrid named Jiva, in one of the training areas a few miles south of here!” Joel looked at the others and said, “We'll have to continue shopping later; this takes top priority!” They all nodded in agreement, and the hybrids watched as they ran out of the store and south at high speed. Aokibo said to himself, “I gotta get to The Arena! This is gonna be epic!”
“Is that really the best you can do?!” Tobi formed another ball of fire, infused paralysis and poison and threw it at Darkstar. He barely dodged, and it hit the ground behind him and exploded with a powerful shockwave. The training field was scarred with dozens of craters from that and other various attacks. As the dust settled, Darkstar re-appeared just ten feet in front of Tobi, and he said, “No, of course not. I am saving my true power for Baeddan.” Tobi replied, “Well, that's a relief...because I was about to tell you at the rate you're going, you wouldn't stand a chance in hell against him!” Jiva and dozens of other hybrids were watching from the sidelines. She gave a start when she heard Teiojin shout, “Jiva!” She turned to look, and Teiojin, Joel and the others ran up next to her. “Are you alright,” asked Teiojin. Jiva nodded and replied, “Yeah, I'm fine. Darkstar's the one I'm concerned about now.” Darkstar looked their way when he heard them, and he saw Joel giving him a stern look. He said to himself, “Father...” They suddenly gave a start, as did Darkstar when he heard Tobi say from right next to him, “That could've been your head.” He realized that Tobi had his claws up to his neck. Darkstar grinned and chuckled, and he said as he looked Tobi in the eye, “That was pretty sneaky. You sure you don't have some Chameleos in you?” Tobi frowned and said, “You're not taking this seriously!!! If you act like this during your fight with Baeddan, you're going to get yourself killed!!!” Darkstar said, “I know it seems like I haven't been doing much, but I've watched all your moves... except that last one, obviously. Another reason is you seem like a nice guy, Tobi; I don't want to hurt you. If I did get serious with you...I can't guarantee that you'd come out of it in one piece.” Tobi sighed, then lowered his hand and said, “Alright, if you want to wait until your battle with Baeddan to get serious, that's your choice. We're almost out of time, anyways. But if I were you, Darkstar Knight...I would charge up to full power the second I entered that Arena! So, do whatever it is you have to when the time comes. And do not take your eyes off of him...not for an instant!” Darkstar nodded agreement, and Tobi said, “We should get over to The Arena now; you'll still need to sign in.” Darkstar said, “Just a minute; I want to talk to my friends first.” Darkstar Lightning Strided across the field and stopped in front of Jiva, his father, the rest of his group and the hybrid audience. Tobi re-appeared beside him a second later. Joel stepped up, and Darkstar said, “I know you must be upset, but I have my reasons for...” Joel said harshly, “Yes, I get it, you feel bad for the things you've done; you want to make up for it by being the hero and saving the day! But you're not going to save anyone here, son, because what's done is done and there is no undoing it!!!” Darkstar nodded and said, “That may be. But how do you think...IT... knew about me? Can it truly see into...” Darkstar left the rest unsaid, remembering there were hybrids within hearing range, but Joel understood. He replied, “That's a dangerous assumption to make. But perhaps...you are correct. In any case, why have you involved yourself in a battle with a hybrid? Are you doing this for the reward, to help us gather up the items we need, or...?” Darkstar said, “He touched Jiva.” Joel repeated, “”He touched Jiva”? Do you mean he touched her inappropriately?” Darkstar nodded, and Joel said, “I see. Well, do you know how strong he is?” Darkstar said, “Sixty thousand DPU.” At that, Joel and the rest of his group gasped and gaped. Joel exclaimed, “You have to just let this go, son! You're not strong enough or experienced enough to...” Darkstar cut in, “That guy said he would hunt me down if I don't show up! I'm not going there just to forfeit. I won't back down from this challenge. He may be stronger and more powerful than me...in terms of hybrid battle experience he may have me outclassed…but what've I been doing the last 13 years?!!” Joel and the others started, and Darkstar continued, “That's right!!! I went up against one powerful foe after another...refined my longsword skills as much as I possibly could!!! I’ve walked the razor's edge between life and death more times than I can count, and I'm still here to tell the tale!!! I will win this fight, whatever it takes. And if things get really desperate, I have a backup plan.” Joel asked, “A backup plan? What?!” He replied, “Never-mind...it would worry you more if I told you.” Joel said, “Son…” Darkstar said, “Don’t worry, dad…I’ll get through this.” He looked to Tobi, and said, “Okay, I’m ready. Lead the way, Tobi!”
“Ladies and gentlemen,” said the announcer, “We have a very special treat for you today! Baeddan, one-time winner and finalist of the last Daken Tournament, will be battling not a Daken...not even a hybrid...but a HUMAN!!! Can you believe it?!!” The stadium of over 20,000 hybrid and daken spectators roared in unison, filling the air with a loud rasp. The announcer continued, “Little is known about this human; it has been said that once attacked by Baeddan...the man used Kibin Gaidō to evade, then counter-attacked with an abnormal status/element combination! This attack, rumor has it, was actually fast enough to cut Baeddan!!! A human, powerful enough to rival a Daken such as Baeddan?! Can it really be true?!” Again, the crowd roared, and the announcer said, “Well, we are about to find out! From the left side...please welcome...Baeddan!!!” He emerged from the door on the left, and the crowd of hybrids began chanting his name again and again. Baeddan was grinning big and waving to his fans as he pranced towards the center of The Arena floor. This continued for a moment, before the announcer concluded, “And now...from the right side, for his debut match...the mysterious human, with unknown power, and a Chameleos hybrid for a girlfriend...Thee...Darkstar...Knight!!!” Darkstar reached the end of the hall, and stepped out into the view of the audience. They again let loose a raspy roar, a mixture of cheers, shouting, boos and hisses. Darkstar said to himself, “Jiva...my girlfriend? Well, now that I think about it...I can see how they would come to that conclusion.” He walked towards the center of The Arena. There was a bright red dot marking the precise center, and Baeddan stopped 15 feet short of it. When Darkstar reached the same distance from his side, he stopped. They stood there, glaring at each other, and Baeddan said, “Take a good look at this Arena floor, Darkstar Knight ...because in less than a half hour, you're gonna be buried six feet under it!!!” Darkstar said, “You can try and bury me, but I'll just reach up from below...and drag you down.” The announcer said, “Arena Battle: Baeddan vs. The Darkstar Knight!!! Now...begin!!!”
But neither of them made a move, and after a moment Baeddan asked, “What's wrong, human...too scared to make the first move?!” Darkstar replied, “Of course not. I was waiting to see if you would attack first. But since you've decided to wait, I will take this opportunity...to show you just how powerful I really am.” Darkstar Unleashed his swords and armor, and Baeddan and the audience gaped as the Imperial Raven became liquid and swirled around him. It recombined with his Darkstar Slasher, Wyvern Blade “Pearl” and his Dark Fatalis Z armor. Though his armor was the same dark metallic blue, wings made from the Darkstar Slasher were somewhat different due to the upgrade. They were darker, near pure black metallic, with glowing neon green along the seams. Darkstar didn't waste any power transforming Wyvern Blade “Black Pearl” into its “torture tool” form; instead he kept it in its normal form. He could still change it over to gunsword mode in a second, but he decided to wait. Finally, the black scar above and below Darkstar's left eye showed up, and his iris flashed from normal blue to slitted gold! The crowd was filled with gasps and murmurs, and Baeddan exclaimed, “Wha-wha...what is this?!! This power; I've never felt anything like it, not even among Dakens!!! And that eye...it looks like a...a dragonian eye!!! You...you're not fully human...you can't be!!! WHAT ARE YOU?!!” Darkstar said with a frightening grin, “It's true that I'm mostly human...but if I told you exactly what I am, you wouldn't believe me. So, I'll simply leave it at this: I am...The Darkstar Knight.”
Darkstar Lightning Strided, at an even greater speed than his battle with Tensai thanks to his new wings. Air and dirt exploded outwards from where he'd stood, and Baeddan was hard-pressed to follow the movement. He sensed something behind him, and ducked just in time to avoid being decapitated by Darkstar's Wyvern Blade “Black Pearl”. He counter -attacked with a swing of his tail, and Darkstar jumped back to avoid it. Baeddan turned around and shot a ball of fire from his mouth, and Darkstar changed “Black Pearl” over to gun-sword form and countered with a blue soul fireball. The red-orange and blue-cyan fireballs collided in the space between them, resulting in a powerful explosion and even a miniature mushroom cloud! The smoke was blown away, though, as Baeddan's claws and Darkstar's blade collided over and over, generating shockwaves from their force! In mere seconds, they traveled all across the Arena floor; the sound of hundreds of strikes echoed off the stadium walls! They were only seen for brief moments in time, at the instant their attacks met. There were occasional bolts of energy; black for dragon, blue for thunder, as well as yellow-green for paralysis...even other colors for combined effects! Baeddan ate a stunshroom while moving, then he took a deep breath before letting out a roaring belch. It was followed by a blast of air, a beam of yellow-orange fire and bolts of the same colors! Darkstar dodged, but Baeddan hit the ground; this sent a wave of sonic energy that shot up in front of the beam, reflecting it back at him! Darkstar flew fast, but the energy was closing in! At the last moment, he fired a ball of orange lightning to divert the beam away from himself. Darkstar still had to avoid the blast, which landed off to the far side of the field. The nearby audience had to duck and cover from the blinding light, shockwave and smoke! When they looked up again, Darkstar was high above the stadium floor. Between his wings formed a three foot Neon Twisterball! He took the energy with his sword, and swung down hard; the bright green ball flew towards Baeddan at high speed. He dodged fast, and with another blinding flash and deafening boom the Neon Twisterball exploded! Again the audience had to shield themselves from the light and the shockwave, and when they looked up an even larger cloud of dust covered the Arena! The dust was soon blown away by two blasts of air. Standing in the same places they had started were Baeddan and Darkstar...only now, they were standing in a crater over 50 feet in diameter! It was silent for a moment, while the audience gaped in astonishment, but before long they all cheered louder than ever; among them were Joel, Jiva and the others. Jiva cheered, “OH YEAH!!! GET THAT CREEP, DARKSTAR!!! YOU CAN DO IT!!!” Natasha added, “HANG IN THERE, DARKSTAR!!! YOU'VE GOT THIS!!!” Now, he even heard more hybrids and dakens cheering for him; the crowd had gone from in favor of Baeddan to an even split! The announcer exclaimed, “Incredible!!! The rumors were true; The Darkstar Knight has hybrid-level powers!!! Place your bets, if you haven't; this battle could go either way!!!” Baeddan chuckled and said, “Well, well, well! I'm impressed! I didn't think you would be this strong! Seems you weren't exaggerating when you said you hadn't shown half your power! But…” Baeddan looked to the audience, saw Tobi next to Jiva and the others, and then continued, “...you anticipated all of my attacks, meaning you must've had some help from Tobi. It figures that he’d do that; rely on a mostly human to fight for him! That’s so pathetic, it makes me sick!!!” Darkstar said, “I did have Tobi's help; he replicated your style as closely as he could.” Baeddan replied, “That's probably why you're still alive! I'm still surprised, though; that a mostly human has such a wide range of element and status manipulation skills!” Darkstar replied, “With the exception of two...I can use almost any element or status. I wanted to use them all, but that's too dangerous. However, more isn't always better. For maximum power, it's best if I focus on one or two elements. And for a Daken such as you, I know just the thing.” Darkstar's sword and armor began to emanate flows of blackwater. The announcer said, “What's this?! It appears The Darkstar Knight is now using dragon water!!! Our scanners couldn't make sense of his power before...but now, we just may be able to!!!” Darkstar flew while surrounded by the blackwater aura, and dozens of blackwater strands whipped around and tried to pierce Baeddan. However, he dodged or deflected the ones he couldn't avoid. Darkstar absorbed the thermal energy to use black ice without wasting any power, and Baeddan struggled to dodge hundreds of black ice spears! As they fought, a power read-out was displayed on the large viewscreen. The power continued to grow, and the announcer read as it did, “Fifty-five thousand...no, fifty-six thousand...” The number stopped, and he said, “Incredible! The Darkstar Knight has peaked at a power of...57,640 DPU!!!” The crowd gasped and murmured. Darkstar let down the blackwater aura, and then sighed. Baeddan chuckled and said, “You shouldn't have done that. Your power was unknown to me before. But now that I know...you don't have a chance at beating me!!!” Darkstar said, “That's my normal maximum. I have the ability to push my power to a higher level for brief periods of time...the downside being that it's hard on my body and spirit.” Baeddan looked closely at Darkstar for a moment. After a time, he suddenly started to chuckle. He began to laugh, and Darkstar asked, “What's so funny?!” Baeddan smiled ominously, and he said, “I just figured it out; the secret to your power! And now that I know...YOU'RE SCREWED!!!”
Baeddan vanished, and when Darkstar felt him behind he turned and swung his sword. In a flash, Baeddan caught his arm...and began undoing the vambrace! Darkstar gasped, and he wrenched loose from his grip and jumped back. As Darkstar gaped in shock, Baeddan chuckled and said, “Yeah, I thought so! You're mostly human, as you said...which means your body is weak like a human and can't generate much power! Yes, it all makes sense now; you are somehow able to draw out the full power of those weapons and armor, and use it as if it were your own!!!” The others gaped, and Joel said, “Oh, no...I was afraid of this! He's figured out the secret to Unleashing! We have trained for this, but my son...he hasn't!!! That Daken is gonna strip Darkstar of his weapons and armor, and then...he will be...” Jiva looked horrified, and her eyes became wet as she cried, “No...no, this can't be happening!!!” Baeddan roared as he attacked at full power, and Darkstar was barely able to defend himself! He managed to get in a few attacks, but Baeddan shouted, “Sorry, not good enough, mostly human!!!” He flung dirt into Darkstar's eyes, and he cried out and tried frantically to wipe it out as he kept moving. While he was distracted, Baeddan got behind him and said, “These wings have got to go!!!” Baeddan ripped the metallic wings right off of Darkstar's back, and as they fell to the ground the Darkstar Slasher reverted to its normal form. Darkstar shouted, “No!!!” He tried to get it back, but Baeddan hit him in the jaw with a hard right hook. Though his piercing kept him alive, the force of the blow still sent him flying and tumbling over the Arena floor. Jiva screamed, “DARKSTAR!!!” The rest of the audience had gone mostly silent. Darkstar's Imperial Raven went back to normal, and he was again at low power. Darkstar thought, I can't believe this...this can't be happening!!! He...he figured out the weakness!? I never...should've said anything. He felt as Baeddan lifted him up from the ground...and began removing his armor, one piece after another. Now clothed only in his boxers, Darkstar was thrown back to the center of The Arena, and Baeddan laughed and shouted, “Take a look at your Darkstar Knight now ...not so tough now, is he?!!” Darkstar struggled to his feet, and after wiping the dirt from his eyes he gaped in horror. There he stood, nearly naked, thousands of hybrids watching him. Jiva frowned and said, “That's it...I'm not gonna just sit here and watch Darkstar be ripped to pieces!” As Joel said, “No, Jiva, wait!” Jiva cloaked herself and flew in at high speed. Baeddan almost didn't sense her approach, but at the last moment he dodged out of the way. Jiva landed and uncloaked, stood between him and Darkstar, and she said, “It's over, I won't let you hurt my Darkstar anymore! Back off...or you'll regret it!!!” Baeddan said, “Oh, well, isn't that sweet! Hey, mostly human...looks like your girlfriend has come to rescue you! And I thought Tobi was pathetic!!!” The announcer told Jiva, “Hey, you can't do that, this is supposed to be a one-on-one fight! Leave The Arena now, or I'll have no choice but to disqualify The Darkstar Knight!!!” Baeddan shouted, “OH, NO!!! DON'T YOU DARE!!!” The announcer gave a start, and Baeddan continued, “I will fight her and that pathetic mostly human...or, for that matter...” He looked into the stands at Joel and the others, then added, “...anyone else who charges in to help this looser!!!” The announcer said, “Uh, okay, then; if you're alright with it, Baeddan!” Darkstar said, “Jiva, don't do this!!! If you fight Baeddan, you...you won't survive!!!” Jiva had to keep her eye on Baeddan, so she said without turning around, “I don't care if I die...as long as you live, Darkstar; that's all that matters. Do me a favor...if I die, would you bring my body back?” Darkstar said, “Jiva, don't...” Jiva said, “You may examine me for parts, as well. I hope it won't come to that...but if it does...Go, get your weapons and armor...I'll keep him busy! I love you, Darkstar. You know that already, but I had to say it again...in case...this is the last time.” He said sadly, “Jiva...” She went to full power and beyond, then shouted, “Go, now!!!” Darkstar gaped for a moment, before he nodded and said, “Thank you...Jiva.” As Darkstar ran to gather up his supplies, Jiva cloaked. She attacked Baeddan with a furious combo of the Kakushi Ryū-Ken style! Baeddan blocked her strikes, and he said, “You're not so pretty now!!! In fact, you're beginning to annoy me!!!” Jiva replied, “Oh, really?!! Well, you're annoying...and butt-ugly!!!” Baeddan growled in rage and shouted, “GET OUT OF MY WAY, CHAMELID WENCH!!!” He went to full power, and attacked with a series of hard punches and kicks, which left Jiva gaping and coughing blood. Darkstar saw as she fell to the ground, and he cried, “JIVA!!!!!” But before he could make a move, Baeddan reappeared and knocked away all the armor he'd gathered! Darkstar stood there, defenseless and gaping, and Baeddan laughed and said, “Oh...what's this?! It looks like I forgot a piece! Here we go!” Darkstar tried, but was unable to stop Baeddan from ripping his boxers to shreds! Jiva and the others gasped and gaped. Darkstar covered himself with his hands in shame and humiliation; he could hear the audience starting to laugh. The air was suddenly rancid, and Darkstar gaped when he realized what it meant. With a wicked grin, Baeddan scratched his claws together. Darkstar tried to run, but he was engulfed in flames! Darkstar screamed in agony as the fire burned him, and Joel and the others gaped in horror! Tears began to fall from Jiva's eyes; as she lay there she cried, “Oh...Darkstar! I'm so sorry...I wasn't strong enough to protect you!!!” He kept his eyes closed and groin covered; once outside of the fire, he dropped and rolled. The pain was incredible...but it hurt even more when the audience seemed to laugh harder. He heard them say things like, “Did you see the way he ran?!! How embarrassing!!!”...“Yes, he's not strong; his swords and armor just made him seem strong!”...“What a little puke!!!”...“Mostly human mud blood!”...“The dude's scared tiny!!! Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!!!”...“What a looser!!!”...“Wannabe hybrid!!!”...“Poser!!!”...“You stupid fool!!! What did you think would happen?!!”...“Hey, looser!!!”...“LOOSER!!!!!!”...“HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!!!” Darkstar sat there, gaping all around...a look of mad horror in his eyes, and he thought, They're all laughing at me...everyone's laughing at me!!! Why did this have to happen? It's just one thing after another. Why won't they stop?! This...this isn't funny!!! Don't you know...what it's like?!! Can't you understand?!! But the hybrids, oblivious, continued to laugh. Shut up...I said shut up...why...won't you...just... Baeddan said, “Pathetic!!! You're nothing but mostly human garbage!!! I'm gonna take your precious Jiva...” He grinned evilly as he forced Jiva to her hands and knees, slapped her on the behind and continued, “...rape her right in front of you...and there's not a damned thing you can do to stop me, human!!!” His eyes met with Jiva's, and she sobbed; she was in no condition to resist. Darkstar gaped in shock. Jiva was going to be raped, and there was nothing he could do! The humiliation of being exposed, then burned over his body only to have thousands of hybrids laugh at him in that vulnerable moment...that alone had been bad enough. Watching Jiva fight so hard for him, after everything she'd been through, only to fail. Everything that had happened to him before; it all flashed through his mind. But at the thought of seeing Jiva, weeping and violated by that disgusting monster, something within Darkstar snapped. And that’s when Joel, Natasha and the others felt it; a power they had never before experienced. Unknown Avenger asked, “Do you feel that?! That power...where's he getting it from?!!” Natasha's eyes bulged, and she said, “Oh, no...Darkstar...he's going to...” Darkstar's head was down, and his eyes were shaded...just as it had been on Mt. Valhar. Slowly...he raised his hand up...until the nail of his forefinger...was up against his left eye. All sound seemed to stop; the heartbeat skipped...and as Joel gaped in horror, he screamed, “NO, DARKSTAR!!! DON'T!!!!!!!!” Darkstar whispered, “Suffer.” He scratched his eye.
Darkstar reared his head back, and let loose a blood-curdling scream of rage and pain. He was suddenly surrounded by an aura of black and crimson energy; a combination of spirit and dragon power! The shockwave nearly knocked Baeddan off his feet, and he shouted, “What is this?! WHERE DID HE GET THIS POWER FROM?!!!” Baeddan, Jiva and the rest of the audience gaped in astonishment as the black spirit shot up into the sky! Clouds began to form in a swirling ring around the beam; it was beginning to create a storm! But moments later, the beam ceased, and the screaming stopped. Darkstar was surrounded by a cloud of smoke, and aside from the wind there was no sound. They anxiously waited for the smoke to clear, but when it did there was no sign of him. There was only a blackened crater that occasionally gave off bolts of dark static. It was quiet for a moment; Baeddan looked around before he asked, “What the…where’d he go?! Did he kill himself?!!” The audience gasped, and Baeddan suddenly felt a malicious presence behind him. When he turned around, he could hardly believe his eyes. There stood Darkstar; changed yet again. His armor was a fusion of the Darkstar Slasher, the Imperial Raven, and Wyvern Blade Pearl with his Dark Fatalis Z and the anti-dragon piercing. New wings and armor, but no sword, nor a visible way to remove the armor. Black, dark metallic blue and neon green; a wicked suit covered in spikes and blades. Darkstar’s face was still badly burned, though it appeared to be slowly regenerating. His hair was still singed, but it also repaired itself. More noticeable than anything, however, was his left eye. Slashed with black, slitted and bleeding, the iris had changed to a mix of red and gold. That eye glowed like fire; glared at Baeddan like the eye of a demon. Upon meeting stares with that wicked eye, Baeddan felt a cold hand close around his heart; the ice cold hand of death. A terror unlike any he had ever known struck him to the core; he felt as though his very soul was in jeopardy! He shivered, and started to ask, “What are you?!” But before Baeddan finished, a searing pain hit him between the eyes…gradually slashing down his middle. Baeddan felt as his body was diverged; cleaved in two! This was followed by the sensation of hundreds of slashes, cutting him to pieces!! His vision swirled, and he saw bits of muscle, bone and blood all around himself; pieces of his own body!!! He tried to scream, but he couldn’t! All he could do was watch.
Baeddan gasped and started, then looked down at himself; he was still in one piece! After a moment of regaining his composure, Baeddan thought, What was that?! What the hell happened?!! But looking back at Darkstar, seeing the look in his eye and the expression on his face, Baeddan came to a truly frightening conclusion. That vision of his gruesome death…it was the manifestation of Darkstar’s unfathomable rage; his hatred, his desire to kill…no, his need to kill him!!! Baeddan shivered again, and took several steps back as he gaped at Darkstar. The audience was confused by this, and several asked, “What’s he doing?!” The hand was closing on his heart, its nails digging in like claws. Breathing air now felt like breathing water; he was suffocating. Baeddan felt tears forming in his eyes; the first time in as long as he could remember, since childhood. He was now terrified as a child facing certain death. It was hopeless; the power and intensity of Darkstar’s rage was overwhelming! After a moment of glaring at Baeddan, Darkstar turned his attention to the crowd. He looked over them, one by one; he was memorizing the faces of everyone who had laughed at him, spat insults at him in his moment of weakness. Darkstar would never forget those faces. Baeddan began to regain his strength of will, now that the eye was off of him. He noticed that wherever Darkstar looked into the audience, there was a wave of gasping, horrified gaping, and sometimes even crying and screaming! Baeddan thought, That’s it!!! It’s that bloody eye!!! I don’t know how he does it, but somehow…his eye is able to drive fear into anyone who sees it! No sword...same equipment...redesigned so it can’t be forcibly removed. He can’t be much stronger; I can still beat him!!! All I need to do…is not look into that eye. He’s looking the other way; it’s now or never!!! Baeddan flew in at full speed, as quietly as he could, right arm forward and fist aimed for the back of Darkstar’s head. A portal formed in the path of Baeddan’s fist; the exit slightly below. The audience gasped, and Baeddan gaped and coughed up blood; his eyes rolled back in pain from his full-force punch, redirected at his own groin!!! Baeddan struggled to keep from falling to his knees, and glared at Darkstar furiously. But it paled next to Darkstar's fiery eye, which sent terror into him that was difficult to ignore. Baeddan frowned back and growled, determined not to let the fear hold him back, and he said, “Why...YOU!!!” Baeddan went to full power, and pushed himself even further. He swung at Darkstar, and their claws met with a metallic crashing sound, sparks and bolts of dragon power! There was once again clanging and shockwaves in The Arena as Darkstar and Baeddan fought, even harder and faster than before! As if pulled by a magnet, with need to be brought into place, Darkstar violently thrust his spiked gauntlet into a portal. From the exit, his fist hit Baeddan hard in the jaw, causing him to spit blood and spin around several times before he regained control! Dust parted again as he moved in for a counter-attack, but Darkstar continued to dodge or block his slashes and strikes. Darkstar grabbed Baeddan’s tail, and threw him hard. He yelled as he skipped across The Arena floor, before flying back-first into the protective barrier around the stands. Baeddan hit the wall with a thunderous clap; a smoke cloud was generated and Darkstar flew for him. He barely removed himself from the wall before Darkstar kicked at him. On impact, the cracked wall exploded; hybrids in the audience were hit with rock fragments, and several were injured. This upset Baeddan; Darkstar, on the other hand, couldn’t have cared less. Before long, the bursts ascended up, higher and higher above The Arena floor! Storm-clouds that had partially formed during Darkstar's power-up began to grow, and their bolts struck in unison with the strikes of the powerful warriors! Red and blue orbs of fire flew and hit the ground or each other, filling the sky with dozens of explosions like a fireworks display! Claw against claw, fist against fist, foot against foot, tail against heel; Baeddan and Darkstar seemed to be well matched! However, Baeddan saw an opening and took it. He let out an angry yell as he took hold of Darkstar and threw him down. But Darkstar, instead of trying to stop himself, flew faster towards the ground! Baeddan gaped at him, and he thought, What the hell?!! Has he lost his mind?!! What does he hope to gain by flying straight down... But then he gasped, as he remembered the redirected attacks. However, it was too late. A foot above the ground, an 8-foot portal formed...the exit a few feet above Baeddan! Darkstar rotated violently on all axis, and planted a massive double heel-kick in the middle of Baeddan's back! He was bent and gargled as he spat up more blood, and Darkstar forced him down for the ground! He pushed off, Baeddan fell into the portal, and Darkstar flew up towards him. Darkstar discontinued the portal, and he took Baeddan by the tail and spun him around while they fell. Darkstar threw Baeddan down, at an even higher speed than before, and Baeddan let out a cry that was interrupted when he crashed into the ground! There was a shockwave, immediately followed by a loud boom and dust-cloud; the audience was filled with gasps and other sounds of astonishment! Darkstar fell straight down, and was decelerated to a stop inches above the ground by a blast of air from his wings. He touched down, crossed his arms and glared at the cloud of smoke. The dust began to settle; moments later, there were grunts, wheezing and other pained noises. When the screen was gone, there stood Baeddan; barely able to keep from falling. As he glared at Darkstar tiredly, he struggled to say, “You…bastard.” Darkstar continued to glare wordlessly, implacably. Baeddan let out an angry roar, and formed his most powerful elemental/status attack. He cast the ball of poison, fire and paralysis at him with all his might, but Darkstar stood his ground. A six-foot portal formed in the path of the ball, and as Baeddan saw the exit appear above him, he said in a pathetic voice, “No!” The portal closed after the ball passed through it, and Baeddan screamed as his own attack came crashing down on top of him! His screams were drowned out by the deafening roar of the explosion, and Darkstar shielded himself from the shockwave with another blast of wind from his wings. The crowd also shielded themselves, and looked up in amazement at the huge cloud of smoke. Darkstar waved his wings several times to blow it away faster, and before long Baeddan emerged. In a crater, burned, missing most of his scales and plating, breathing heavily and struggling to stand back up. Darkstar looked southwest for a long moment, disinterested in the weakened and barely standing Daken. Baeddan growled angrily, and he shouted, “Where...the hell are you lookin'?! I'm not dead yet! I can still fight!” Even as he said it, Baeddan knew he was finished. Darkstar's power couldn't be measured, due to its chaotic mix of types; based on his performance, it had to be over 65,000 DPU. Baeddan, however, was measured at just over 30,000...and falling fast. Another portal opened, and Darkstar reached through to the other side with his right hand. A moment later, he pulled from the portal a longsword! As the audience gaped, Natasha exclaimed, “Darkstar used portal sight! He figured out how on his own!!!” Darkstar attached the sheathed sword between his wings, unsheathed and held the sword in his right hand. Joel said, “I recognize that sword. Isn’t that…” Natasha said, “Yes…it’s Thee Immortal Darkness Saber! With that sword, in addition to the rest of his equipment, his power will…” Darkstar powered up, using only pure dragon power. As bolts shot hundreds of feet, some as far as the stands where they injured a few weaker hybrids, the screen showed his level in DPU. When it stopped growing, Baeddan and the audience were stunned. Baeddan was shaking, and he said, “I must be loosing my sight!!! That looks like it says 87,930 DPU!!! No...it-it can't be!!!” Baeddan gaped and shook as he looked back at Darkstar, and asked, “How…how is this possible? HOW HAVE YOU BECOME SO STRONG?!!” But Darkstar said nothing. He just kept glaring at Baeddan, silently…hatefully. Baeddan screamed, “ANSWER ME!!!” Still, Darkstar kept quiet. He would let his blade do the talking soon enough.
Darkstar appeared to distort, and there was a blast of dust and wind at his feet. His image faded away, well after he had moved. Baeddan looked around frantically, but the motions were too fast; he was always fractional seconds ahead. Baeddan sensed something, but by the time he looked there was only a small dust cloud and a dent in the sand. This went on for several minutes; Baeddan never saw Darkstar, only signs that he was close. He would sometimes feel scratches; the tip of Darkstar’s blade...cutting him in passing. At any time, a fatal blow could come; Baeddan was left to anxiously wait. He said, “So, this is it, huh? You’re just gonna toy with me, waste time until the match is over?!” Still, not one word. Five minutes later, and the silent torture continued. Baeddan looked up at the viewscreen; the clock said there was less than a minute left. He growled angrily, and shouted, “QUIT MESSIN’ WITH ME!!! I KNOW YA WANNA KILL ME; IF YOU’RE GONNA KILL ME, JUST GET IT OVER WITH!!!” Baeddan felt a presence behind, and turned around as quickly as he could. He finally caught a glimpse of Darkstar, but it immediately faded. Suddenly, he felt ill; something was wrong with his body. The next thing Baeddan knew, he saw his tail…but it was in front of him…no longer attached to him! Baeddan reached behind to confirm the unbelievable sight; it was true!!! Just as suddenly, his tail was cut to pieces before his eyes!!! Baeddan cried out, and the audience also cried and moaned in sympathy. He began to hyperventilate, and look around rapidly. He was too shocked, and his heart was racing too fast for him to feel the pain. His own wings appeared before him, and were sliced to pieces! It’s a nightmare, thought Baeddan as he gaped in shock, Oh, please gods, let this be a nightmare!!! Baeddan’s right shoulder suddenly felt lighter, and then his left. He didn’t even bother to look. There before him, both arms appeared…there sliced and diced as if they were butter. Finally, his legs. Baeddan floated, somehow. This made little sense, seeing he no longer had legs to stand on or wings to fly with. He looked down to the ground, at the pile of his limbs in pieces. The cuts had been made with a well -honed blade; repairing them would be a difficult process, but not impossible. However, even with repair, his former strength would be lost, perhaps for good. The wounds to his pride, after loosing to a “mostly human”…regardless of his power; those would be harder still to recover from. Baeddan knew in his heart his career as an Arena Fighter...was over. And for him, that was a punishment worse than death! Baeddan landed on his back, and felt the pain where his wings and tail had been. Darkstar reappeared, and just stood there; glaring down at Baeddan. He shivered as that demon eye looked into his; closed his eyes and turned away, ashamed of himself. But a moment later, he gasped; looked up when he felt his covering wasn't there. Baeddan was now exposed, just as Darkstar had been! And without any limbs, he had no way to cover himself! The audience gasped and murmured; now it was Baeddan’s turn to be “scared tiny”, as one of the hybrids had put it. Darkstar turned away from Baeddan…and just then, the timer reached zero. The announcer gaped for a moment, before stammering, “O-oh, uh…t-the winner of the match is: The Darkstar Knight!!!” But there were no cheers or applause; only silent, stunned gaping. Darkstar’s grim expression remained. As he walked towards Jiva, Baeddan cried, “No, please...don't leave me like this!!! Just kill me, I beg you; I CAN’T STAND THIS HUMILIATION!!! PLEASE!!!!!!” But Darkstar walked away…and he never said another word to Baeddan; he never looked back.
Darkstar helped Jiva stand up, and she gaped at him. The burn damage was nearly healed, but his eye was still damaged. He brought its terror effect down as low as he could, but it still made Jiva nervous. She started to say, “Your eye is damaged, you should...” Darkstar finally spoke; in a deep, rough duotone far from normal, he said, “I must leave it; I cannot keep this form without it.” Jiva was startled by his voice, but replied, “You are exhausted, you need rest! That was a very dangerous thing you did; intentionally damaging your eye to…” Darkstar said, “I will be fine…long enough for us to return.” Jiva started, realizing what that meant, but wouldn’t try to change his mind. Abruptly Jiva smiled and giggled, and Darkstar asked, “What is funny?” Jiva replied, “I…never mind; I will tell you later.” They noticed the announcer was there when he cleared his throat, and they turned to look at him. Darkstar asked, “What?” He said nervously, “Um…here’s…y-your reward…sir?” He held out his hand; in it were 3 black disks. Darkstar took them, and asked as he looked them over, “What are these?” The hybrid announcer replied, “D-Dragon…Enban?” Jiva pretended to understand, but Darkstar asked, “And…what can they buy?” He said, “Well, uh…lots of things! You could…buy a house! Perhaps…n-not the largest, but…” Darkstar interrupted, “I had no such wish…even less now…after how I was treated. What about gravity plates?” The announcer said, “”Plates”? Oh, uh…you must mean…gravity tiles! Yes…yes, of course! You could buy enough tiles to build a pretty big training area, and still have enough Enban left for power cells and re-chargers!” Darkstar asked, “How big could it be?” The announcer replied, “I’m, uh…n-not a salesman; I couldn’t give you an exact figure. One power cell covers a 10 × 10 foot area, but the larger the area, the more power cells you’ll need.” Darkstar said, “I see. I shall find a store that sells these things.” He noticed the announcer had something in his hand, and he asked, “What is that?” The hybrid held it up and said, “This? It’s a sound receiver; it transmits the sound it detects to speakers around the seats and allows the audience to hear better.” Darkstar asked, “They hear us now…in spite of lowered voices?” The announcer replied, “They do.” He jumped when Darkstar took the receiver from him, and Jiva said, “Now, Darkstar, I know you’re still upset about what happened; but please don’t start anything! You really need rest, you shouldn’t…” Darkstar said, “Relax, Jiva. I am done fighting for today. I only wish to bid our…“friends”…farewell.” Darkstar powered up his eye again, and as he looked over the audience he said into the receiver, “I was going to try to save you…honestly, I was. But I realize now…that you are not worth the trouble. Your “Dark Lord” may take you…and have its way; you are already dead to me. When that day comes, and you find yourselves in a hopeless situation…I want you all to remember me. Remember how you laughed at me...spat insults down upon me, as I lay there naked and burned. Remember how I used that pain and rage…to go from a “pathetic mostly human” with no chance of winning, to a power of 87,930 DPU! Remember that I still had not reached full potential. Remember that I will be much stronger, when the time of Final Battle comes. Remember that I could have saved you. You have brought this fate upon yourselves…you poor fools.” They felt that ominous feeling, as if their fates had been sealed with those words. They were afraid, even the strongest of them. There were more cries and frightened sounds, murmuring and asking: What was he talking about? What fate? What’s going to happen?! Darkstar tossed up the receiver, and the announcer fumbled to catch it. Darkstar said, “Come, Jiva…it is time to leave.” She was gaping at him, but she shook herself and followed as he flew into the air. The audience watched with gaping eyes as they ascended into the sky and left The Arena behind, and as Joel and the others also watched Tobi said, “Uh…what the hell was all of that about?! He was speaking almost as if he…” He started, and looked to Natasha. She said, “Tobi…perhaps you should come with us.”
The End of the Sixth Age
Darkstar and Jiva went to the nearest store they could find, and questioned the salesman about gravity tiles. They determined that the best option was an 80×80 foot training area; 6,400 tiles, priced at 40 Earth Enban each, came to 256,000 eE. The gravity area would also require 64 power cells (180 eE each). The newer cells had built-in auto rechargers; they could provide a continuous stream of power, to a point. However, at higher levels of power output they would require brief recharging periods. Darkstar wanted to get 6 spare cells, not to mention 100 spare gravity tiles. That brought the cost up to 272,600 eE, but they also needed a power regulator/g-meter (200 eE) to determine the gravity. Add the cost of 3 spare g-meters, teleportation tags (15,000 eE for 2 sets), 1 training suit for Jiva (female Chamelid type; 2,500 eE), 1 training suit for Darkstar (a custom human version made on site for 3,590 eE), and a floating cart (5,500 eE) large enough to carry the 5’ × 9’ × 6’ ½” stack of tiles and all else…brought them just under budget at 299,990 eE! Darkstar thought about using the last Water Enban to buy a drink, but decided he would keep it as a souvenir. Meanwhile, Natasha got permission to read Tobi in on the situation. Teiojin had made a sound shield, to prevent the conversation from being overheard. Upon learning of Thee Abomination’s imminent attack, Tobi agreed to join their group…if they would let him bring his close friends, his girlfriend and mother along. Joel agreed to this, only if Tobi would agree to use his winnings from betting on Darkstar (375,000 eE) as well as any other money and resources at his disposal to help them buy the supplies they needed. Tobi was hesitant to agree to that, but after seeing Thee Abomination video and the ancient texts which said most hybrids and dakens would perish…he agreed that it was worth it. Natasha also tracked down Aokibo; the Velociprey hybrid they had met at the shop. With a little persuasion, she was able to enlist his help; bringing their total funds to 8 ½ dE. But while they finished shopping and purchasing all the items and technologies to be saved, Darkstar and Jiva were already finished loading their new cart and were just about to leave. But Darkstar felt a presence behind him, and he looked over his shoulder. There…standing thirteen yards down the alley…was none other than High Lord Baelom. Darkstar’s eyes widened, and he gaped in shock for a long moment. Jiva looked, and she was also stunned. Darkstar whispered, “Jiva…use the teleportation tags; go anywhere, go now. I will meet you later.” She turned her gaping eyes to him and whispered, “But how will you know where to…” Jiva stopped when she saw him take a teleportation tag from the spare set out of the cart, and she continued, “Okay…but do not try to fight him…if you do…” Darkstar replied, “I am no fool; I know how that would end. Go…now!” Jiva looked at him worriedly, but nodded and jumped on top of the stack of tiles. After typing in commands on a teleportation tag of the first set, the other of that set vanished. She held onto the cart as she pressed the teleport button, and Jiva, the cart and everything else on it vanished in a split second. Where they had gone, Darkstar didn’t know; but the other tag of the spare set was with Jiva. All he had to do was press the teleport button, and it would send him to the same location. Darkstar turned back, and jumped in surprise; Baelom was now just thirteen feet from him. Darkstar was quick to regain his composure, though. He looked into Baelom’s eyes, and the High Lord looked back; apparently unaffected by the terror-inducing gaze of his damaged eye. They stood there like that for a minute. Darkstar finally said, “Well, well…High Lord Baelom has come to see me?! Most unexpected!” Baelom replied in an unusual voice, “Darkstar Knight…I saw your battle on Replay; the power you possess is impressive…for a “mostly human”.” Darkstar replied, “I take that as high praise from one of your power; not that I know your exact power.” He answered, “It is 280,000 on a bad day; and on a good day…that is for me to know.” Darkstar asked, “So, is today a bad day…or a good day?” Baelom grinned and chuckled, then said, “You will come with me now.” Darkstar asked, “Really? Let me guess…there is some one, or rather…some thing in the High Chamber…that would like to meet me.” Baelom almost hid his surprise, but he couldn’t quite manage it. Baelom asked, “Just what are you…that you would know this? You appear human, yet are not. I want answers…The Dark Lord demands answers.” Darkstar grinned and said, “You want answers? Very well, then…in less than a month…you will set free your “Supreme Lord of Darkness”…and it will show its gratitude…by killing half the world.” Baelom’s eyes widened; he replied, “You lie!!!” Darkstar asked, “Why would I lie? The truth is not always easy to hear, but denying truth will not make it false. You do not believe me? Fine. Keep doing what you are doing, and in time you will know I was right. Two thousand years…” Darkstar reached up, and took a drop of blood from his cheek, and as he held his finger up he continued, “In over 2,000 years, this is what will remain of your bloodline…High Lord Baelom.” Darkstar flicked the droplet into the air; Baelom caught it…then gaped at Darkstar incredulously. “I may not be able to change the past,” added Darkstar, “but the future…well, that is different. I meant to do more here, but I think this will be enough to ensure that my prophecy comes to pass. Tell your “Dark Lord”…that in 2,150 years, I will be stronger; I will be ready for the next time it tries to destroy the world.” Baelom grimaced angrily; Darkstar concluded, “Farewell, my ancestor. Sorry I could not save you.” Baelom noticed the teleportation tag in Darkstar’s hand. He lunged for Darkstar as he shouted, “Wait!!!” But Darkstar pressed the teleport button, and in a hundredth of a second…barely fast enough to avoid the High Lord’s grip…Darkstar vanished. Baelom stood there growling in anger for a moment, but he said to himself, “The Darkstar Knight…is it?” He stood there…looking at the drop of blood in his hand, but soon Baelom took off and flew back towards the Dragonian Tower. He would have the blood analyzed, give his report to Thee Abomination…and then…
Darkstar rematerialized, and found himself standing on a beautiful beach. The sky above was bright blue, with a few scattered clouds…and a refreshing breeze filled his nose with the ocean scent. There were a few palm trees nearby, and the sound of gulls cawing while they flew. Darkstar turned around, and saw Jiva approaching; the cart a few yards behind her. Jiva went to embrace him, but stopped short; with his armor the way it was now, she would cut and impale herself trying to hug him. So instead, Jiva sighed in relief and said, “Thank goodness, I was so worried you wouldn’t be able to escape!!!” Darkstar replied, “The tag was just fast enough; a fraction of a second slower, and Baelom would have had me.” He looked around again, and asked, “Where are we?” Jiva replied, “On Moga…the main island. I decided this would be better, in case…” He nodded and finished, “Baelom got hold of me, and was brought along. Good thinking. I…” Darkstar suddenly felt dizzy, and he gasped and cringed as he held his stinging left eye. Jiva asked, “Darkstar?! What’s wrong?!” He breathed rapidly, and said after a moment of regaining himself, “I…will be fine. My eye is just bothering me; it is no big deal.” Jiva said worriedly, “Darkstar…you need to heal your eye. You shouldn’t stay like this…” Darkstar frowned and said, “Did I not say I would be fine? I must learn this new level of Dragon Eye, and improve control of it.” Jiva asked, “What’re you talking about, your control is fine! But I’m worried about you, Darkstar, you…” She jumped when he said harshly, “My control is NOT fine! I was barely able to…to stop myself from…from…” Jiva asked nervously, “What? You…were barely able to stop yourself from what? Darkstar, what did you almost do?!” She shook in fear; the terror effect of his eye had returned. Darkstar said, “My eye…it is frightening, is it not?” Jiva nodded, and said in a shaky voice, “Please, stop it! Darkstar, please just heal your eye! You can practice more la…” She jumped again when he shouted, “NO!!! You need to understand, Jiva…that fear is not its only weapon!!! All the thousands of hybrids and dakens…all the SCUM who laughed at me…in my most vulnerable moment…I gave them all a vision of their death!!! I BARELY STOPPED MYSELF FROM ACTUALLY DOING IT!!!” Jiva gasped and gaped; after a pause, she said fearfully, “Darkstar, y-you need to heal your eye; you need to heal it right now and never use this power again!!! I-it is vicious…and dangerous…” Darkstar said with a wicked smile, “The perfect weapon!!! Not only does it increase my power, the Terror Gaze allows me to unhinge my opponents before the fight even begins!!! I must…learn this power…become an expert at using it!!! Yes, yes…I will never let it go; I will keep using this form, and I will…I WILL NEVER BE SO WEAK AND VULNERABLE AGAIN!!!” Jiva’s look became sad and worried, and she cried, “Oh, Darkstar…my poor, poor Darkstar…don’t you see it; your control is slipping! You’ve become unstable; like you were the last time you over-used your eye! I implore you, Darkstar…let me heal you.” Jiva reached for his eye, but he backed up and said, “No.” Darkstar continued to say no, as Jiva kept trying to heal him, until finally he screamed, “NO!!!!!!” Jiva gaped in shock as Darkstar sent the Immortal Darkness Saber through her chest!!! She coughed and gargled blood, but before she blacked out, it faded. He had never actually stabbed her; it was another vision. Even so, Jiva was horrified! As she panted, shivered and cried, Darkstar said, “Oh, my god…Jiva, I-I didn’t mean to…” Jiva fell to her knees sobbing, and Darkstar took several steps back. As he gaped at Jiva, he said in a miserable voice, “What is happening to me?!! Jiva, I…you were right…this eye…it is this cursed eye!!!” Darkstar began healing his eye, and cried, “Heal, damn you, heal!!!” It took a minute, but his eye went from fire-colored to gold, and then returned to normal blue. His swords and armor returned to normal, and Darkstar let all of his supplies fall to the sand. He dropped to his knees next to Jiva, but she gasped fearfully and backed away, shaking and gaping at him. His voice was back to normal, and he said sadly, “Jiva, I am so…so sorry! Please, don’t be afraid; I won’t hurt you! It was an accident; I swear, I never meant to do that to you! I…I feel so horrible!!! Please…forgive me!!!” Jiva shook in grief, as more tears fell. Before she could respond, Darkstar suddenly cried out in pain and clenched his chest. He felt a stabbing pain in his heart…the same place he’d stabbed Jiva in that vision…followed by more pain in his eye. He fell to his side; in such intense pain that it made him pant for breath. Darkstar’s vision faded away, and he let out a long sigh as he lost consciousness. Jiva exclaimed, “DARKSTAR!!!” She rushed over to him; held him in her arms. Jiva checked to make sure Darkstar was breathing and had a pulse, and to her relief he did. As she held the sleeping Darkstar in her arms, Jiva said quietly, “Oh, Darkstar…do not worry; my feelings for you aren’t easily swayed. I know you did not mean to hurt me; I have already forgiven you. Rest well, my love. I’ll get us back to Araishima.”
Darkstar slowly began to open his eyes; he felt weak, and everything seemed so bright. It was a moment before his vision cleared. There was something soft next to him, and when he turned to look he saw Lydia; she was in a deep sleep. He sat up in bed, shook her as he said, “Lydia? Hey, Lydia…common, wake up.” But Lydia didn’t stir in the slightest. His shakes became harder, and he began to panic. Darkstar asked, “Lydia? Lydia?!!” He held his fingers to her neck, and barely felt a pulse; her breathing was also very slow. Darkstar turned when he heard the tent open; there stood Jiva in the doorway. No longer dressed in her usual outfit, she wore the training suit he had bought her after the battle. The suit was a perfect fit for her, she looked so incredibly adorable! Jiva smiled gleefully and cried in joy, “Oh, Darkstar!!! You’re awake!!!” She rushed over and embraced him, and Darkstar was rendered breathless by the force of her grip. He struggled to say, “Jiva…take it easy, I’m…not in my armor! You’re squishing me!!!” Jiva giggled and said, “Oops, sorry; got a little carried away there!” She loosened her grip, and Darkstar breathed in relief. They backed up to look into each other’s eyes, and Darkstar said sadly, “Oh, Jiva…I’m so, so sorry for…” She smiled and said, “Relax, Darkstar; I know you didn’t mean to hurt me; I forgave you over 10 days ago.” Darkstar’s eyes gaped in shock, and he exclaimed, “I’ve been asleep for 10 days?!” Jiva looked and replied sadly, “Yeah…” She looked at Lydia, and Darkstar asked, “A coma?” Jiva nodded, and he added, “How?! And why is she still asleep?!” She replied, “Well, in your case, it was a result of the Dragon Eye; you let out its full power, and instinctively used full-body regeneration to heal your burns. That, and the psychological damage resulting from all that happened…overwhelmed you. Lydia, on the other hand…she had an encounter with Fallvine.” Darkstar asked, “Fallvine? I am not familiar with that.” Jiva nodded and said, “It’s usually found on tropical islands. Without the antidote, it is fatal. With antidote…” She gestured to Lydia and concluded, “It almost always leads to a coma.” Darkstar asked, “How long until Lydia wakes up?” Jiva sighed and said, “I wish I could tell you, Darkstar, but…in all recorded cases, recovery time was random. Some people recovered within days, others weeks…months…years. This is rare, but…some who were infected…never woke up.” Darkstar looked sadly at Lydia, and he said to himself, “Oh, Lydia…” Jiva hugged him again, and this time he returned the hug. She said, “Oh, Darkstar…baby, it’s gonna be alright! I’m sure she will recover before too long.” He said, “Of course she will.” He said that more to reassure himself than anything. After a moment of holding each other, he turned and leaned over to give Lydia a kiss on her cheek. He stood up, and looked down upon the sleeping beauty. Would she really be okay? Only time would tell. He turned back to Jiva, and she rested a hand on his shoulder and said with a smile, “Common…let’s get you up to speed.”
After changing into his custom-made training suit and having a quick breakfast, Jiva took Darkstar up to the peak of the plateau. There, in the nearest clearing, the 80 × 80 foot area was set up and active. Natasha was at its center, practicing her longsword forms in above- normal gravity. She stopped when they landed, and approached them. Natasha said as she reached the edge of the training area, “Darkstar! It’s great to finally see you awake again! You sure are a sleepy-head!” He laughed and said, “Yeah, sorry about that! Guess I can’t use that eye trick anymore, can I?” Natasha’s expression became serious, and she replied, “It would be better if you didn’t…but I’m sorry to say; against the High Lords, you might not have a choice.” Darkstar said, “Well, that’s still a long ways off. So, you got this area up and running, I see! What’s the gravity set at?” He moved to enter the arena, but he was stopped by Jiva. She exclaimed, “No, Darkstar, you’ll injure yourself!!!” He turned to her as she went on, “Don’t forget that you were bedridden for 10 days; your muscles aren’t at full strength as a result. You have to go easy, at least for now.” Darkstar agreed, but soon he gave a start. Natasha asked, “What’s wrong,” and he said, “If it has been over 10 days, how much time do we have left?” Jiva replied, “We have 11 days to get back, before The Abomination is let loose. Hopefully the date given in the ancient texts is accurate.” “Have my father and the others figured out a way to…” Jiva said, “They’re still working, but we have Gom and the others’ help; it shouldn’t be long now.” Darkstar asked, “Gom…and the others?” Jiva replied, “Tobi and his friends.” Darkstar said, “Oh…oh, yeah, right! I almost forgot they were going to join us!!!” He gave a start when a female voice he did not recognize said from behind him, “”Almost forgot”…that’s such a silly expression!” Darkstar turned to look at the source, and gaped in surprise. Standing before them was a hybrid, of Kirin breed by the look of her. She grinned and said, “You either remember, or you don’t; there’s no in-between! So, don’t you dare forget again, Darkstar Knight! The name’s Kirara…nice to finally meet you!”
Darkstar grinned and said, “Alright…I won’t forget. Nice to meet you, as well, Kirara. I take it you’re a Kirin hybrid?” She held her arms out and said, “Of course! What kind of hybrid but a Kirinid could be so pale and beautiful?” She was, indeed, very beautiful. He couldn’t help but look over her body, but she caught him and said with a smirk, “What’re you lookin’ at, Darkstar Knight?!” She glanced off to the side and said to herself, “Didn’t think he’d be THAT quick to undress me with his eyes! Jeez!” Jiva frowned and growled, and Darkstar stammered, “I-I…w-wait, don’t get the wrong idea!!! I was not “undressing you with my eyes”, it’s just…you’re the first Kirin hybrid I’ve seen up close. I was just… looking over your…attributes.” Kirara chuckled and replied, “Yeah…sure! I’ve got some “attributes” I could show you, but…” She turned her attention to Jiva and added, “I doubt she’d approve.” The look Jiva gave her was confirmation. Darkstar said, “Right…so, you must be one of Tobi’s friends. What brings you around here?” Kirara replied, “I’ve been training with Natasha and Jiva here for the past week…give or take a day. Reiya has also trained some with us, but she has other plans for today.” Darkstar asked, “Reiya?” Kirara replied, “Tobi’s girlfriend.” He nodded and said, “Of course. Well, I hope you don’t mind if I turn the gravity down, but I’ve been comatose for over 10 days…” She finished, “You need time to build your muscles back up; I understand.” Natasha went over to the control panel and said as she typed, “Go ahead and turn your suit on, Darkstar; it’ll automatically measure your strength and adjust the weight and movement resistance.” So he pressed the on button, and the armor-like training suit made a whirring sound as it did calculations. It was a moment before he felt the weight and resistance increase, but it barely changed. He really had lost a lot of strength during his coma, so it seemed. Natasha said, “Alright, you can step in now.” Darkstar stepped onto the dark tiles, and Jiva and Kirara stopped beside him. He’d expected it to feel heavier, but it felt no different. As if she had read his mind, Natasha said, “I turned the gravity down to 1g, but it will increase at a rate of 0.02g every hour.” Darkstar looked at her and asked, “Seriously, Natasha!? I know it’s been ten days, but don’t you think that’s overkill?!” Kirara said, “For a normal hybrid…yes. But you’re not a normal hybrid, Darkstar; you’re “mostly human”…” He scoffed and said, “There it is again, “mostly human”!” Kirara gave a start, and she said, “I meant no offense, it’s just that you don’t have the same physical strength as a normal hybrid! You’d have to take it slow, even if your muscles weren’t atrophied!” Natasha said, “I have been going at 0.04g per hour, Darkstar; just to give you an idea. I was training in over 3 times normal gravity when you got here. Even for someone of my physical prowess, it hasn’t been easy even at that slow rate. But the slower you take it, Darkstar…the stronger you’ll get; because you won’t really notice the difference, and it will seem almost like normal!” He signed as he said, “Alright! I guess I have no choice but to take it slow.” Jiva smiled and said, “Don’t worry, Darkstar; this is gonna be fun!” He turned to her and asked, “So, what exactly are we doing? Portal training?” Natasha exclaimed, “No, Darkstar!!! No portals…not in the gravity field. It’s too dangerous, so you’ll have to save portal training for later.” He said, “Okay, then; what else is there to do?” Natasha said, “Well, I have training swords for us to use, but…I think Jiva has something else in mind. Jiva?” She nodded and smiled, and Darkstar turned his attention back to her. Jiva said, “Darkstar…I think it’s about time that I instructed you in the art of Kakushi Ryūken!”
As Natasha and Kirara sparred at the other end of the area, Jiva began teaching Darkstar the basics of Kakushi Ryūken. Traditionally it was a style which required the users to be invisible, but without materials to Unleash Darkstar couldn’t generate a stealth shield for himself. So, at least for the time being, they practiced the forms visibly. As he went from one stance to the next, Darkstar said, “Jiva…this is the same technique you used to fight Baeddan…is it not?” Jiva replied, “Yeah…why?” Darkstar said, “Well, I still don’t get how he was able to block your attacks and bring you down so quickly. I mean, I know he was stronger and all, but you were cloaked!!! Shouldn’t that have given you some…” She interrupted, “You were able to see me, right Darkstar? Well…maybe you didn’t realize it, but at the time…your eye wasn’t Unleashed.” Darkstar gasped when he realized what that meant, and Jiva continued, “For years I struggled to maintain my cloak while in combat. I have since had Teiojin’s help; I’m getting used to a new shield configuration, which lets me fight at full power without compromising my invisibility. In fact…” She looked to her left, and Darkstar looked in the same direction. There stood Teiojin…arms crossed, a grin on his face. He said, “Darkstar! Good to see you awake again!” Jiva asked, “You’re a bit early, aren’t you?” Teiojin replied, “Better early than late. You may watch from the side-lines, Darkstar; I intend to have Jiva in fighting form today.” Darkstar nodded and said, “I suppose it’s for the best; ten days inactivity has made me weak, unfortunately.” “You will have your chance,” replied Teiojin, “Just take it easy for now.” He turned his attention to Jiva and added, “Well, you know the drill; hop to it!” Jiva nodded, and as Darkstar pulled up a chair Jiva cloaked in her new shield configuration. After a few minutes adjusting her cloak, Teiojin smiled and said, “Good. Now, we test it! On guard!” He stood in a Kakushi Ryūken fighting stance, and Jiva took an opposing stance. Darkstar gasped; the moment they began fighting, he lost sight of them! He could barely hear their movements; sounds of their hands, forearms, knees, heels and shins colliding. Or, occasionally, a sharp crack that must’ve been their claws meeting. Kirara and Natasha had stopped sparring to watch Teiojin and Jiva. Somehow, they appeared to be following their movements! So, Darkstar focused harder. He Unleashed his eye to full power, and opened up his other senses. The distortions slowly became visible, though they were still hard to keep up with. Moments later, the two landed and uncloaked. Teiojin seemed calm, but Jiva was breathing rapidly. She said, “Man!!! That’s so much harder, fighting like that!!!” Teiojin smiled and replied, “Yes, but you did it, Jiva! You were able to fight without diminishing your cloak! I must congratulate you, you’ve done far better than I’d expected. Now, let’s see if you are able to remember that configuration. Cloak again.” Jiva activated her stealth shield. He had to help her make some adjustments again, so she spent the next half-hour cloaking over and over again. By the end of it, though, Jiva had the configuration memorized. They sparred for a while, and Darkstar was content to sit back and watch. It made him feel lazy, but he was still recovering from a coma, after all. He would get back to it in time.
Darkstar practiced more Kakushi Ryūken forms with Jiva when she was finished training with Teiojin. He also sparred some with Natasha using training swords, and observed as Kirara demonstrated some of her techniques. She had a high-speed movement, like Kibin Gaidō but different in that it involved a polarized electric field to amplify her velocity. He said as he observed it, “I call my Unleashed high-speed movements Lightning Stride, but this…this is a true Lightning Stride!!! I’ve gotta learn how to do that!!!” Kirara giggled and said, “I’m glad you approve! I’ll teach it to you, Darkstar, but you’ll have to put your armor back on. So that you can “Unleash”, as you call it.” So Darkstar had changed back into his armor, and they spent some time working on it. They all took a lunch break after 2 hours of training. By sunset, the gravity was just over 1.14g. Not a significant increase, but noticeable. The group returned to the main camp for dinner; Joel and the others were glad to see Darkstar again. They discussed a variety of things, from the training schedule of the other Unleashers to the technologies they had saved. Apparently they now had the ability to instantly craft tools, other devices or even buildings using matter/energy storage and conversion. The machine would scan an object, and keep in memory the structure of said object for later creation or even replication! Though it did require material to make a duplicate of something, the nature of the material wasn’t important. However, depending on what material was used, it sometimes required more or less. Another interesting thing they had saved was a Replay Viewer, or RV. It was like playback of the recording device, but it could also detect transmissions from the Platinum City and play the programs while they were happening! The conversation quieted as they watched a live news broadcast. It was High Lord Baelom; he was about to give an address! As everyone watched, the High Lord said, “Citizens of Shiroganeshi, world audience; I call upon you for any information you have regarding the Darkstar Knight’s whereabouts. This individual is armed, and also very dangerous. Though he appears and is mostly human…the Darkstar Knight is Omni-Daken; not to be underestimated. He may, in fact, be stronger now than during his Arena battle ten days ago. If you know where the Darkstar Knight is, do not attempt to fight or capture him; inform the authorities of his location. Darkstar Knight, if you are still in this place; if you are watching this…you are to return to Shiroganeshi immediately. Trackers have already been deployed; you will be found. Come to me…or I will bring you myself. That is all.” As the address ended, Darkstar asked, “”Omni-Daken”? What in the world is that?!” Tobi and the other hybrids were all looking at each other worriedly. Darkstar once again asked, “What?! What does it mean?!!” Tobi said, “If it’s true…if you really are an Omni-Daken…it means you have within you not just Baelom’s blood; but the blood of all monsters!” Darkstar and many others gaped, and he asked, “All monsters?! Every single one of them?!! But how is that possible?” Natasha replied, “Over a hundred generations, various human/hybrid bloodlines could’ve converged into your line. That would allow for all traits without the need for further genetic modifications to assist DNA compatibility.” Gom, the big Lao Shan hybrid, nodded and said in his deep voice, “I agree. As an Omni-Daken, even a mostly human one, your power could potentially surpass even High Lord Baelom. Only time will tell.” Darkstar said, “Wow…all monsters. I wouldn’t have ever thought that. So, is that what we Unleashers are; mostly human Omni-Dakens?” Kirara replied, “Well, you and your father are, certainly. The rest probably are, though breeding and trait balance may be somewhat different. There’s no telling what you guys could do, if you manage to unlock your full inner potential. Hell, for all we know, you could grow to surpass us normal hybrids by ten…or even a hundred!!!” Darkstar said, “That would certainly help to defeat the High Lords of our time. Well…if you don’t mind, I think I’m gonna turn in early; I’ve got a long day of training ahead of me.” Joel nodded and replied, “Yes, of course. I will assist you tomorrow, if you’d like?” Darkstar nodded, and he said goodnight to Joey, his mother and his other friends and family. He used the teleportation tag, and in the blink of an eye he vanished. As the others resumed their conversation, Jiva thought to herself, Oh, Darkstar.
- ...To Be Continued...