Monday, October 28, 2019

Worth Fighting For, Chapter 19

“I hope you know where you’re going,” Blynn said as they turned a corner into a larger corridor. The halls were empty—for now. As soon as someone realised Hyren had been sprung, security would be all over them.

“I’ve spent a lot of time on this ship between deployments,” Hyren said. “So I know my way around it. The closest bank of escape pods is on the next level up. Too bad I can’t fit in the ventilation ducts.”

He stopped them at a small, nondescript door. “I’m pretty sure I know where this goes,” he said. It opened into a large, unoccupied office space filled with tables and chairs, as well as a few exotic potted plants collected from various planets. “From here, I think there’s a hallway we can take to—“ Hyren’s antennae perked at the sound of heavy boots and clanking machinery. He looked up to see a large set of doors on the other wall slide open.

A squadron of armoured Virtupets troopers and robot Petpets poured in. “We’ve sighted the hostiles,” a blue Lupe soldier said into her comm. “Neutralizing.” She and her unit trained their weapons on the escapees.

“Was this part of your plan?” Blynn asked, reaching for her slingshot.

The troopers answered with a rain of blaster fire.

“Terra, your sword deflects blaster bolts,” Hyren said. “Time to take it for a test run.”

She ducked behind him and raised her blade just in time for a blaster bolt to ricochet off the metal, leaving a fading spot of orange heat. The recoil jerked back her arms and made her wince, and she blinked in shock before steadying herself for another incoming shot.

Blynn curved herself around a blaster bolt, backflipped to avoid the next, and waltzed around three more. The Lupe officer snarled and unloaded a few more frustrated shots at the slippery Zafara. Blynn merely swerved past them and gave her a taunting grin.

Hyren seized the nearest table and heaved it into the crowd of troopers. A panicked shout rose and the table struck, knocking four of them flat and throwing several others off-balance in a moment of chaos.

Blynn nocked a potsherd in her slingshot and fired. The resulting light show sent their assailants stumbling back even further, the troopers shielding their eyes and the ‘bots sparking at the seams. “The pebbles don’t work here,” she said to Hyren. “I already tried it. They only work on stone, I think.”

The Grundo picked up a chair in each hand and lobbed the furniture at the soldiers. One chair sent two troopers sprawling, and the other slammed into a robot Petpet. The ‘bot lost its footing and stumbled into the Lupe officer, and she let out an angry yelp, the wind knocked out of her.

His Zafara companion fired off more shots, but for every trooper and ‘bot knocked back, several more advanced from the hallway. “Oh, crumbs,” she said, sifting around in her ammo pouch. “I’m out of potsherds.”

“Use the pebbles anyway!” Terra said, cringing as a blast got past her sword and singed her cloak.

The Zafara nocked a stone and let it fly. It clattered against the nearest mutant Grundo trooper’s helmet, not making him so much as twitch as it reflected off his armour’s shields. “No dice!” Blynn said.

“Fall back!” Hyren said, positioning himself in front of them. The three began to edge away.

“Not such a great idea, chief!” Blynn said. “More behind us!” Heavy, hurried footsteps clanged on metal flooring.

“Wonderful,” Hyren said. “Well, stand your ground, then!” He picked up another table and held it in front of him by one leg, feeling it jolt and shudder as blaster fire ripped into it.

A mighty yell rose up from behind their foes, and a flood of Neopets and owners crashed into the troopers and robot Petpets. Soldiers were tackled to the floor, their weapons wrested from their grip and used to disable the ‘bots. The motley mob rushed toward Hyren, Blynn, and Terra, and the Grundo cringed, expecting the worst.

“Don’t shoot!” a female voice yelled from the throng. “They’re with us!”

To Hyren’s amazement, the Neopets and owners started firing past them, not at them. The rebels veered around them to storm the forces in back of the trio. Two Neopets and a girl with long black hair remained behind. “Go! We’ll catch up with you!” she said.

“What’s going on here?!” the Grundo asked.

The human turned, and Hyren jerked back in shock to see the owner whose home he had invaded during the Sakhmet operation. Her green Techo and purple Scorchio stood nearby, eyeing him warily as though he might attack them again.

“Someone disabled the security systems for the entire cell block levels,” she said, looking him over curiously, her eyes wandering to Terra and Blynn. She seemed a little older than Terra, but not much taller, and carried she herself with more sureness—and a blaster.

Hyren wondered if she remembered him, although he knew he looked a far cry from the day of the battle. “You are…?” he said.

“Baojia,” she said. “And you’re the guy who broke my door.”

“Yeah…” Hyren said, glancing aside. “Sorry about that.”

The owner put a hand on her hip as she cradled her blaster in her other arm. “Apology accepted.”

“How did you know we weren’t going to attack you?” Hyren asked her. “We could be working for Virtupets.”

“Well, first of all, the kid and the Zafara aren’t wearing uniforms,” Baojia said. “And news spreads fast here, especially when it’s something as big as a turncoat war hero.” She paused. “Plus, we were asked to find you.”

Her Scorchio approached Hyren and said, “The Neopet who set us free requested we give this to you.” She unlatched the belt of a very familiar claymore from off her back.

“My sword!” Hyren said. He set down the table, which had been making his muscles ache strangely, to receive the weapon.

She handed it up to him. “He told us to tell you that he knows now why you’re his inspiration,” she said.

The former commander paused. “Was he a yellow Grundo, by any chance?”

“Yeah, he was,” Baojia’s Techo said.

Hyren fastened the scabbard around his waist, its weight comforting against his leg, and he smiled as he drew his trusty blade. “If you see him again, tell him I wish him all the luck in the galaxy.”

“We will,” Baojia said. She smiled at Terra, who waved shyly in return, and then glanced back up at Hyren. “I’m sure there’s an interesting story behind this.”

“Yep,” Hyren said. “But now’s not the time for storytelling.”

Glancing over her shoulder, Baojia tipped her blaster at the horde of Neopets and owners who stumbled back into the room toting more weapons and victorious grins. “We’re overrunning this ship and kicking out all the Virtupets goons,” she said.

“Sloth got away, though,” the Scorchio said. “We were hoping to capture him.”

“He’s a slippery one,” Hyren said. “He’s smarter than to go down with his ship.” He paused and looked down at the girl and her pets. “Hey, uh… I’m really sorry about Sakhmet. That never should have happened.”

“Apology accepted,” Baojia said. “We’ve actually been pretty okay here. Sloth’s left us alone for the most part. From what I heard, since the defeat at Sakhmet, he’s been too preoccupied rebuilding his resources to do much experimenting.” She pulled her pets close for a hug. “It wasn’t fun being stuck on this ship for eight months, but we were there for each other through it. That’s what family is for.”

Hyren smiled. “I finally understand that now.”

“You’re going to help us, aren’t you?” Baojia asked. “We could really use you and your family.” She looked over at Blynn, who had wandered over to the stunned troopers and disabled robot Petpets to collect stray bolts that had fallen from the ‘bots, putting them in her belt pouch.

“Well, they’re not my—“ Hyren started to say, but he stopped himself and sighed. “I will. I owe you all that much. And that’s probably my best bet for keeping them safe.” He looked down at Terra. “What do you say, are you up for it?”

“Yeah!” Terra said. “Let’s do this!”

“That’s the spirit!” Baojia said with a laugh. “I’m more than ready to go back home—I’ve got some rare morphing potions that have probably risen in value by now.”

Hyren grimaced, not quite willing to tell her that her house had collapsed on him. Maybe the potions had made it out unscathed.

The group of rebels returned. “Well, they won’t be bothering us for another few hours,” a Gelert panted, his tongue lolling out the side of his mouth. “Enough time to drag them into cells. So this is the guy?” He and the others crowded around Hyren and Terra curiously as Blynn hopped back to them.

“Yep,” Baojia said. “Hyren and his family are with us. What’s our next plan of action?”

“We need to head for the bridge,” a male owner spoke up. He moved forward with his Tuskaninny. “Everyone else is sweeping through the ship and converging there. Once we secure the command deck, the Triumph is ours.”

“Roger,” Hyren said. He turned to his young wards. “Okay, let’s…” Another wave of nausea surged through him, causing him to clutch his stomach. His eyes bulged as he doubled over, trying to catch his breath. “Let’s go,” he gasped when it passed, pointing his sword to the door ahead. In spite of his pain and discomfort, he relished leading forces again.

“You’re not okay,” Terra said as the group made their way past stunned troopers and disabled ‘bots. Red alerts flashed around them, and frenzied commands blared over the intercom.

“It’s probably indigestion,” Hyren said with a comforting smile. Since when was his sword so heavy, though? Swallowing hard, he pushed the pain and fatigue to the back of his mind. “The bridge is this way!”

“Take care of yourself!” Blynn said as they neared a large door at the end of the corridor.

The door slid open and they ran out onto one of the decks of the multi-leveled bridge. The underside of Sloth’s command platform, where Hyren had initially taken the girls, stuck out high above. The many terraces beneath were filled with computer banks, control consoles, and smaller holographic displays which complemented the immense map that made up the far wall.

The area had been thrown into chaos. Escapees fought Virtupets troops and robot Petpets on the levels below, while shouts, weapons fire, and the solid clunk of armour sounded from above. Hyren stepped back from the edge as someone’s blaster hurtled down from an upper deck.

Baojia and her rebels fired on the Virtupets troops on the next terrace down. “Follow me to the upper levels!” Hyren said. “We have to take out the officers first!”

He staggered back to rest against the wall for a moment, trying to catch his breath. What was wrong with him? He hadn’t exerted himself nearly enough to feel winded like this. Hang in there, he begged his body. I just have to make sure they take the ship.

“We’re not outta the water yet, chief!” Blynn said.

The Grundo pushed himself away from the wall, clinging to his sword with both hands. Another group of Virtupets forces moved in from the hallway ahead. Mutant Grundos and Virtupets officers held their blasters at the ready, while Ultra Pincerons hovered in their ranks, claws snapping. Beside them marched Scout Units with blaster attachments.

And leading them was a very familiar Blumaroo. Garoo now wielded a sword of his own, a thin, curved blade. “I’ve been waiting a long time for this,” he said. “Open fire!”

“Stay together!” Hyren barked. “Defensive formation—get behind me!” The rebels crowded in back of him, trying to pick off troopers with scattered blaster shots. Hyren honestly felt ready to pass out and in no condition to engage Garoo in a swordfight. But that seemed to be exactly what the other commander wanted.

Summoning the last of his strength, Hyren managed to lift his blade again. He felt Terra back against him and he glanced down to see her frown in determination as she held out her own sword. Blynn crouched at their feet, gripping her slingshot. Weapon held at the ready, Garoo began to advance his troops.

“Terra,” Hyren coughed, his vision swimming. “If… if I don’t make it out of this… I just wanted to let you know… I would have loved to have had you as my owner.”

Baojia let out a grunt as she was hit and collapsed, stunned. Her Techo held her while her Scorchio picked up her blaster and continued to fire. Garoo gave an enraged roar, breaking into a run.

“You’ve always been a part of my family, Hyren,” Terra said.

“If something happens to me,” Hyren said, “take Blynn and run.”

“I’m not leaving you,” Terra said.

Hyren opened his eyes and took a deep breath. He wasn’t going down a coward, and he would do everything in his power to protect his two best friends. “For Neopia!” he roared, raising his sword and charging.

“For Neopia!” the rebels answered in unison. They let out battle cries of their own, and Terra’s blade flashed beside Hyren’s.

His final thought before the two forces met was that maybe they’d call this “The Last Charge of Hyren the Indomitable”.

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