Finest Hour, Part Seven: Old Rivalries

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(November 6th)

In the darkened psiportal room, Lucky Lad and Malleus Kaine watched each other cautiously across a field of unconscious bodies. Lucky smiled ruefully. “I suppose it would be too much to expect that you're here to help?”

Malleus smirked. “I could make a 'here to help myself' joke. But I think we both know that we're past the moment of levity.” As he spoke, he gathered purple flame in his hands, levelling them towards Lucky.

“Yeah, that's what I thought.” Lucky sighed. “Max, there is more at stake here than your bruised ego.”

“Don't call me that.” Malleus said. He raised his hands, and fire rained across the room. Lucky studied it for a half-second, rolled to one side, and took cover behind one of the psicrystals. Instantly, Malleus clenched his fists, and the flames winked out. “You lost that right years ago.”

“You still blame me.” Lucky said from behind his cover. He sighed.

“Don't you?” Malleus said harshly. He rose into the air, flying towards the psicrystal. As he spun around the pillar, Lucky ducked in the opposite direction, sprinting across the room and diving under a control panel. “It was your fault that Optica died, Lucky. Your plan to defeat the .”

“She didn't follow my plan. She thought that she could do better by stealing millions and leaving us to take the blame when Strategos arrived.” Lucky pointed out. “Max, we were a young team of supervillains, and she decided to go rogue.” He stuck his head over the panels, ducking back down as another wave of purple flame washed overhead. “Which I guess makes us three for three on that front, doesn't it?”

Malleus almost smiled. “I suppose that it does. Each of us followed our own path in the end.” He shook his head. “But you're wrong about one thing, Lucky. Optica didn't intend for us to be caught. She assumed that you would follow her.”

Lucky breathed out slowly. “Which is what this has always been about with you.” He said. As Malleus approached, almost soundlessly, Lucky rolled a duct-tape grenade out from the console. Quickly, Malleus raised a glowing green shield in front of him. The grenade erupted into smoke, filling Lucky's half of the room as he moved for another spot of cover. As he did, he spoke. “You never followed your own path, Max. You just followed hers.”

Malleus spat out a curse, crushing his hands together as the smoke in the room spiralled around him, pulled in by the small crystal he held. “One of us had to. You watched her die, and then you went ahead and betrayed everything that we had believed in. You made a mockery of your guilt.” He raised the sphere of tightly-coiled smoke overhead, as Lucky cautiously circled the room's second crystal pillar. “Every step you have taken has led you here, Lucky. And when I kill you, and take this portal for the Oligarchs, it will be because I have kept true to the memory that you dishonour every day.” The smoke lengthened into sharp grey knives, and Malleus smiled. “Goodbye, Lucky.”

“Sir, new enemies!” A soldier saluted, and Kyall Varrn frowned, stepping forwards to look. “Human Gifted – none of them match Rex Mundi's forces as described.”

Kyall nodded. “I wondered…” He mused. “Someone get me identification…” As he spoke, there was a blur of motion down the hall, as a green-clad figure raced with impossible speed past a troop of soldiers, knocking them flying as she passed. Kyall broke off, and smiled grimly. “Forget it. It's the Patchwork Champions.”

The soldiers surrounding Kyall looked over at him in surprise, and then back to the corridor. Kyall waved his arm. “This is clearly why Rex Mundi lost control of the blockade. We have more soldiers arriving every minute – destroy them.”

“Heran Kyall Varrn. I wish to parlay.” Kyall turned in surprise, waving down his soldiers as they instinctively raised their weapons towards the far hall. He looked at the young Sayleen soldier standing across from him, clad in blue, his trademark cap punctured with holes to allow his antennae to touch the air. Grey body armor and the laser at his hip completed the looked, and Kyall smiled despite himself.

“Carath Jhim. I wondered if I might see you.” He pointed down the hall. “I take it they've realized their folly?” Down the hall, weapons fire died as soldiers paused to look back at the parlay.

“We were hoping that you had.” Jhim said bluntly. “We are dealing with the fate of several worlds here, Lord Kyall. Infighting is only going to strengthen our enemy.”

“You have no idea.” Kyall hissed. “You have no concept of what the humans have brought to our world while you were here playing at heroism.” When Jhim frowned, he smiled without humour. “The trees, Jhim. Your ally the tree, who you brought to our world.”

Jhim blinked, sudden fear washing over his face. “Ash.” He said quietly.

“Ash.” Kyall laughed. “A fitting name, because ash is what remains of too much of our world. Yuran is gone. Entirely. The nation's people, those who survived, are refugees. The Julath Arcipelago fell, and we were forced to burn it to ash when it became a factory for those nightmares.” He waved down the hallway. “That is what your new people brought to your old, Jhim. Do you still think humanity was worth allying with?”

“You can't judge an entire species by the actions of one man.” Jhim said after a moment. “Kyall, if things are as bad as you say, we need to end this. We can work together. We can lock down the psiportal, use Ecchs' codes to override Ash again. We can force him to stand down, all across Sayleen.”

Kyall shook his head. “You're a fool, Jhim. The humans will never give up that power. If they cause the trees to stand down, it will simply be another weapon held over our heads. But I hope that, after everything you have seen, you can see the better way. We need to be the ones holding the sword.”

“You want Ash.” Jhim whispered.

“Yes!” Kyall grinned. “We can control the treemen, Jhim. Here and at home. With Ash, and with the pisportal, we can force the humans to leave us. It is the only way to save our world.” He looked Jhim in the eyes. “I know that you've felt it, Jhim. The Adari hold power too firmly. You could lead the Gelgan back to the proper side in this war. You could be a hero.”

Jhim sighed, and shook his head. “You could be a hero too, Kyall. But you're still obsessed with humanity. You must know that I won't betray my friends.”

“I expected as much.” Kyall admitted. “But hope springs eternal. At least now I have you surrounded.” Jhim looked back, in surprise, to see soldiers filing into the hall behind him.

“You were stalling.” Jhim said slowly. He chuckled.

Kyall frowned. “I don't see what's so funny…” He broke off. “You were stalling as well.”

“I didn't really think you would abandon your goals now.” Jhim said blandly. “But hope springs eternal.”

Kyall gritted his teeth. “Send reinforcements to the portal room.” He raised his gun. “And kill him!”

“You're welcome to try.” Jhim laughed in response, raising his own gun as the soldiers behind him raced out of cover.

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