Chapter 3- Back in Time
“Need to adjust the date a little.” Clang! I pricked my ears and blinked, everything a blur. “Work you blasted thing!” Clang! Ferwoom! Something sucked the air out of the room momentarily, then exploded air outward, filling our entire home with electricity and power. “Excellent.”
I shifted and tried to sit up, but my hands were tied behind my back and feet roped together, so I rolled over. “Oh, you’re up?” Nega said from the catwalk, somewhat surprised. He had thrown his old, faded red coat over himself. The dull, golden buttons that were still attached to it were done up, but with the ends of the coat in shreds, it was like he had clothed himself in dirty, dusty rags. “You must have a pretty thick head.”
“What are you doing?” That was when I noticed the machine and blue-white light brimming out of the basin. The portal was open.
“I’m sure you can put two and two together,” Nega said, climbing down from the catwalk and onto the scaffolding. He bent over a console, adjusting various dials that caused the watery light from the basin to ebb and flow around the room.
“You’re planning to leave without us!” I said. I concentrated my power on my bonds, undoing the knots for my hands slowly and quietly. “To save yourself!”
“Still only seeing half the picture,” he said, turning to the basin and smiling. “I know you have a partial brain in there, but you really should use what you do have.”
“We all wanted a better life, another chance,” I said and then it dawned on me. Another chance. “You’re going to release Iblis again.”
“Bingo, my silver little rodent,” he said.
“Are you insane? He destroyed the world and you want to try again?”
“I’ve learned from my mistakes,” he said. “I see where the folly in my plan was last time. I needed more power to control it.” He talked more to himself than to me, mumbling as he watched the basin hungrily. That was fine by me. I tugged at the knots faster, freeing one hand behind my back and half-listening to his ramblings. “Soon, I’ll have it. Yes, more power for that beast.”
Before I finished, a gun barrel tilted my chin up into empty black eyes. “Gardon?” The koala didn’t respond, only shook his head and cocked the gun. I released the ropes. “What did you do to him?”
“Nothing much,” Nega said. “Planted a little bug on him that conforms to my brain waves. Basically, I control him.”
“You heartless monster,” I said. “Don’t you care that you’ll kill everyone?”
“Not when Iblis is under my control,” he said. “Then I’ll rule everyone.” Outside in the distance, a rumbling screech sent me into a panic. “Speaking of which,” Nega said, leering at me, the electricity from the portal crackling and snapping in his sunglasses’ reflection. “I’ve learned how to attract Iblis quite well.”
He was right. All that power was like ringing a dinner bell and Iblis would storm the place. “Can’t have you following me after all,” Nega said. “Have to keep an eye on you little miscreants until Iblis handles you. Besides, I’ve never seen Iblis kill up close before. I’m curious how he’ll choose. Burning you to a crisp or will he just swallow you whole? Or perhaps crush you underfoot?”
I searched for anything to help and finally saw it. When the portal belched an especially large amount of force as the power built, the scaffold rumbled, its screws shaking. Focusing, I undid one screw, twisting it out as fast as I could and keeping my glowing hands out of sight. The screw fell and Gardon and Nega were none the wiser. I held the scaffold in place, making sure it didn’t move until the right time, and started on the next screw.
Nega couldn’t hear the squeaking screws over the booming machine and the roars mixed in as Iblis approached. He was too busy basking in his victory. “You’ll pay for this,” I said, keeping up appearances and pretending to struggle. Gardon stood at the ready, gun trained on my chest, and Nega laughed to himself, shaking his head.
“Look at it this way. I’m offering you two mercy,” he said, leaning on the scaffolding and looking off into the distance. “You helped me, so it’s better to die quick than scurry like rats, living off whatever you find and never knowing when today will be your last day.”
“Iblis could kill you too.” I was on the last screw. A few more turns.
“No, because I’m going to head off now,” he said, turning away as the roars were close enough to make the house shudder. “Take care.”
“Have a nice trip,” I said. The last screw popped out and I released my hold on the scaffold. It collapsed to one side and Nega latched onto the lip of his portal. Unable to take the sudden weight and the scaffold collapsing on it, the basin rocked back and forth, tumbling down the side, barely hanging on by cables and wires sticking out of the base. Nega screamed and was drowned out by Iblis.
The basin fell onto its end and I didn’t hear Nega anymore. I flipped around and Gardon blinked, holding his forehead as if he recently work up. “Silver?” he asked, falling to his hands and knees. He saw the gun, the portal, and heard Iblis close by. “What’s going on?”
I untied my ropes and propped him up. In the tuft of his ear, I saw a glint of metal and plucked it out. A small, round gadget, the size of an earpiece. “Nega betrayed us,” I said, waggling it in front of Gardon. “He controlled you.”
“Where is he now?”
I craned my neck, searching for the lousy scum, but I couldn’t see too far around the basin. “I don’t know. Maybe trapped under his machine.” Good. “How do you feel?”
“Awful,” he said. “You?”
Before I answered, the cables started snapping behind me, arcing in the air and twisting and coiling on the ground like a pile of snakes spitting sparks. “The portal!” I said.
At the front door, the roof caved in, blockading the front door with roof, rooms, and floors as Iblis’ dripping lava head crashed through. It turned this way and that, finally saw us, and growled.
“Silver,” Gardon said slowly. “Go to the portal.”
“Not without you,” I said, reaching for him. Those green eyes tracked us steadily, waiting for us to make a move.
Gardon raised his gun to his head, gulping and his body quivering as much as mine was. “Silver, the portal’s dying. One of us has to make it or this will all be for nothing. Other worlds will fall to Iblis.”
“You’re closer, you’re faster, you have the best shot,” he said. “On five. One.”
Gritting my teeth, I dashed around the basin and Gardon strafed to the side, firing at Iblis. The monster shook its head, mildly annoyed by the peashooter. Yet it followed Gardon and opened its mouth wide.
The portal was flickering, almost out of power. I took one last look at Gardon. He emptied his clip and threw the gun between Iblis’ eyes. Then he smiled at me and gave a two-finger salute as flames engulfed him.
I screamed and jumped through the portal.
I was suddenly nowhere and everywhere at once. Flames behind me faded into bright white, then into a nothingness. I didn’t know where I was. Some empty area that I was falling, tumbling through, yet every way seemed upright. Everything merged together. Time lost all meaning. Space was infinite before me and I wondered if I would fall forever, if I had already been here forever, in this void.
I was cold one second, hot the next. Wet as if I swam through the deepest ocean, then dry with the wind in my quills, soaring through unknown sky as majestic as a bird. Sometimes, I didn’t experience the sensations myself and looked in on them, as if I lived vicariously through someone else.
Then instantly, I landed hard on a metal grate. The wind knocked out of me, I flopped onto my side and looked over the edge. Below, I saw red and black metal drifting through fluffy clouds. The clouds soon parted and I was above a walled city.
I sat up straight. The capital.
Further below, airships the same color as mine surrounded the city and deposited robots of every size into the streets. Guns atop the ship decks fired volleys of bombs that exploded rooftops and chipped away at the city.
Nega’s theft. The very day he had attacked the capital. I was here.
No time to soak in the sights. I had to clear a path to the castle and stop Nega. First things first. I had to take care of the ships firing on the capital. I looked up. Several turret guns gleamed in the sunlight, polished, perfectly-tuned, and fully loaded.
A squat, rolly-polly robot painted red and black sat in the gunner’s seat. As he shrieked in alarm, I lifted him in the air and flung him off the deck. Then I hopped into his seat. Surprisingly comfy.
The controls were a confusing mass of buttons. But there were two handles with triggers and I grabbed those. When I squeezed the triggers, the guns warmed up, but nothing else happened.
Great. I searched the controls. Maybe there was a start button somewhere? When I let go of the triggers and started pushing random buttons, the guns belched a charged red laser blast and kicked back, flailing me in the seat.
That’s more like it! I pressed an upward pointing arrow on the console and my seat and the gun rose into the air. I aimed at the nearest ships below near one of the city gates, held the triggers, and let fly a blast. Below, the deck of a ship exploded, raining destroyed robot bodies and bits of scrap metal in the fields below. I fired again and again, blowing more holes in the ship. Smoke poured from the deck and fires ran rampant until the robots abandoned the ship. It lumbered slowly out over the fields and crashed into some hills, the wreckage shrouded in smoke.
Its partner ship noticed the commotion and focused on me. Thankfully, they were too low and their guns kept missing my ship. But they were closing in. I pounded their ship with shot after shot and had them going.
Unfortunately, smaller laser fire flew by my head. Below, several of the robots on my ship hefted their own personal laser rifles and shot at me. Others large bruisers ran full force into the pole supporting my seat, rocking me back and forth. The pole started to give way, bending to the side.
I swung my laser cannon around, aimed at them, and fired, disintegrating them in a second and leaving nothing but a hole clear to the ground. “Hah! Take that!” I said, pretty proud of myself. Then the ship shuddered and my victory laugh turned to a deflated, “Haaah.” I plopped into my seat and cursed my stupidity.
“Sick of this ship anyhow,” I said, spinning around to the robots crashing into the pole. I blasted them to bits, then fired randomly all around the ship. The smoke and fire was thick and the heat toasted my fur. When I stood, the ship swayed side to side as it fell, bow pointed straight at the other approaching ship.
I jumped, flying as fast away as I could. But I did take a second and admired the crash behind me. My ship pierced the other’s deck and explosions burst out of both of their sides as they careened down onto a road leading to the capital. Thankfully, nobody seemed to be traveling that path. I guess everyone had holed up in the city.
Speaking of which, the other ships bombarding the capital and its countryside had taken notice of their fallen brothers. Two were swiftly moving my way and more were in the distance, on full alert. I couldn’t infiltrate another one. The first had been a stroke of luck. Besides, Nega could be on any one of those ships and I didn’t have time to search each one. But I did know what he would be going after. Quickly, I headed to the city.
* * *
The outer walls were so badly scorched and damaged, I was surprised they still held. Nobody manned them, but there were empty garrisons along the towers. I landed on the city streets, among several bombed homes and stores. Not as glamorous as Gardon’s stories.
Peering into the collapsed houses, I hoped with all my heart that the people living there had made it out and found better shelter. Overhead, robots continued to rain on the city. No chance of flying to the castle. If the falling robots didn’t cut me down, the laser cannons on top of and underneath the ships would.
I ran, passing down empty alleys and long, lonely stretches of cobble road. I had a general sense of the castle’s location in the city center and, thanks to Gardon, I managed to find the shortcuts throughout the city.
Next to the castle’s outer wall separating it from the city, I heard some general commotion and what sounded like fighting and more frightened voices. I stepped out of an alleyway and came upon a pile of robots, slumped over one another, sliced and stabbed to pieces. Oil sprang out between their gears, soaking them and the streets in black puddles. A detachment of knights stood nearby, ushering citizens through a gate in the wall to the castle. A few of the citizens were injured and the knights carried them through the gate.
One knight stood atop a robot, withdrawing her thin rapier from between the machine’s eyes. She whipped out a cloth and wiped the blade clean of oil. “Looks like the last of them,” she said, checking her sword. She was thin and graceful, and her armor stood out from the other knights. Hers was more polished, more angular and sleek, and had a series of lines crossing the helmet instead of simply two eye holes. With the violet strands of hair sticking out of the top of her head and held in place by a red bead like a tribal chieftain, I guessed her to be the captain of the detachment.
“Get everyone inside,” she said to her troops.
A pair of knights smack a fist across their chests and bowed. Maybe a noble instead of a mere captain. Then the knights helped a group of children into the castle grounds.
“You better hurry inside too,” she said, turning to me. “It’s not safe out here.”
I cleared my throat. “I need to find the Princess. It’s an urgent matter.”
“We’re all well aware of the attack, thanks,” she said.
“No, it’s worse than that.”
“Unless the world is about to explode, I don’t see how.”
Nega’s word echoed in my mind. I couldn’t let onto where I was from or future events. Only the Princess could know. However, I needed to find her first and this knight could help. “You’re not too far off the mark,” I said.
She tilted her head, giving me a curious look through the visors in her helmet. Then she raised her head and gasped. “Look out!”
Up above on a rooftop behind me, a robot with beady, glowing yellow eyes glared at us, crouching on all four of its paws, a predator stalking its next kill. Its long tail swished side to side and a dart popped out of the end of the tail, ready to shoot. I figured nothing good was in that dart and waited, feet apart as a mixture of gears and whirring pistons in its throat simulated a growl.
“Quick, to the castle,” the knight said.
The predator robot flung the dart at us. The knight stepped in the way to stop it, but I caught it mid-air, throwing it aside.
Already, the predator was bouncing down from roof to open window to awning, before wiggling its hind legs and pouncing. I froze it just in time and hurled it into a house. A pile of rubble fell on it for a moment, then some of the debris shifted and the predator bounded at me again.
I picked up an abandoned sword and held the predator again. I flung the sword into its wide open mouth, lodging it in deep in its throat. I pulled blade out, slashed its face, leaving deep cuts that spurted oil, then waved my hand up and down rapidly. The sword responded, stabbing up and down, up and down into the robot’s underbelly. When blade pierced all the way through and out the top, the robot screeched and slumped over. I dropped it onto the heap of other dead robots and the sword clattered to the ground beside it.
The knight gawked at me as I caught my breath. “Who did you say you were?”
“Please,” I said, taking a deep gulp, “I need to find the Princess. Nega means to steal the Sol Emerald.”
“How could you know that?”
Somehow, I doubted that telling anyone I knew Nega personally would go over well here and would only make this more difficult. “I’ll explain later. But we have to go now. He may already have it.”
The knight considered my words and finally nodded. “Very well. Come with me. I know the quickest way to the Sol Emerald’s chamber.”
“Thank you.” And we took off, sprinting across the castle grounds.
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