Hyren brought his sword back for a sweeping strike and it clanged against Garoo’s weapon. The two locked blades, clashing and withdrawing in an intricate dance as blaster fire flew around them. Both their eyes blazed red as the two titans faced off.
The din of battle seemed to mute as Hyren poured all of his focus onto Garoo. He watched each twitch of the Blumaroo’s muscles, trying to stay a step ahead of every strike, knowing Garoo was doing the same with him. They exchanged blows and blocks at breakneck speed, their blades a blur in Hyren’s eyes. He was the better swordsman—that and adrenaline were the only things keeping him matched with Garoo right now, considering his physical condition.
The Blumaroo twisted his blade and Hyren expected it a moment too late. The Grundo’s sword flipped out of his hand and he withdrew with a hiss, dropping to one knee.
Garoo pointed his own weapon at Hyren’s chest. “I’ve been waiting a long time for this,” the commander said, his face twisting into a malicious grin.
Hyren swallowed hard, sweat stinging his eyes. His headache had come back with a vengeance. He couldn’t even see Terra and Blynn any more, and his sword lay just out of reach. He bared his teeth at the Blumaroo, daring him to do his worst.
He heard the ping of metal striking metal. Past Garoo, the eyes of one of the Scout Units flashed green, and it turned and began firing on its own troops.
Garoo’s shields flashed as he was hit and he staggered forward. “What’s going on back there?!” he barked.
Something small and shiny flew past Hyren and he heard another ping, and then an Ultra Pinceron’s red eye turned green. It grabbed two Virtupets soldiers, hoisting them into the air and dragging them off.
Several more ‘bots were hit and let out static warbles as they, too, turned and attacked the troopers. The soldiers yelled in alarm and confusion, and the rebels staggered back, rather confused themselves.
Hyren seized his chance. Grabbing his sword, he pushed himself to his feet and swung at Garoo. The Blumaroo recovered from his shock and parried. But he was distracted now, Hyren could tell as they fought on. Garoo’s mind was elsewhere just enough that his motions were ever-so-slightly mistimed. As the commander brought his blade in, Hyren swung his entire body out of the way, using the momentum to whip around and deliver a powerful kick.
He caught Garoo square in the stomach, and the force of the blow knocked the Blumaroo off his feet. The officer tucked into a roll and popped back up with a snarl. Before he could prepare for another strike, Hyren closed in.
“Keep waiting,” Hyren said as he smacked Garoo in the head with the flat of his blade. The commander crumpled, out cold. “Charge!” the Grundo yelled hoarsely, motioning the remaining rebels forward and further into the fray. With their commander fallen and their own ‘bots turned against them, the attackers were in disarray, and Hyren’s forces quickly gained the advantage.
Barely before Hyren knew it, the troopers either lay prone or had been carried away, and all of the non-rogue robot Petpets were disabled. The green-eyed ‘bots dispersed, the Scout Units clomping back into the hallways and the Ultra Pincerons floating up and down to other levels.
Gasping for breath, Hyren turned back to his allies. While many of them had been stunned, there were still a good number standing, picking themselves up and assessing the damage to their equipment. Hyren had taken his fair share of hits, being by far the largest target among them, and now that the rush of battle was gone, he was starting to feel the pain ebbing in.
“T… Terra!” Hyren choked, scanning the scene. “Blynn!” He dreaded seeing them among the fallen.
“Hyren!” Terra called out. She stumbled her way toward him, Blynn close behind. Both of them looked frazzled and exhausted, and Terra was limping, but they were up.
He hugged them with one arm. “It’ll be all right,” he said.
Terra hugged him back. “We did it,” she said. “I’m so glad.”
“So that’s what the bolts do,” Blynn said. “Wicked.”
“Good… good thinking,” Hyren panted.
Baojia’s Scorchio approached them with a weary smile. “Thanks… commander,” she said. “We’d have been toast without you.”
He glanced up at her, having a hard time focussing his vision, and said, “Yeah.”
“We’re winning!” the Gelert from earlier said as he leaned over one of the consoles and watched the skirmishes below. “The rogue ‘bots are helping!”
“Attention, Virtu-dweebs!” a voice squeaked over the intercom. “This ship now belongs to the owners and Neopets of the free galaxy! Next stop: Neopia! And you’re all getting a nice welcoming party from the Faerie Queen—I’m sure she’d love to have a little chat with you!” A cheer rose up in reply.
Terra let out a weak hoorah of her own, raising her fist and then letting it fall limp. “Blynn, how did you think to hit the robots with their own bolts?” she asked, leaning against Hyren’s shoulder.
“Intuition,” Blynn said with a wink.
Hyren struggled to stand, placing a hand to his head as he used his other hand to steady Terra. “The nearest med bay is ahead and to the left,” he panted as the conscious rebels began to pick up their companions. The nausea returned in full force and the world spun around him. Unable to keep control of his limbs, he fell to the floor, his sword flying from his grip.
“Hyren?” Terra said. “Hyren!”
“I told you you weren’t okay!” Blynn said as the two leaned over him.
“Wh-what’s going on…” Terra stammered, her face pale.
The Grundo let out another series of coughs as pain wracked his body. “I… I don’t know,” he said.
A dark chuckle boomed from the intercom. “I know you can hear me, Hyren,” a deep voice said. The ambient light from the wall map suddenly changed color from peaceful cyan to stark white.
Hyren took in a shuddering breath and turned his head. In the place of the map was now a giant image of Sloth, seated in what Hyren recognised as the doctor’s personal shuttle.
“Ah, there you are. Did you really think you were going to get off that easily?” Sloth asked, looking quite pleased with himself.
“What… are you talking about…” Hyren wheezed.
“Did you really forget what I told you all those long ages ago?” the scientist asked. “The day you renounce your loyalty to me would be the day you draw your last breath.”
“I’m fine,” the Grundo said. “I can… get patched up… in the med bay…”
“You think I’m talking about your battle wounds? No, this is something else entirely,” Sloth said. “It was an ingenious addition to your personal mutation, if I say so myself. A failsafe trigger, surreptitiously inserted into your genetic code. If you were ever to vocally forsake me, the trigger would activate, and—” He snapped his fingers. “Your body would shut down. I’m surprised you held out this long, really. You had more endurance than I estimated.”
Terra stood and leaned over the edge, her arms shaking with rage. “You fix him right now, Sloth!” she said. “Do something—save him!”
Sloth’s image was so oppressively large that it was hard to tell whether or not he was looking at her. “Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t,” he said. “He’s too far gone, now. Don’t waste your breath on him.” The overlord grinned. “I must say, Hyren, you were an interesting experiment, but all experiments must reach their conclusion.” He sat back in his seat. “I’m going to enjoy watching your final moments.”
Blynn screeched, hopping up on the console and firing a spray of pebbles at the screen. They fell far short of their mark, rattling down on the floor below. “You slimebrain!” she said.
Terra turned and knelt next to Hyren, lifting his arm and pressing his hand to her cheek. “You feel cold,” she said, her eyes glassing over with tears.
The Grundo struggled for breath. “I’m so sorry, Terra,” he said. It wasn’t fair, he thought. He’d finally found something that gave him real joy, finally found people he cared about and who cared about him in return, and now it was getting ripped away from him. How would he protect them now?
“Hm? What is it?” Sloth suddenly glanced past the camera at something. “What… what is she doing here?!” he snarled. “Ugh, don’t let her—“ The image blipped out and the communication ended in a fizzle of static.
“Don’t leave us,” Terra said, tears splashing on her glasses and dripping onto Hyren’s armour. “Please—we need you…” Blynn approached, ears drooping and tail limp.
“I love you guys,” Hyren said, his voice barely a whisper. Terra let out a sob and pressed her face into his hand.