|DreamKeepers: The Flatline|
Chapter 1: The Corruption
Octobris 15th, 1227
Deep within the endless realm of dreams, a young dreamkeeper watched as his subconsciousness revealed strange images to him, frozen in time, in his sleep.
Bast, a young hero in a small group of others, watched as his dream portrayed images of himself standing by a camp fire with a frustrated expression, pointing at an unseen person. Another image showed the person being his distant friend and self-defense mentor, Aizer Pulse, the one and only assassin of the fractured Order of Vega.
Then, held in his right hand, Pulse held up an other-worldly object. A cyan-colored ring with mysterious markings etched into it and was the distinct shape of a halo.
Bast's dream came in close to Pulse's face as it contorted to anger, then evil glee. Suddenly, the white of Pulse's right eye vanished, his natural eye color returning to normal.
Images of death and destruction now dominated Bast's mind. Civilians were hung from the signs of Andurunan shops. Dozens more, as well as Troika rebels, were gathered and executed by shock troopers. A closer look of a trooper's patch revealed it was no longer the typical red star. It was now a black star with a straight, crimson line running through it.
And, finally, the last image he saw was of himself, no longer in his usual clothing. He now wore a Troika jacket with a brown tank top and fatigues with a yellow bandana covering his head.
He stood in the middle of a war-torn street filled with bodies, holding a pistol in one hand and forming fire in the other.
At last, his dream became darkness.
* * * * *
He awoke with a start at the voice. Shaking his head, he tried to focus his vision, but could feel a throbbing pain in his skull.
"Bast! Are you alright?"
With one final shake, he blinked and could finally focus on what he was looking at.
Viriathus knelt before him, a hand on his left shoulder. "Speak to me, Bast! Are you okay?"
"Y-yeah. I think so."
Viriathus leaned forward, touching Bast's head. "I don't know about that."
Bast reached up and felt his head was covered in a blood-soaked cloth. He could feel his head was wounded beneath the cloth. Bast recognized the cloth as a bandana.
'What?!' Bast thought in disbelief. 'Just like my dream?! What's happening?'
"Looks like a piece of the ceiling came down and hit you hard," Viriathus commented. "The last thing we need right now is another wounded man. We're gonna have to move, too. We're needed at Point Bravo to help with the retreat."
Grabbing a nearby med kit, Viriathus went to work taking the bandana off and tending to the wound.
Wincing, Bast asked, "You're Vi, right?"
Vi gave him a quizzical look. "Uh, yeeeah? And, everyone else is who they should be, too."
As she finished wrapping the wound, she wrapped his bandana back around his head.
"I don't understand," Bast said. "Where are we? Where are my friends? What is going on here?"
Vi looked at him with worry. "Bast, what are you talking about? We're at Point Alpha on Vigilence Avenue. We're under attack by the King's enforcers. We have to move to Point Bravo on the other side of the street to help Igrath and the others prepare for the retreat."
"King? Enforcers? Igrath Winters? I still don't understand! Where is Lilith?"
Vi shook her head, rubbing her forehead with a sigh. "This is not good. Amnesia, of all times. Well, you'll just have to come with me for now, Bast. I'm sure Igrath or Tinsel can explain everything when we reach our base."
"Tinsel?!" Bast shouted. "What is she doing here?"
"Take it easy, Bast!" Vi ordered. "We don't have time for this! We have to go now. C'mon."
Vi turned and walked out an open doorway. Summoning her halo, she reached to her left and grabbed a massive tank turret, slinging it over her shoulder.
Bast looked around in bewilderment, seeing he was in a storage room of some sort. Suddenly, the room shook as explosions went off outside. Bast realized they were in an underground bunker.
"This is crazy," Bast mumbled as he looked over his attire. It was exactly the same as in his dream.
"I need to find out what's going on. The only way to do that is to follow that Viriathus woman."
Reaching down to see a pistol in a holster on his hip, he ran out of the room to catch up to Vi.
* * * * *
As Bast caught up to Vi, they made their way through larger rooms within the bunker. Occasionally, the bunker shook violently from an explosion on the surface.
Walking through one area, Bast saw dozens of bodybags lining the walls while several wounded Troika were being tended to. Another area was being occupied by Troika agents working with data-scrolls and scanning equipment while other agents were quickly packing supplies into crates and boxes.
Bast looked forward to see Vi reaching for her turret. Bast followed her lead and pulled out his pistol. It suddenly occured to him that he had never used a springer gun before, but it was clear from the wear on the pistol's surface that it has been heavily used.
'Maybe it was given to me recently, but I feel like I've... no, wait! That's not right. I shouldn't even be here. I still don't know what exactly is happening.'
Bast and Vi stood next to an opening that lead to a trench.
"Clear your head, Bast," Vi instructed. "It's gonna get rough. Just follow me and we'll be fine."
Bast nodded, readying himself.
Vi pulled her turret into a firing position and ran out the opening. Bast followed her and instantly felt his ears pop from an explosion above the trench. Dirt rained down on him.
Looking back for only a moment, he saw that the bunker they had left was built into the bottom of multiple buildings. The buildings themselves had burned out and were reduced to rubble, their walls still standing.
Bast looked straight forward and could get a good look at the environment. They were in the Norvondire District. Nearly every building in sight was nothing but a shell. The trench they were running through was dug into one of the larger streets of the city, going from side to side. Many Troika soldiers took cover in the trench, open firing down the street. Deafening gunfire was coming from his left, towards the Sabbaton Towers. Looking in that direction, dozens of billows of smoke rose into the sky across the city. The sun shone behind the towers as it was rising from the coast.
Bast looked forward and could see a makeshift bridge crossing over the trench. A Havoc-class Antarean tank with Troika markings began crossing the bridge, firing its cannon towards the ensuing battle. Dozens of unarmed civilians ran past the tank, going in the opposite direction.
A leopard dreamkeeper stood on the battle side of the trench, waving his arm to direct the civilians toward the bridge. Bast recognized him as Robert, another Troika rebel.
"Everybody, this way! Don't stop run-!"
A hail of gunfire cut through the air, hitting several civilians. Robert was hit several times as well. Lifelessly, he fell into the trench on his chest in front of Bast and Vi.
"Bobby!" Vi screamed. She ran forward and fell to her knees, grabbing Bobby and turning him over.
He was dead, dying with his eyes open in shock.
"No! Bobby, no!"
Jumping up to her feet, she shouted with tears in her eyes, "C'mon, Bast! We have to keep going!"
Bast nodded, giving one quick glance at Bobby before following Vi.
But, no sooner had he walked under the bridge that an explosion knocked him down to his chest.
Gasping, he turned onto his back and looked at the bridge. An explosive had blown the bridge to pieces. The tank that was crossing now tettered on the edge of the trench. Inevitably, it fell into the trench on its rear, then fell onto its side, nearly crushing Bast.
He laid there frozen in fear until Vi drug him away from the tank by his shoulders.
"Stay with me, Bast! We're almost there! Come on!"
Bast shook her off and jumped to his feet, running ahead of her.
Troika and civilian bodies littered the trench as they pressed on to the other end of the trench.
Bast saw the trench going into another bunker beneath a city block. He entered first with Vi close to him.
Standing around a lit table was Igrath, Scinter, Tinsel, Damon, and Scald.
"We've lost contact with Point Charlie and Point Delta was reporting unacceptable losses," Igrath briefed. "On top of that, we haven't heard word from Alicia's squad on escorting Nainso and the refugees to No Toll Town."
"Our infiltration team failed to breach the Sabbaton security wall," Tinsel added. "This is the tenth team we've sent to try and assassinate Flatline and they've all ended up dead. If we can't find a way to bring the King down, our resistance won't last much longer against the Royal Guard."
Bast shook his head slowly at what he saw and what he was hearing.
'This is lunacy. Why is Tinsel here? Who is Flatline? Is he the 'king' they're referring to? And, what's the Royal Guard?'
"Sirs!" Vi announced. "Reporting for duty!"
All eyes turned. Igrath replied, "Ah, Vi! You made it. We need all hands on deck for the retreat. You all right, Bast? Your head looks like it took a hit."
Bast shook his head. "Mr. Winters, sir, what's going on? Why are we here? Who is Flatline? What is the Royal Guard?"
Igrath raised an eyebrow at Vi.
"Head injury, sir. Pretty nasty. He's suffering from amnesia from what I can tell. Though, it seems like he's remembering everything backwards. I don't get it."
"I know what his problem is."
All eyes then turned to a tunnel opening in a wall of the bunker.
Jerry Forza looked intensely at Bast. Dressed in all-brown with a tank top, fatigues, trenchcoat, and boots. A katana in a sheath hung on his left hip while an ANM-5 Stingray sat in a holster on his right hip.
'That's Jerry. He's with the AER's Sierra Team. But, he looks so... different somehow.'
Jerry then turned his head towards Igrath and the others. "But, we'll handle his issue later. Right now, we need to evacuate immediately. The Guard is pushing up the road and our men are dropping like flies. They'll be swarming the bunkers in at least ten minutes. We need to move. But, first, an update on Alicia's mission: she and her squad are dead; Nainso and the refugees, as well."
"What?!" Igrath gasped. "They're dead? All of them?!"
Jerry nodded grimly. "I'm afraid so. Our scouts confirmed it. They didn't even make it out of the Ruskol gate."
All heads went downcast.
"Dis is not good," Scald commented.
"No kidding," Damon replied.
Scinter shook his head while shaking his fist. "If I had known Flatline would do all of this, I would've killed him the second I had found him after his prison break."
"This is hopeless!" Igrath spat. "We take one step forward and the Guard pushes us five steps back! But, if we don't stand up to the King, no one will. So, let's pack it up and prepare to blow the bunkers. Somebody send a runner to make sure Point Alpha is doing the same."
"Bast, come with me," Jerry ordered. "We'll head to our base. I'll explain everything along the way."
Bast looked around reluctantly, then walked over to Jerry. Together, they entered the tunnel as it descended further underground.
"So, what's happening?" Bast asked. "I'm so confused."
"I know you are. First, let's start with you."
"Yes, you! Where were you before you and Viriathus arrived?"
"I was in the other bunker. Point Alpha, I think it's called. I was knocked out in some storage room, I guess."
"And, what is the last thing you remember?"
Bast thought back to the visions he saw. "Well, I think... I was out in the Frontier... away from the others. Pulse showed up on a manekale and had shown me something. A giant ring or headband. Then, there was a flash. Next thing I know, I'm sleeping, watching a mental playback of it happening in my dream. Then, I'm seeing things that are happening now. Finally, I wake up to see Vi kneeling in front of me. And, here I am."
Jerry nodded as they walked. "Yes, that definitely makes sense. Well, I'll explain what has happened, but I'll have to explain who I am first."
"Why? I already know who you are, kind of."
"You don't even know a fraction about me. This'll be hard for you to believe, but bear with me until I'm done. You see, I was originally a Hell Hybrid named Jerome. The Hell Hybrids were crossbreeds of dreamkeeper and Nightmare genes. Somehow, a method was discovered to cross the two species' DNA to create a hybrid offspring. For centuries, the Hybrids were hunted to near-extinction. My foster father, Trident, was a Hell Hybrid who brought me and several others together. We became a family of mercenaries and bounty hunters with strong political protection. But, in secret, Trident had been studying a strange object for years. This object... is the First Halo.
"Our original goal was to bring more of our people together and give them a safer place to live. But, that was a lie. It was a cover-up for Trident while he practiced his control with the First Halo. In the end, though, it ended up driving him insane and it became his undoing. With his death, reality had suddenly begun to unravel. Nethers himself had reversed time and rebuilt reality, nullifying all the damage Trident had done. Because of this, I was a dreamkeeper and the Hell Hybrids were wiped from existense for good."
Bast only glanced up at the fox, but his thoughts raced with disbelief.
"So, you see," Jerry continued. "I had immediately forgotten all that had happened in the former reality the next day. I was living my new life completely ignorant of my past life. That was my reward for stopping my foster father and his madness: a new beginning, at the price of a life."
"Yeah, that's definitely a story anybody would believe," Bast replied sarcastically. "I know you meant everything you just said, but that had to have been the craziest story I've ever heard! A First Halo? Hell Hybrids? Nethers rebuilding reality?"
"I knew you wouldn't believe the bit about Hell Hybrids and gods, but do you have a better explanation as to how we ended up in this insane alternate reality?"
Bast smirked, his head downcast. "Are you sure a lousy ring is responsible for all of this? Who exactly is at fault for what's happening?"
Jerry scowled. "Aizer Pulse."
"WHAT?! Pulse is doing this? Why? What's gotten into him?"
"Now, you'll begin to understand. The First Halo possesses infinite knowledge and power and it slowly eats away at a person's psyche. But, unlike Trident, Pulse seems to be able to handle the ring's corruption without driving himself mad. It's clearly turned him into a monster, however. A twisted version of what he wanted to be as a leader of Anduruna. He discovered the ring in a ziggurat in the Dune Sea roughly a week ago. It took him no time at all to learn of the Halo's secrets and exploited them in order to overthrow the government, changed his name to Flatline, proclaimed Anduruna as an empire, and assumed the title of king."
"So, that's it," Bast mumbled. "Our encounter in the Frontier... and that glow. That was the First Halo and he used it at that moment to start changing things around. I don't believe it."
Jerry nodded. "That is when it would've begun, then."
"Wait. What's the date today?"
"That's not right. It's supposed to be Octobris 12th."
"Pulse just unraveled the world and put it back together. You expect anything to be the same as before?"
"No, I guess not."
Bast and Jerry reached the end of the tunnel, which was a small room carved out of the dirt and rocks with a telepad in the middle.
As Jerry set the coordinates, Bast asked, "So, where are my friends? What happened to them in this world? And, why is Tinsel with us now?"
Jerry looked back at Bast, then sighed. "The good news is Namah is fine. She's at the base. The bad news is... the others aren't."
Bast remained silent, waiting for him to continue.
"Mace, Whip, Grunn and the other orphans were slaughtered at the dock by the Royal Guard on charges of sympathizing with the Troika. Lilith is one of Pulse's personal harems and is under the influence of his Power."
Bast gasped, taking the news hard. 'Mace and Whip... are dead? And, Lilith is a slave?'
"Trident had telekinesis, as well," Jerry went on. "He used it to enslave the minds of everybody in the city. Pulse doesn't appear to be doing that. He has only enslaved those who would benefit him. The Guard is almost completely bent to his will. He went and enslaved Vidar Rivers and even Nabonidus, as well. He seems to be following his forgotten dream he made as a politician, but the Halo has corrupted that dream. Now, he's a cold-blooded leader who kills and orders others to kill for him. He preaches freedom and justice for all of Anduruna while he maims random people and his troops murder dozens of civilians and resistance fighters. He's effectively lost it.
"As for Tinsel, well,... let's just say that when there's an evil far greater than you, the only way you can survive is to set aside your pride and join forces with your enemies. That's what Tinsel and several other Darks did. When Nabonidus himself was enslaved by Pulse's amplified powers, his followers joined us. Most of them wound up dead, though. Tinsel and Ravat are our only Dark allies left and we haven't heard anything from Ravat for about two days now."
Finalizing the coordinates, Jerry stepped onto the pad. He looked back at Bast, who was still stunned by the news of his friends.
"Let's go, Bast. Have some comfort that Namah is still free and in good health. She'd be happy to see you."
Bast sighed hard, then walked for the pad. "Right. Let's go, then."
Stepping next to Jerry, they both looked forward as the telepad launched.
Seconds later, they appeared in the Troika's hidden mountain base.
"So, you guys are still using this place as a base, huh?" Bast commented. "Not everything has changed, apparently."
The canine turned to see Namah running at him. Just like him, she wore Troika clothing.
Without warning, she hugged Bast hard and kissed him. He gasped in shock as he blushed massively.
Leaning back, Namah looked into Bast's face with concern. "Why haven't you been back here sooner? You had me worried sick, you jerk! I'm just glad you're all right!"
She rested her head on his chest. Bast looked over at Jerry, who shrugged with a smile.
"Yeah, one thing I forgot to mention: you two are dating."
Namah looked up at Jerry with a confused smile. "Well, yeah. Of course, we're dating. He can't resist my brand of insanity even if he tried."
Bast grabbed Namah by her arms and looked her straight in the eyes. She looked back in worry.
"Namah, this is..."
He looked away, thinking hard on what to say.
'If this is the world we're going to have to endure now, I'd better be careful with what I say. The last thing I need is for the last of my friends to think I'm a lunatic.'
With a sigh, he said, "Namah, I'm suffering... from amnesia. I got hit in the head hard by some debris at Point Alpha. I was out for a while and when I came to, I didn't know what was going on at all. When I ran into Jerry here, he explained everything. I don't even remember us being together like this. But,... I still remember you."
Namah reached up and touched Bast's wounded head. "I'm... I'm sorry, Bast. I guess I shouldn't have glomped onto you like that so fast. But, I was really worried you wouldn't come back. When I heard that Alpha and Bravo was on the verge of being overrun, I was about to jump on a telepad and come find you myself. But, now that you're back, I'm just glad my only friend is okay."
Bast smiled, pulling her in for a hug of his own. "Me, too."
They both released one another as Namah said, "So, I guess I'll be seeing you at my bunk tonight."
Bast raised an eyebrow. "Wait, what?"
"Don't think that losing your memory is going to save you from my carnal terror," Namah said with a seductive smile. "We're still together, you know. See you there."
With that, she walked away methodically.
Bast's face drooped as Jerry stepped beside him.
"Straight-forward and to-the-point," Jerry commented. "Just like she was in the old world. Like you said, not everything has changed."
"Obviously," Bast croaked. "Uh, when she said 'bunk', didn't she mean 'room'?"
"Nope. Everybody sleeps together in their own bunk. If a couple wants to get it on, they'll have to do so with everyone else around them trying to sleep through it."
Bast drooped further. "Enlightening."
He composed himself, then looked up at Jerry. "So, how is it that if what you say about your 'past life' is true and Nethers made you forget about it, how can you remember it now?"
"It must have something to do with Pulse using the Halo to reshape reality. What he did must've undone some of the changes Nethers made. If I were to guess, the Halo may be just as powerful as Nethers himself and only he or another god can use its power to its fullest. Pulse must've only used a mere fraction of its power."
Bast nodded. "Well, what are we gonna do about it?"
Jerry looked away, holding his chin up. "Simple. We need to find Pulse and eliminate him. Just like I did with Trident. He was stopped and reality was reverted back to the natural order. Hopefully, stopping Pulse will do the same. Either we'll have to kill him or get the Halo away from him somehow."
"And, how do we go about with that?"
"Well, he rarely ever comes out of Sabbaton now. When he does, he's on a manekale, riding it slowly into a battlefield in harm's way. The Halo can be seen over his head, consuming his own halo. We've tried to attack him whenever he enters the battlefield, but his shielding is too powerful for guns and his troops keep him well guarded from close encounters. The only way we could ever get close to him is to catch him when he's off-guard and the least defended. We've tried to send infiltrators into Sabbaton to assassinate him, but most of them end up missing, presumably dead. Still, we can't let that deter us from trying to get in. We have to stop him or he won't stop until everything is under his control."
Suddenly, the telepads flashed to life. Bast and Jerry looked back to see Igrath, Tinsel and Scinter appear.
"Damon and Scald are helping to rig the bunker with explosives," Igrath announced. "They and the remaining troops will be with us shortly."
"Good," Jerry replied. "WIth luck, we'll be able to establish another outpost on Isis Blvd. in the Ruskol District. Hopefully, by then, we'll have found a way to sneak into Sabbaton safely and eliminated Flatline."
At that moment, all three base telepads flashed as Damon, Scald and three dozen Troika soldiers appeared.
"The bunkers will blow in about two minutes," Damon reported. "By the time they get to them, they'll be nothing but rubble."
"Well done," Jerry acknowledged. "Let's regroup and begin planning out our next strategy for when our Ruskol outpost is established."
"Agreed," Tinsel replied. "To the briefing room, then."
As she, Igrath and Scinter turned to proceed further into the base, Jerry grabbed Bast by the shoulder and led him towards a lone door in the base's cave-like wall.
"Come with me, Bast. There's something that I think you should have. I'm sure you'll find it handy."
Bast nodded, slowly following Jerry.
Entering a code into a keypad by the door, Jerry turned the knob and opened it.
They both walked in together. Bast realized they were in an armory.
Jerry walked over to a safe box and opened it. Reaching in with both hands, he pulled out a metal gauntlet.
Turning towards Bast, Jerry walked over and showed it to him.
"Is... is that...?"
"Yes, one of Pulse's hidden blades. While looking for a temporary hideout for me and the others, I stumbled upon a burned-down house in Margate. Looking around, I went into the basement and found some armor and weapons that had been crushed by the ceiling caving in. But, in the debris, I found this. I think it would be more useful with you."
Bast took the elegant weapon and slipped it onto his right arm. Tightening it around his arm, he practiced flicking the blade in and out.
"I guess it would be ironic if I were to be the one to get Pulse with his own weapon," Bast said half-heartedly.
Jerry shrugged. "Maybe so. But, it doesn't really matter who gets him. As long as he dies and the insanity stops with his death. Or, we get the Halo and stop it all there. We'll just have to-"
He stopped short as the room shook violently with a loud rumble ringing through the base outside the room.
"No!" Jerry shouted. "How did they find us?!"
Jerry raced out of the armory, Bast close behind him.
* * * * *
As they left the armory, at least a dozen Troika soldiers ran past them and into the armory.
The majority of the Troika had taken up firing positions near the telepads, firing at a giant opening in the base that held a large helipad.
Scorcher-class helicopters, covered in markings of the Royal Guard, were landing and dispersing troops. The shock troopers took up perfect military formation and marched into the waiting Troika infantry.
Jerry summoned his Power, Bast did the same.
"We have to defend our headquarters!" Jerry growled. "At the very least, we must defend the telepads so we can escape! If we lose this place, things are going to get even worse in time!"
Bast nodded as he ran towards the fray. Jerry vanished in a streak of light.
As the minutes went by, the firefight quickly turned into a close-quarters melee battle as the Royal Guard fearlessly marched right up to the Troika's line of defense. More Imperial helicopters were arriving with reinforcements.
In the middle of the fray, Bast ducked to avoid a trooper's springer rifle bayonet and then stabbed his wrist blade into the trooper's neck. He reached up to his bleeding neck as he fell.
'It sure helps to have watched Pulse when he used this thing,' Bast thought. 'It also helps to have this battle experience that I've never had. Even after everything that Jerry told me, I still can't believe all that has happened or the fact that this is some altered reality. I wonder if I'm going to start remembering things that I've never done before, too. I can't worry about that right now. Need to stay focused.'
Bast ran and jumped on a trooper who was wrestling with a Troika soldier. He dug his blade into the trooper's neck, then jumped off.
Taking out his pistol, he shot two other occupied troopers.
As he turned to look for another target, Bast gasped as he was tackled to the ground. A larger shock trooper grinned as he sat on Bast. The teen gasped for air and looked up as the trooper raised his rifle, preparing to bring the butt of it down on the boy's skull.
Suddenly, three ether tendrils went through the trooper's head; one went through each eye and another through the back of his head and out of his mouth. The tendrils slithered out and the trooper fell off of Bast.
He looked forward to see Namah, her halo at full power and her tendrils flicking around her fingers.
"Guess our nighttime rendezvous will have to wait," Namah said as she looked around for any attacking troopers.
"Thanks for the save," Bast commented as he pulled himself up.
"It's what friends do," Namah replied with a smile.
Bast smiled back as they stood back-to-back. Several troopers were advancing on them.
Namah brushed aside two of them with her tendrils while Bast set another trooper ablaze with a small fireball.
After several moments of fighting off royal soldiers, Bast looked through the chaos towards the helipad.
A Dumbbell-class helicopter landed. Three well-dressed individuals, followed by ten heavily-armored troopers, stepped out.
Bast saw one dreamkeeper to be Vidar Rivers, the commander of the Aequitus Equitus Republic. Now, he was a puppet for Pulse, dressed in a charcoal-black, two-piece suit with a navy-blue tie.
The other dreamkeeper, who resembled a skunk, was supposedly Nabonidus, the usurper of the Nightmare armies. He, too, fell victim to Pulse's amplified telepathy. He wore a gray suit with a violet tie.
In the middle of them both was the one Bast called his friend.
Aizer Pulse, now known as Flatline, looked around with a confident grin and the face of an honest, trustworthy man. He wore a blue suit with a matching tie and a flowing blue overcoat. His right eye was perfectly normal and the fur on his head was slicked back to give him a clean, professional look. Surrounding his already active halo was the First Halo, the source of the alternate reality and the madness that consumes it.
"Gentlemen," Flatline said to his allies. "I feel... unsettled. I feel... concerned. I feel uncertain about the nature of my work. I hope you understand that everything I have done and will do is for the continued freedom and stability of our country. But, I need your assurance that I have your utmost support in this endeavor. I don't feel that I can do it without you. Can I count on you?"
"You have my undying loyalty, sir," Rivers said proudly.
"Mine, as well," Nabonidus called out.
"Very good," Pulse replied happily. "Shall we aid our subordinates, then?"
"Of course!" Rivers bellowed, drawing a sword. "Death to all the rebels! Leave nothing alive!"
The German Shepherd summoned his Power, turning into solid stone, and raced into the ensuing battle.
Bast looked over at the telepads and watched as Scald, Damon and Scinter warded off several troopers while Igrath, Tinsel and scores of wounded boarded the telepads.
He turned his attention to Namah, who stared intensely at Flatline.
"Him," she snarled. "How dare he come here!"
Namah marched through the wave of bodies. She popped through to the area that Flatline now dominated. His accompaning troops prepared to fire, but Flatline waved them off.
Bast struggled to catch up to Namah, but he found himself fighting a trooper with every few steps he took. He then noticed that the Troika were quickly being overwhelmed and it would only be him and Namah left in a matter of minutes.
'This is really bad. We can't face Flatline now, especially with these odds. What is Namah doing?'
Flatline grinned at the sneering imp with a chuckle. "Well, well. What a surprise. Calah's little bastard still lives. Astonishing, to say the least. Rest assured, you can continue to live if you surrender here and now. You and your sister will be such fine servants together."
Namah pulled out a jagged dagger from a pocket in her jacket. "Screw you. You enslaved my sister, you murdered my friends, and you call your genocide an act of fighting for freedom? You're insane! I'll never serve you! I'm going to kill you and get my sister back!"
Flatline converted to a disappointing frown. "A shame."
Namah scowled, grunting as she sprinted towards Flatline.
The king grinned once more, raising his hand. Namah did as well, her ether tendrils preparing to launch.
Bast was nearly through, cutting his way to the end of the mass of dreamkeepers.
As he pushed a trooper down and stabbed his blade into his neck, he looked up.
Before Namah could throw her tendrils, a brilliant beam of aqua light shot out from Flatline's palm and went straight through her. She stopped instantly and fell flat on her face. Her halo faded within seconds.
"NO!" Bast screamed, running out to the scene.
He fell to his knees, shaking Namah's body. "Namah! Namah, please! Speak to me! Please!!!"
"She is dead, my boy," Flatline declared, slowly walking towards him. "And, at no fault but her own."
Hate glittering in his eyes, Bast glared up at Flatline.
Flatline waved his hand slightly. "Now, now, young man. I understand you are angered by this sudden loss of a loved one. Still, let's be reasonable. I implore you; do not make the same mistake as your friend. Surrender now and I will spare you the gallows or some other form of execution that I see fit. There is nothing wrong with surrendering. Not only will you live, but you will also have the honor of serving the most powerful leader that the Dreamworld will ever know. Doesn't that sound wonderful?"
Flatline was but a foot away from Bast.
With a scream, Bast stood up, closed his eyes and shot a stream of fire right into Flatline's face.
After several seconds, Bast stopped and opened one eye.
Flatline was unharmed, but the floor around him was charred. Even at mere inches, Flatline's telekinetic shield sent the fire flowing around his body.
The king stared Bast down with his own glare. "Most... unwise."
Bast sneered in anger, realizing he was about to fight an opponent he couldn't beat.
With a mere twitch of his finger, Flatline sent Bast flying across the floor back towards the fray of battle.
He hit the floor hard, sliding across for several feet. He attempted to rise, but he suddenly levitated off of the floor.
"I will lead our people into a new era!" Flatline shouted, holding his hand out as he gripped Basts' body.
Bast struggled to fight the energy that froze his body into place. Suddenly, Flatline threw his arm to the right. Obeying the motion, Bast flew across the base, slamming into a wall.
"An era of everlasting peace and freedom!" Flatline continued. "I swore to our people that one day I would bring this dream to light, that I would make Anduruna a country that could be proud of itself! Well, now, that day has come! And, with the First Halo as my beacon, nothing will stop me from bringing peace to ALL of the Dreamworld! NO ONE can stop me!"
Flatline threw his arm left to right, sending Bast crashing into the walls. He shouted in agony, his body being pummeled helplessly.
The mad king brought Bast over to levitate in front of him.
"Especially you, you insolent child."
With that, he threw his arm down and sent Bast slamming into the floor back first. He screamed, feeling his right arm break at the elbow from the impact.
He tried to rise, but could feel his left ankle was sprained.
'Damn it! I can't die now! I have to stop him!'
With a satisfied smile, Flatline brushed his hands and glanced over his shoulder at Nabonidus.
"Have a squad flank around the ensuing battle and begin setting charges throughout the base. I want this cave to be nothing but rubble when we're done."
"As you wish, my Lord," Nabonidus obeyed, bowing slightly.
Bast tried to drag himself away from Flatline, but the young fighter found himself floating once more.
"As for you," Flatline exclaimed with a grin, his right hand glowing with light. "I leave you to your fate."
Flatline spun around quickly, facing the helipad and cave entrance.
"BEGONE WITH YOU!"
He thrusted his arm forward, sending Bast flying over the idle helicopter on the pad and out of the cave. He began to arc downward towards the slopes of the mountain.
Bast shouted as he hit a flat slope and began tumbling down at an increasing speed. He occassionally ran into a rock formation, failing to grab onto them with his one good arm.
The world spun all around him for minutes on end. Suddenly, he felt himself fall off a cliff, but he was still spinning. He then fell into an inverted tree, hitting its leaf-covered walls hard.
Finally, he smashed into the dirt at the bottom of the tree.
Drifting in and out of consciousness, his body limply rolls out of the tree through a hole in the trunk, coming to a rest just next to the tree.
Laying on his back, Bast could see smoke rising up from high above. Explosive sounds echoed across the expansive mountain. It was coming from the Troika's base.
'Namah...,' Bast thought sadly. 'Lilith... I failed you. I failed you all.'
Unable to fight the pain and fatigue, Bast loses consciousness.
* * * * *
Bast reawakened with a groan. He opened his eyes and found himself lying inside another cave. This one was considerably smaller than the Troika's cave base.
"You're awake, huh? Good."
Bast sat up and looked at the source of the voice.
Viriathus prodded at a fire that was set on the floor. Bast looked at the wall opposite from him and saw two familiar faces.
Karo and Woods, two Troika members. Karo, however, sported a scar that ran diagonally across his face. Woods wore a band-aid over his left eye. Both were armed to the teeth with Troika weaponry.
"W-where are we?" Bast asked.
"A cave," Vi answered plainly. "On the edge of the Frontier. We're waiting for a call from Jerry. He's going to let us know when it's safe to return to Anduruna."
Bast rubbed his right arm, which was now fully healed. "How long have I been out? And, how did you escape the battle in the city?"
"I was the runner they sent to Point Alpha to help rig it to blow. Those of us who stayed behind had to run for it. We made it through the Sky Road and travelled up the mountains to try and reach our base. But, we could tell it was long gone. That's when we found you. We travelled to No Toll Town and hid there for a day, then made our way to this cave. We've been hiding out here for three months. That nasty fall you took knocked you into a coma."
Bast looked away, thinking back on the Troika base attack and Namah's death. "Where is Flatline? And, the survivors of the base attack?"
"Flatline has amassed a huge army since coming into power and its only gotten bigger in recent months. He took a moderate size of his army and went on a military campaign to conquer Antares. He's been gone from Anduruna for about two weeks, leaving the rest of his army to maintain order and crush anyone who doesn't do what they're told. Our allies are scattered throughout the city, hiding out in rundown, crumbling heaps of what used to be our safehouses. Jerry should be calling us any minute now to let us know we can come back home."
At that moment, Vi's mini-scroll buzzed. "Speak of the devil."
She unrolled the scroll and read a message that was being displayed. After reading, she typed a message of her own and closed he scroll.
"That was him. He wants us to jump on the telepad in No Toll and head for the pad in Norvondire. Everyone's gathering at one of the more secluded castles that haven't been occupied by the King's forces. It's safe to assume that something big is in the works. And, with Flatline gone, now is as good a time as any to do something big before he gets back."
Bast rose from his natural stone bed and stood up, regaining the feeling in his legs.
After stamping out the fire and gathering their gear, Bast, Vi, Karo, and Woods walked out and stood at the mouth of the cave. The natural border where the forest and the Dune Sea met could be seen. Looming grey clouds smothered the sky.
"We will put a stop to this," Bast said. "We have to."
"We will," Vi replied. "Or, we'll die trying. It's the least we can do at this point."
"That's for sure," Woods added.
"Guess we'd better get going, then," Karo suggested.
"Right," Vi agreed. "Let's go."
Bast stared intensely in the direction of Anduruna, over the peaks of Starfall.
The battle to decide the fate of the Dreamworld was just beginning.
Chapter Theme: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SV92_MlyDkk (Ratonhnhaké ton - Lorne Balfe)
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