25. A Haunting Past
The Da-Ku armada loomed over them like a cloud of death. The crew of the Kon-Rensa didn't speak a word; there was no reason to say anything. Each felt the weight of their impending death drag down any hopes they might have held.
The silence was broken as the engines roared to life, and the Kon-Rensa rocketed headfirst towards the massive fleet. Everyone jumped in startlement, then spun as one towards the metallic egg behind them.
"Aiya!" Gama yelled in disbelief. "What are you doing? Stop!"
"NO!" she roared back over the intercom, her angelic voice unnaturally shaky. "WE HAVE TO GO, THERE'S NO MORE TIME!"
"But you're heading right towards them!" Kaze screamed, turning back to face the approaching swarm. "We're going the wrong way!"
"TREY IS THIS WAY," Aiya informed them adamantly. "WE HAVE TO REACH HIM AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE OR HE'LL DIE! WE CAN'T WASTE TIME TRYING TO FIND A WAY AROUND!"
"But we'll never make it!" Ryu protested. "It's suicide!"
"REROUTING POWER TO THE FORWARD SHIELDS!" Aiya ignored the crew's distress. "ACTIVATING DEFENSE TURRETS! PREPARE FOR IMPACT!"
As the Kon-Rensa began its reckless charge, fighter ships poured out of the larger cruisers, and the bulky laser cannons started to fire. The enormous Da-Ku armada closed in on the dwarfed starship, as it rushed fearlessly into their constricting embrace.
From one of the dark vessels, a single figure appeared from the docking bay, following a squadron of fighter ships. Taizan, the heavily armored Da-Ku Lord, drew his massive blade as he launched himself towards the Kon-Rensa. His sword's edges were comprised of tiny, sharp teeth, and as Taizan flicked a switch on the hilt, they began to spin at an incredible speed. He turned his empty visor towards his prey, eager to feel the rush of battle once again.
"It's time," he whispered to the emptiness, "Time to remind them all why they feared me... why they named me the Juggernaut."
In contrast to the fleeing crowd of panicked villagers, Trey and the Symbion stood resolute before the grinning creature, its mushroom-head tilted awkwardly on its scrawny shoulders. The bright blue visor steamed with conviction, and behind the bleached shell, Trey felt himself burning with the desire to crush this frail-looking monster.
You think you can just come into my life, after everything I've been through... You think you can just stand there and torture these helpless people, without any consequence? You're wrong. There are consequences for every action, a price for every choice. For this atrocity, you will pay with your life.
He heard a faint whimper behind him, and he turned in startlement to see the small alien girl staring up at him with yellow, terrified eyes, still huddled over her dead mother. Trey reached out an armored hand, trying to comfort the forlorn child, and spoke softly, "Don't be afraid, I won't hurt you. I'm going to protect the rest of you, that thing won't kill any more..."
"Bakta!" the little girl screamed in response, pointing a tiny blue finger at him. "Bakta shi ema!" She suddenly leapt to her feet and ran as fast as she could, rushing after the rest of her kind, leaving her mother lying face-down in the dirt. Trey watched as she scampered away, feeling a sharp sting break his solid composure. Slowly, the meaning of her words became clear.
Suddenly, he felt the gathering of energy once again. Without looking, he dove in front of the beam of light that leapt from Dorobou's fingers, aimed at the fleeing child. It struck him in the back, exploding with a sizzle and leaving a blackened mark on his bone-white armor. The pain was nothing Trey hadn't experienced before; he spun towards the creature, raising his sword angrily.
"Stop killing them!" he demanded. "If I'm what you want, then here I am! Fight me!"
Dorobou only continued to smile in response, which further fueled the boy's outrage. It lifted another finger, this time pointed to the side; Trey leapt forward urgently, his wings carrying him quickly with a powerful stroke. He saw the beam leave Dorobou's fingertip and bolt towards another villager, unaware that his life was about to end.
The Symbion picked up speed, nearly matching the ray of light as it sped through the air. His sword struck out into a lashing tentacle that cut the beam through the middle, causing it to evaporate. Trey felt a brief moment of relief, but already another attack was forming. Dorobou pointed again, picking another target far away. The boy cursed the creature's malicious grin and rushed forward.
He had no time to stop the attack this time; instead, Trey swung out towards Dorobou's intended target, pulling the screaming alien off his feet as the beam shot by him. It continued to race through the air, and struck another villager in the shoulder, who clutched the burning hole as he cried out in pain.
Trey blocked out the horrible sound, focusing only on the tip of Dorobou's finger. I need to anticipate his attack... Where is he striking next?
The energy gathered, and another beam fired. This time, Trey took the hit directly, letting his exoskeleton absorb the damage. He lurched backwards with the force, but stayed on his feet. Such weak attacks, he scorned the creature before him. You know you aren't strong enough to hurt me, so you're killing those weaker than yourselves, trying to get under my skin... I understand this game. I won't let you win.
The Symbion soared to the side as another beam shot out, and Trey punched the attack out of the air. It shattered under his heavy fist; he kept his eye on Dorobou's hands, ready for the next strike. The alien still had that ridiculous smile plastered on its slimy face as it pointed in the entirely opposite direction- the direction that Trey had been standing in, only moments before.
"No!" The boy took a step forward as the beam fired, speeding through the evacuating crowd. It flew into their midst, and a single cry sounded out. Startled, many of the villagers parted around the fallen victim; even at that distance, Trey could make out the tiny shape of the little girl he had saved, now lying limp in the dirt like her mother.
"You bastard!" He charged straight towards Dorobou, both hands morphing into blades. "I'll kill you!"
The creature stood relaxed as the Symbion thundered at him, watching the approach with its eyeless lump of a head. Trey swung his arms like scissors, catching Dorobou's neck in between them. Right as the swords connected, though, the thing exploded into sand, dissipating before the boy's eyes. Trey felt its energy surrounding him, suddenly coming from everywhere at once; it was impossible to tell where it had gone.
Suddenly, the energy reformed behind him, and he swung with all his might. Dorobou leaned back as the sword whistled past its oblong head, barely missing. As quickly as it had dodged, the creature suddenly stepped in close, putting its fang-filled grin right up to the Symbion's face.
For a brief moment, Trey thought he saw something moving beneath its skin, a round blob that rolled about disgustingly in the mushroom-shaped dome. "Congratulations," Dorobou hissed, and only then did the boy notice its finger pressed against his chest.
There was a flash of light as a beam cut through him entirely, tearing out the other side in a steaming hole. He gasped in surprise as agony seared through his body, and he struggled to keep himself composed.
"You are catching on more quickly," Dorobou noted in amusement. "Our past encounters have made you wiser, it seems."
Trey responded by lashing out with his sharpened hand, trying to dissect the monster down the middle. For a moment, he thought he had succeeded, but the two halves continued to fall apart into tiny particles. He gritted his teeth as the invisible pieces gathered together again at a safe distance from him.
"You've realized that it's futile trying to save them all," Dorobou continued to taunt him. "No matter who you protect, you can't stop every danger. No matter where you are, you can't be everywhere at once. There's only one way to eliminate the threat… you have to stop it at its source."
"You're saying that I have to kill you," Trey seethed, his breathing labored by the burning hole in his chest. "Good. That's exactly what I intend to do."
Dorobou cackled in amusement, his laughter coming out in bubbling gasps. "How do you expect to kill me when you can't even catch me?"
"I'll find a way!" the boy shouted, ignoring the pain that burned from his exertion. "There's always a way. You aren't invincible, and I will prove it. I'll rid this place of your wretched existence!"
"Then you had better start doing that," it salivated, "Or others will keep dying in my place."
With that, he raised his arms to the sky, and leaned his mushroom-head back with a sharp breath. He extended each of his eight fingers into the air, and they all began to glow with power. Trey screamed in alarm as beams of light suddenly showered out from them and shot far into the sky; they hung there for a precarious moment before falling back to the planet, raining down upon its inhabitants like a deadly storm. All around Trey, people began falling to the ground, trails of smoke rising from their pierced skulls. He watched in silent horror as their bodies piled on top of each other, until not a single one was left standing.
No... How could he... how could anyone do such a thing...
The Symbion's massive frame shook with rage, and he slowly turned from the instantaneous massacre towards Dorobou again. He caught a glimpse of that razor-toothed smile before it vanished into thin air; moments later, the thing's presence emerged on another part of the planet, thousands of miles from where Trey was. The boy felt the bursts of energy begin again as another town was needlessly assaulted, and its people slaughtered mercilessly. He spread his wings and launched himself off the ground, exploding through the sky in a blazing comet of blue flames.
I'll kill you... the voice in his head whispered murderously, over and over again. I'll kill you, I'll kill you, I'll kill you...
After a few moments of being submerged in chaos, the crew realized the situation was completely out of their hands. Aiya drove the Kon-Rensa straight through fleets of fighter ships, the defense turrets twirling madly in their attempt to gun down every one. The starship's stationed cannons fired on the larger frigates that bore down on them, tearing apart wave after wave of Da-Ku vessels.
No one spoke; Aiya had stopped announcing her operations, focused entirely on thrusting them right into the midst of the enemy. Kaze watched the ship's status in silence, and her worry grew with each passing second. The shields were being worn down extremely fast, and even the xeranium hull wouldn't hold up long after it was gone. On top of all that, they hadn't even reached the battle cruisers yet.
As she watched the electronic read-outs, warning lights suddenly flared into life, informing them of a major oxygen leak on level twelve. Kaze jumped in her seat, realizing the hull itself had suddenly sustained major damage. "Aiya!" she shouted, finally breaking the silence. "Something hit us!"
"IT IS A DA-KU LORD," the android responded rapidly. "HE IS COMING IN FOR A SECOND ATTACK."
The Kon-Rensa shuddered as something tore its way through their near-indestructible hull. Taizan's chainsaw-blade sparked as it ripped the metal to pieces, his armor-plated arms shaking with strain. He ripped the sword free as the starship rocketed forward again, trying to make distance between itself and his fearsome weapon. The Da-Ku watched it soar past for a moment, feeling some minute flame ignite deep within the emptiness of his black soul.
"That ship..." he spoke reverently. "My blade has never tasted such a well-crafted vessel before. It's been so long… so long since I've had such a worthy opponent!"
With a burst of excited energy, the metallic monster launched himself at the starship again, ignoring the defense turrets as they fired incessantly at him. Each laser bounced harmlessly off his armored shell, and as he flew past a cluster of the orbs, they exploded from simply being in his presence. He caught up quickly and swung his titanic sword again, charging straight through the force shield surrounding the ship. He felt a burning desire bubble within him as the numerous teeth shredded into the xeranium, creating another gaping hole in the hull.
"What a magnificent ship!" he praised it violently, his voice lost in the emptiness of space. "So durable, so precise! I've never destroyed anything like it before!" Taizan circled around the fleeing starship, slicing into it again and again. "Keep fighting! Keep struggling, you fools! Don't make this easy, I haven't felt so alive in eons!" He let out a maniacal laugh, each strike becoming more and more vicious with his rising bloodthirst.
"Aiya!" Ryu shouted, "We have to shake him! He's tearing us to pieces!"
"She knows," Tanshin responded, finally speaking up from his meditation. He sat with his head bowed, shielding his electronic eye from the over-stimulating space battle before them. "She is doing her best, but it isn't enough. This is simply too much for her to handle."
Ryu stared at the wolfman in despair. "But there has to be something we can..."
Gama's tiny green hand rose up to silence him. "There's nothing we can do, except hope she knows what she's doing. Our lives are in her hands, now..."
Even as he tried to rally their hopes, a massive cruiser loomed up before them. The captain's three eyes went wide in fear as the behemoth bore down upon them, a rain of lasers pummeling their shields. From behind, swarms of fighter planes assaulted them mercilessly, causing extensive damage to their unprotected backside.
Taizan flew at them repeatedly, giving himself over completely to his relentless rampage. As he soared in for another attack, he suddenly realized the defense turrets had stopped firing; the orbs floated around the Kon-Rensa lazily, as if they too realized the hopelessness of their situation. The Da-Ku Lord felt his excitement dwindle as the engines died down, becoming faint glows in the darkness of space. He gripped his sword anxiously, refusing to accept their surrender.
"No, no..." he whispered to himself. "No! You can't stop now! I haven't finished with you yet! You held such promise… You must give me a worthy fight! Don't stop!" Taizan launched himself at the lifeless starship, planning on tearing his way straight through the weak engines, and into the vessel's interior. He would destroy them from the inside out, if he had to. "You can't stop now! I need this!"
From inside her egg, Aiya ignored his approaching threats, as well as the missiles and lasers that throttled them from behind. She even let the forward shields weaken, allowing some of the cruiser's lasers to strike their hull directly, tearing through the xeranium and the ship's insides. The crew watched in horror as multiple alarms spring up, warning them of their failing life system and internal pressure. The Kon-Rensa was ready to explode, but Aiya paid none of it any attention as she rerouted all their remaining power into her final attack.
As the enormous cruiser approached them, eager to be the first to bring down their prey, the front of the Kon-Rensa began to glow with a surreal blue light. The circular disc under the bridge suddenly lit up with a brilliant burst, and the main cannon released its devastating energy. Aiya focused the wildly flailing beam towards the cruiser, and the blast ripped through its shields and into the hull. At the same time, she ignited the engines again, and launched them straight towards the erupting vessel.
Taizan neared the Kon-Rensa just as the ship roared to life again, and he held up a hand in surprise as he was engulfed in the thrusters' flames. The starship rushed recklessly towards the Da-Ku cruiser, still channeling its main cannon, and the crew covered their faces as they collided right into the crumbling vessel. They disappeared into the flames that billowed out, while more fires burst from every surface of the black ship, its structure detonating from the inside out.
Then, the blue torrent tore its way out of the other end, and from the collapsing inferno the Kon-Rensa soared forth. The entire Da-Ku armada quickly turned their cannons towards the starship as it rushed fearlessly through their ranks, and opened fire only to find themselves firing upon each other. Aiya maneuvered them with mechanic precision through the laser storm, letting the beast destroy itself.
Throughout the fleet, commanders and captains screamed orders to cease the attack, and turn their ships around. The bulky cruisers rotated slowly as the Kon-Rensa shot away from them towards freedom; the smaller vessels and frigates began to give chase, still firing on their escaping target.
From the chaos of the distraught armada, Taizan appeared in a trail of black energy, quickly passing the other ships as they struggled to regain their positioning. Inside his vacant helmet, he smiled to himself eagerly. "I knew it, I knew I wasn't mistaken. You are truly a worthy opponent... I will relish ripping you apart, piece by piece!"
Trey raced over the barren planet below, focused completely on the threatening presence of Dorobou in the far distance. Rocky mountain ranges grew into view and passed just as quickly, as did numerous tiny villages, all built of the same stone and design. He could sense every person down there, every alien life-form going about their daily routine, oblivious of the danger that terrorized them. He forced himself not to think of the time it would take for the creature to reach them too, how easily it could move from village to village, wiping out everyone in the vicinity.
He isn't too weak, he's just toying with me, the boy went over in his mind, infuriated that this thing could revel so much in others' pain and torment. He could have hurt me a lot worse. He could probably annihilate this entire planet's population if he wanted to... but he won't. He's just going to keep playing his damn games, killing off every little thing one at a time, until I figure out how to stop him. It's up to me...
How do I stop such a nightmare?
Trey finally came close enough to see his enemy, standing in the center of another crumbling town. Some of the people here were actually attempting to fight back; he could make out their blue, humanoid shapes as they charged in wildly, swinging crude weapons at the lanky creature. Dorobou didn't bother to teleport out of the way; it merely sidestepped the attacks, returning the blows with a simple thrust of its fingers. Trey could feel the atoms in its limbs break apart before it struck, then reform itself inside the villagers, bursting their internal organs for a slow and painful death.
Even after seeing their friends fall to the ground screaming, though, the men continued to rush in to their deaths valiantly. Others were fleeing the scene, grabbing their children and carrying them off as quickly as they could. The horrible scene gave Trey a slight hope; Keep fighting, don't ever give in, don't let him win.
You're wrong, monster. Even if I can't save them all, I'll still do everything I can. Even if I save only one of them, I'll give my all… I won't surrender!
The fiercely burning fireball rocketed to the ground, and Dorobou turned slightly as the Symbion crashed into it. The ground below them erupted in a shower of stones, and the villagers backed away in fright of this new threat. As Trey rose out of the small crater he made, he saw the terror in their eyes as they beheld his armored figure. For a moment, he thought they might attack him as well, but it proved to be too much for them. The remaining villagers dropped their weapons and ran. Good, run. Run as far as you can. I will finish this fight for you. Save yourselves.
It didn't surprise Trey that Dorobou had not been under him when he impacted with the ground. The creature stood on one of the stone rooftops, its bony shoulders shaking with a slimy laugh.
"So you decided to follow," it rasped, flexing its elongated fingers. "Good. I was hoping you wouldn't run away." Trey made no response; he stared at the thing intently, waiting for any sign of another attack. Soon enough, Dorobou began to point his finger again, cackling as he picked out another target to destroy.
The Symbion's arm shot up, and in an instant formed into the thick cannon. A ray of blue energy shot from the barrel, shattering the stone building and barely missing the creature as it teleported again. It reappeared on another building, its back turned to Trey as if to mock him. It continued to scan the escaping crowd for a victim, but Trey fired immediately upon sighting it. Dorobou once again turned to dust a split second before the blast struck him.
I can't hit him, Trey reasoned, But I can keep him from hurting them. He can't attack if he has to keep moving like that... Just keep him on the run, and keep them safe!
Even as the idea formed in his head, Dorobou changed tactics, as if it were constantly one step ahead. It teleported further and further from the Symbion as he raced to keep up, until finally it appeared in the middle of the fleeing crowd. Villagers jumped back in startlement as the mushroom-headed fiend collected itself, raising all of its fingers into the air. Mothers gripped their children with a wailing cry, realizing there was nowhere to run, and the men let their weapons fall to the ground as the beams of light ignited.
Trey couldn't get a clear shot through the crowd; he lifted off the ground and soared as quickly as he could towards the gathering energy. As Dorobou released the beams into the sky, the Symbion soared directly overhead. The spraying bolts pounded against his armor, some detonating and some piercing through. Trey spread his wings as far as he could, trying to block every single beam that left Dorobou's fingers; he didn't need to keep himself up, for the sheer force was pushing him upwards. He grit his teeth as every nerve in his body burned in agony, and he could feel the white shell begin to crack around him.
Finally, the waves of light ceased, and the Symbion crashed heavily to the ground. Trey lifted a shaking hand, and struggled to support himself. He raised his head and saw a sparse number of villagers remaining; he hadn't stopped every bolt, and those that had torn through him had continued on to hit their marks. Those who had survived the extermination screamed and stared around themselves wildly, unable to register the genocide they were witnessing.
Trey wanted to scream and cry with them, to give in to the rising insanity that was devouring him from the inside out. He wanted to admit to himself how senseless it was to keep trying, to keep struggling…
Death has come for us, something in the back of his mind said. Death has come, and there's no way to stop it from taking us all.
Among the field of bleeding bodies, a single child was stumbling around, calling out dismally for his missing parents. Trey noticed the small figure- a boy, he realized with a start- and his blood froze as Dorobou materialized behind the sobbing child, its fangs gleaming hungrily.
Pushing all of his thoughts aside, Trey leapt to his feet and charged at the gruesome thing. His sword shot straight out, piercing through the mushroom-head just as it disappeared. He stopped short, towering over the little boy before him. The child screamed at the sight of the white giant, but Trey ignored him, keeping alert for Dorobou's reappearance.
Soon enough it returned, about to shoot down another survivor. Once again, the Symbion rushed madly towards him, screaming as he swung his blade wildly. A fading echo resounded as the creature vanished, only to return behind Trey. The boy felt like he would lose his mind as he turned again, pushing himself ahead on heavy legs. His wings were torn to pieces, and hung about him in tatters; his feet fell hard on the ground, and he even stepped on the bodies of the fallen villagers. He heard their bones being crushed beneath his immense weight, but he couldn't spend the effort to care.
Just keep him moving, keep attacking, don't give up, don't stop... don't stop... kill him... kill him... KILL HIM...
Trey screamed in sobs as he lashed out again and again, each time just barely missing that sneering grin. His sight became tunneled, losing all peripheral vision in his strain to keep focused. He could only see those sharpened fangs; he could only hear that maniacal laugh. He could only think of killing that thing once and for all, to rid himself of this unreasonable burden.
Kill him, kill him, KILL HIM!
Dorobou was before him again, its wide head tilted in amusement as the Symbion stumbled forward, struggling desperately to keep up. It watched the bone-white giant lurch at him, holding up his hand as it shifted into a sharp spear. The tip launched towards him, aimed carelessly for his lower half, and Trey saw the blade go through it... go intoit.
He held his breath as the realization swept through him. He had hit Dorobou.
The creature's grin was turned down into a grimace of pain, and its stomach oozed a green substance around the spear running through it. Dorobou looked up towards the Symbion, its smooth lips twitching spasmodically.
"Again, congratulations," it hissed, finally forcing its mouth back into the mocking grin. "You've won the game."
Trey felt confusion take over as Dorobou began to dissipate again, the dust falling away from the spear. As it disappeared, he realized he was staring at the young boy again, the one who had been calling for his parents. His cries had stopped; his tears had ceased, and now he stared ahead with a blank and lifeless glaze in his eyes.
The tip of Trey's spear had pierced his small heart.
As the understanding crept over him, the spear retracted from his tiny body and back into a hand, letting the child's corpse fall forward to join the others. Trey let out a faint whimper as the body struck the ground, and shortly after he collapsed to his knees. His arms hung uselessly by his side as he stared, unable to tear himself away from the sight of the dead boy.
Even when Dorobou reappeared to his side, his wound completely healed as if it had never happened, Trey didn't turn. He didn't attack the creature; he didn't even notice it anymore. He was no longer able to give a conscious effort. He had surrendered.
The cracks in the Symbion's armor began to widen, as if the shell would fall apart. However, the giant didn't crumble. Instead, the black lines spress out across his body, eating away at the shining exterior. The visor faded from color, becoming a dull blank slit; cracks formed around it as well, framing the hollow opening in darkness. Dorobou was no longer smiling, and his mouth hung open eagerly as he watched the change, his breath becoming heavy with excitement.
Dark smoke seeped out of the cracks in the Symbion, trailing upwards in swirling shapes. The ground beneath them began to shudder, and suddenly the visor lit up again, flashing with a deep red brilliance. The numerous cracks burst open with a similar shine, and suddenly a blast of energy enveloped the world, washing everything away in a flood of bloody light.
The sudden scream started the crew of the Kon-Rensa, and they spun to Aiya in alarm. "What's wrong?" Gama asked her anxiously. "Are they catching up to us?"
"IT'S TREY!" she replied, sounding as if she were malfunctioning. "HE'S LOST CONTROL! HE'S GIVEN IN, JUST LIKE THE OTHERS... WHY IS IT SO DIFFERENT, THOUGH? WHY DO I FEEL THIS WAY NOW!?"
"Aiya, what are you talking about?" the captain questioned hesitantly, fearing what her answer would be. "What has Trey done?"
"HE'S REACHED THE THIRD PHASE!"
The stone-built village was gone. Any traces of its existence, including the people who once called it home, had been disintegrated in the explosion. The surface of the planet was now an immense crater, stretching outwards as far as the eye could see. Dorobou's emancipated frame floated high above, studying the widespread destruction with a sharp smile. It scanned the cloud of debris for the one who had caused the catastrophe, and a strand of saliva swung from its lips in wild anticipation.
As the blanket of dust began to settle, a monstrous shape emerged in its wake. Through the haze, a slit of burning crimson shone towards Dorobou, and the alien breathed in sharply.
"At last," it shivered in excitement. "We meet again, Destroyer..."