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Bane 15: Escape from Tarsonis
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Written and Created by the Immortal deadfast
 

For a few precious moments, everything was finally still and calm. Numbing darkness was everywhere, and all I could think of was the fact that, in this bleak existence, my head wasn’t pounding and my back didn’t ache due to my fall to the concrete from a fire escape ladder. The zerg where gone, the city was a distant memory, and I nearly felt like I was floating. Then, as the world suddenly came roaring back with an insane rush of air and the sound of screeching mutalisks, I realized that my original assumption wasn’t right at all. I was falling.

At first, I was lost in sub-vertigo until my vision returned, but when it did, I completely panicked; screaming like there was no tomorrow as the city not so far below steadily took on detail. I was still at an amazing height, and, in the waning evening light that wasn’t yet blocked by the building storm overhead, the city could be seen for miles one on side; stretching out endlessly before me and growing closer with every moment. At last, my lungs ran out of breath and I involuntarily looked straight down, and what I saw started the panic anew. The wings of mutalisks and some other smaller flying creatures were visible coursing over the street below in a flock, when they seemed to notice me plummeting down to meet them. The mutalisk’s spun from their flight paths, beginning their elevating spirals, but the smaller creatures, somehow flying without the aid of wings, practically turned on the spot and streaked straight up towards me, drastically closing the distance and outrunning their larger brethren. I could do nothing to stop them except vainly hold my arms up in front of my face when, without warning, a massive winged beast shot by me on the left, nearly making me spin with the new torrent of wind in it’s wake.

"Bane!" I yelled triumphantly, but my words were lost in the constant rush of air as the mutalisk slowed its descent, matching my falling speed just ahead. A pair of the small flyers, that were now close enough to be identified as scourge, were only seconds away. Without warning, Bane roared, launching a fiery, screeching projectile at the enemies that had almost reached us. The ball of acid and flame found its target with a crackling explosion that blotted out everything below. I covered my face again as I fell through the cloud of smoke and fire that, had not it been for Bane, would have been the deadly impact of a scourge. The chaos around me cleared as instantly as it came, revealing the city to be unnervingly closer, and the rest of the fliers to be nearly on top of us. My brave friend fired twice more, sending two more suicide bombers tumbling back to the street below, but the final one burst through the flames, apparently coming just for me. There was no time for another shot; Bane reeled across my plane of vision, careening into the scourge’s path with a single, mighty thrust of his wings. The impact wracked the mutalisk’s body and the ensuing blast all but hid it from view completely. I could practically feel the pain in the strained roar from my airborne protector as it practically came to a stop in mid-air.

I shot just past the tumbling wings of my friend, narrowly avoiding getting hit by them in passing. I looked up, and, despite growing more and more distant again, Bane seemed to be recovering, but it wasn’t fast enough. The tall structures and the street loomed in size, filling my field of vision. Then, I fell through the rising flock of mutalisks.

They shifted and turned as I drew near, the closest ones seeming content in merely getting out of my way, but I could hear them roaring all around me, launching deadly glave wurms at their tiny falling target. The fiery balls of death scorched in from all directions, leaving trails of suffocating smoke in their paths as they coursed by; hitting buidlings and even other fliers. For the first and only time, I was glad that I was dropping out of the sky; at least my speed was making the projectiles remarkably inaccurate.

Suddenly, everything grew quiet, save for the roaring wind of my fall. The mutalisks faded away rapidly, rising out of focus above and the fear of falling returned ten fold as the tops of buildings rose up on both sides, cutting my view of the area around me to an ever decreasing slit of clouded sky. The street below exploded in terrifying detail as the windows flickered by in fast forward. An instant, painless death awaited me only seconds away now, yet my pulse raced so hard that it felt as if my chest would burst.

At long last, my only chance to live came soaring back once more on its swift, red wings. I heard the roar of a single mutalisk and looked skyward to see Bane arching down between the buildings. With wings swept back, the creature rushed to meet me in midair, knocking the wind from my lungs as I was flattened against the mutalisk’s backside. Despite the impact, I held onto a groove in the monster’s carapace for all I was worth as it unfurled it’s great wings once again and caught the last bit of air before we crashed to the pavement.

The force of the astounding change in direction nearly tore me away, but one hand held firm as we swooped so low over the street that I could have read traffic signs if they weren’t going by in streaking blurs of color. My heart still raced furiously, aching with the strain as I shut my eyes tight and clung to the fleeting creature’s armored shell with everything I had.

"Calm yourself, mortal!" My friend’s psionic voice echoed into my thoughts, "You’ll not meet your end this day!"

The voice was twisted in an odd way that seemed to make it reverberate more than it used to, yet, at its core, it was still the same alien consciousness that I had come to know and trust. The words brought with them a powerful sense of serenity, and I found the courage to release my bear-hug on the Mutalisk’s carapace long enough lean up some and look around.

With wings pumping hard, Bane hauled me back into the air, and the menacing sight of the deadly pavement finally began retreating below. To my surprise, a quick glance back revealed no zerg in pursuit; the fliers had actually abandoned us and returned to their flock. I turned around again to find a huge building capping the end of the street, but with an almost lazy dip of the right wing, the mutalisk banked the tight corner with ease, leveling out again as the next empty roadway stretched out before us. Dark columns of smoke rose from the bases of the businesses and apartment buildings, trying to suffocate me as we passed through them.

"Where are all the zerg?" I had to yell over the rhythmic rush of air from Bane’s wings as the windows and stonework washed by on both sides, "And what about the ones we fell through?"

"When forced to chose between following through with a successful strike on the defenses of this city and the pursuit of an enemy one cannot kill, the Overmind has chosen the prior," my friend’s telepathic voice was perfectly clear, cutting right through the noise around me,

"The zerg are gathering for a final strike against the remaining Terran defenses. We must leave this place while the chance is still ours."

"My thought’s exactly; let’s blow this joint!" I yelled again as the buildings that still stood quickly began to get shorter and wider. We appeared to be flying over the industrial edge of the city, and, as Bane regained more of the lost altitude, I could see all around once again. A dark, shifting cloud, made of a mixture of smoke and swarming zerg fliers, hung above the center of the city behind us. As I watched over one shoulder, I could just barely make out the continuous flocks of reinforcements still joining them from somewhere in the dark evening sky. The capitol, itself, seemed to be in total distress; it’s bright lights weren’t shining as night fell. Only the multitude of fires replaced them now, creating spots of orange glow in the smoke that was beginning to blanket the once-proud skyline in a suffocating fog. Finally, I turned away; unable to look at the disturbing sight any longer.

When I did so, I was shocked by the distance Bane had covered already. The city before us was suddenly cut short by a border of trees, marking the end of the capitol and the start of the undeveloped forest beyond. I should have felt safer now that we were getting away from the zerg, but something in my instincts told me otherwise, and I continued clutching wearily to Bane’s carapace with both hands. After only a moment’s time, the new reason for my unrest became apparent.

There appeared a group of objects on the horizon, hanging low over the trees and getting closer with every passing second. Their formation was far too organized to be a flock of zerg fliers, and the roar of jet engines suddenly became audible over the rush of the passing air. Bane seemed to notice them as well,

"Terran aircraft," the voice echoed through my mind again, "Too many of them-We must seek cover!"

The mutalisk immediately began losing altitude again, and the tree tops loomed dangerously close as we sped over them.

"You’ve got to be joking!" I yelled again, but it was too late. Rearing back with a mighty thrust of both wings, Bane jolted to a near stop in mid-air. The sudden loss of speed made it impossible to stay airborne, and we dropped through the leafy canopy below like a stone.

Briefly, green consumed my vision as the branches bombarded me. Tree limbs snapped and cracked, falling with us as Bane used his wings, as best he could in the confined space, to slow his landing. One hand slipped and I fell against the mutalisk’s carapace as it hit the dirt with a heavy thud, using it’s snake-like body to catch itself and stand, much like a hydralisk’s tail, only bigger and backwards.

"Are you alright, Reece?" Came Bane’s concerned words. I shook my head and gazed up at the hole we made in the tree tops before answering,

"Yeah, sure; never been better," I groaned, "I hope this works."

The sound of multiple wraith engines grew louder and louder until the ships themselves finally began roaring overhead in streaks of brightly colored metal. I lost count of the fighters that flew by my small window in the trees, but the roar of jets continued even after the fleet passed. As I watched, a pair of wraith fighters could be seen now and again through small openings in the trees. They appeared to be looking for us, hovering just over the treetops.

"It’s no use!" I bellowed to no avail against the wailing turbines overhead, "They’ve got infrared sensors on those things!"

As if on cue, the charging of laser batteries could be heard briefly before bursts of hot, red energy tore through the foliage. Bane leapt into the air while the swift beams of death punished the forest around us.

The mutalisk exploded from the trees with its great wings outspread while I held onto it’s back for dear life. The wraith’s immediately turned to give chase, their engines screaming as they fought to match our airspeed. I spared the chance for a quick glance back and found our enemies to be nearly on top of us already.

"They’re closing, real fast!" I warned, but it did nothing to stop the jet’s weapons from chattering once more, launching another volley of their bright, deadly lasers at us in pursuit.

"Hold on!" Bane’s telepathic plea roared as the mutalisk barrel-rolled to the left. The world spun as I struggled to keep my handhold. Just when my I thought I was about to lose my grip, everything stopped again and Bane veered towards the ground, gaining speed. Despite being incredibly dizzy from the stomach-churning maneuver, I had enough sense to be surprised that we were soaring low over a wide, rocky river, following it’s path through the trees. The red beams of energy pelted the stream around us, creating geysers of water and steam as Bane swerved right and left to dodge the attacks. Without warning, a new sound could be heard; the lead ship had launched a pair of it’s Gemini missiles. I looked back again to find the high-end projectiles rocketing towards us when everything suddenly fell.

The stream came to an abrupt end in the form of a water fall, and Bane dove down the face of it. Only a split-second later, the missiles crashed into the edge of the falls, exploding on the rocks and sending a cloud of mist raining down on us as the mutalisk unfurled it’s wings and caught the air again before we met the turbulent water below. Here, the river had cut a deep canyon out of the rock and it made an abrupt turn just ahead, but the wraith’s screamed into the gorge right behind us, choking our airspace with their lasers while they closed in once more. Bane fought to reach the curve in the river and the safety of the canyon walls, veering and diving to avoid the enemy fire, but we were too late. One of the wraiths managed to launch another set of the heat-seeking missiles as the mutalisk banked for the hair-pin turn. The wraiths’ engines screeched as they pulled up hard, abandoning the chase due to the impassable terrain, but the rockets were still on our trail, tearing through the air to us at an immeasurable rate. It was impossible for Bane to dodge the projectiles again.

The mutalisk did the only thing it had the time left to do; and that was an abrupt, mid-air stall with a half twist, putting the bulk of Bane’s body between me and the flying bombs. The explosion that ensued cut across all senses, consuming my hearing and blinding me with a brief, hot light, after which, I vaguely remember a vicious pain in my chest and plunging to the winding stream below. There came the massive splash of my friend crashing into the water somewhere beside me, then, everything went dark.

Cold. The chilling water seemed to be all around, even inside of me, starving my lungs of air. The suffocating feeling was as unforgiving as the rocky stream bed that pressed up against me and I could feel water rushing over my feet. Finally, complete consciousness came roaring back and I reflexively put my palms forward and pushed myself off the ground. I recall having enough bearing to realize that it was raining before the suffocating sensation followed me from my dream. I immediately became sick as the river water heaved its way back out of my lungs. Those long moments in the dark, hacking and coughing, were among the most painful of my life. With every movement, a searing hurt wracked my body from somewhere in my chest, tearing at my insides.

Finally, I was done, barely managing to drag my legs out of the water before collapsing to the rocks once more. I laid there in agony, still soaked from the river and half freezing from the pouring storm. At first, I could only draw the tiniest of breaths without disturbing the great ache further, but, over time, it seemed to ebb somewhat and I was finally able to think. I opened my eyes again, trying to see in the darkness. The only sound was the patter of rain against stone and that of the river running it’s course somewhere behind me. Suddenly, I remembered what had happened; I remembered the zerg and the wraiths. I remembered my friend,

"Bane!" I yelled into the darkness in spite of myself, causing my ribs to scream with pain once more. I winched in agony, fighting a sob that tried to force its way up my throat,

"Bane!!" I said again, ignoring the fiery hurt it caused me. For a few terrifying moments, I really thought I was alone, until something shifted nearby,

"I am here....my friend..." Came the weak psionic voice, making my heart leap in my throat. I looked again, and luck was with me. A stem of lightning crackled across the clouded sky, illuminating my surroundings. In the brief flash, I miraculously found the crumpled form of the mutalisk washed up only a stones throw away. It couldn’t have been more than a few paces, but getting to my feet and actually walking the short distance made me dizzy with pain, and I ended up stumbling to the ground a few feet short of the mutalisk. However, I could make out one battered wing and the glowing red eyes in the shadow.

"Reece..." the voice came again, "..You live.." Bane sounded as if a great weight was lifted from his mind, and the creature sighed deeply, releasing a ragged breath.

"Me?" I choked, slowly pulling myself into a sitting position next to the motionless creature in the rain, "I don’t think I’ve been happier to see you; with the exception of your timely arrival earlier today in the alley."

I couldn’t contain a laugh, and the sudden motion caused my ribs to throb again. When Bane didn’t say anything, I began to get worried.

"How badly are you hurt?" I asked the still form. I had to wait a few seconds in silence before the voice came again,

"You needn’t fear for my safety...only your survival matters."

I knew what Bane meant by those words, but I didn’t say anything at first; doing my best to respect my friend’s wishes. Before long, however, the questions came, as they always do,

"What were you talking about back in the memorial?" I said slowly, "Who was that person?"

To my surprise, this provoked an immediate response from the mutalisk,

"Charley," Bane began, struggling to keep his telepathic voice audible, "Was my first friend; with the aid of many others, we defeated the ravenous zerg and destroyed the Overmind long ago...The leader of the zerg itself, has been trying to keep these memories locked in my mind ever since, in attempt to prevent it from happening again. Though the...death of my friend has caused me the greatest pain I will ever know, it has freed me from the last of the Overmind’s foul influence.."

"You’re going to die again, aren’t you?" I finally asked, quietly.

"I am sorry...my friend...." Bane began, but I interrupted,

"No!" I blurted out, almost yelling, "You’re not the one who should be apologizing. If it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t be going through this over and over."

"Fear not for me..." my friend repeated, "You have only to stay alive..."

"No Bane! Don’t go yet!" I pleaded, causing my chest to tear at my senses once more, but I didn’t care, "Don’t leave me, yet!"

Without warning, the crippled mutalisk shifted again in the darkness, using its last strength to lift a torn, battered wing over my head, parting the rain that fell on me.

"...I’ll stay..." The voice was growing weaker now, but the red eyes still flickered through the darkness, "...I’ll stay...until you sleep. Rest now, I shall return for you..."

***

For the first time in my existence, I held fast to the pain and fought death as it drew near. However I tried, my vision had long since begun to waver, and now the other senses faded with it. Yet, even when all had become dark and numb, the mortal’s life force was there, like a unfailing beacon in the fathomless void. By focusing on this energy, the effects of the corrupted cerebrate’s covenant gradually became active once more, and the perceptions of another existence slowly claimed my thoughts...

I could hear the occasional, suppressed snarl of my brethren, the sound of clawed feet and carapace dragging through dried leaves, and the wind in the trees. Suddenly, the vision of a new reality bombarded my mind, along with the noises, and I found myself among the ranks of a brood. They were quietly making their way through the forest outlying the northern edge of the city that, only hours ago, Reece and I had flown overhead of.

The brood’s secrecy was obvious. By the pictures taken from my brethren around me and the ever-watchful overlords floating a short distance ahead of the advancing army, I determined that these zerg were dispatched behind the Terran lines with a special purpose. This force was sent to break up the mortal ranks from the outside, allowing the waiting swarm of groundlings in the city to rampage free of the blockade with ease. Due to lack of other options, I traveled with my brethren for the moment, as not to draw their attention by leaving the formation; Even then I knew that my presence could be discovered at any time. If found, the Overmind would surely turn the entire detachment against me.

Only a short while into this trek, there came a telepathic shimmer that passed over the zerg around me like a swift gale through the forest. Terran’s had been spotted by a pair of zerglings that were scouting ahead of the main force, and every member of the brood spontaneously became aware of the new presence.

I cleared my thoughts, allowing the images to flood my mind as well. This appeared to be a small group of lightly armed soldiers, probably sentry’s themselves for the primary blockade. Suddenly, a number of the zerglings separated from the main group, disappearing from view as they funneled between the trees ahead. It would have been mere moments, then, before the unknown soldiers met their deaths, but if I allowed the brood to continue its advance undetected and attack with the element of surprise, the swarms in the city could break loose and the entire planet would be at the mercy of the Overmind. Even the remote canyon, where I left Reece, wouldn’t be safe. I no longer had a choice; there was only one way to save the Terran blockade a while longer.

Slowly breaking formation until I was close to one of my tall, scythe-wielding look-alikes, I sealed my fate with one brutal swing of my left blade.

The hydralisk had only enough time to turn, locking its foggy, shallow eyes on mine an instant before scythe met carapace. The blow had all my weight behind it, and the blade slashed open a canyon of gore across the unsuspecting creature’s armored skull.

While my first enemy spun and slumped to the dirt, the entire brood around me seemed to stop and roar in unison. In seconds, members of the outraged swarm were closing in from all directions; pouring between the trees and crashing through the brush with vengeful claws. An image of my flank was the first to flash through my thoughts, and I turned in time to throw my scythes in the path of a charging hydralisk. I slid back in the poor footing of the dried undergrowth as our blades clashed together and the momentum was absorbed, but with a powerful heave of my arms, I slung the offending scythes to one side and brought my own back hard, were they crashed across the open maw of my foe.

The hydralisk toppled over, yet, there was no chance of finishing it before the zerglings arrived. Swinging over and to the right, my scythe came down squarely on the racing, brown missile as I used images from the minds of my enemies to time the offensives against them. A split second after eliminating the first zergling, I could sense the next already in mid-leap at my other side. I spun with the same blade as before, bringing it up when I did, where it collided squarely with the airborne assailant and sent it reeling away before being caught and dropped by the leafy branches overhead.

Despite being grotesquely injured and bleeding profusely, the second hydralisk returned with both scythes outstretched, but more of my brethren joined it in the assault this time, lumbering through the thick foliage from every direction at once. One mistake now would surely spell defeat.

"...No one ever said that all battles are to be evenly matched."

Time practically ceased as San’ Dreale’s words surfaced from my memory with the zerg closing in, coursing around the trees like a flood of carapace and blades in slow motion.

"Well said, Templar," I thought, recalling the blocking techniques and counter attacks learned that day, while shifting to meet the brunt of the coming onslaught. Reality instantly seized hold once more and the outraged roar of the swarm returned with it. The gored hydralisk’s high attack just cleaved the empty air as my timely dodge to the left rewarded me with an open shot at my foe’s backside. The flailing beast was sent sprawling into the wide trunk of a great tree some distance away, but the maneuver had cost precious seconds, and I now faced a growing number of new enemies.

I slung my arms out to each side with all my strength, were they collided with the offending scythes of two fresh hydralisks. The creatures snarled a higher pitch as our blades clashed together, but I quickly found my movements arrested by my adversaries with more zerglings charging in from the front.

I lunged against the hold my enemies had on my blades. They were ready for my resistance, yet, I managed to pull the right scythe forward, bringing the struggling beast with it. Though the difference was minimal, the change in position was critical. By springing back in the other direction with the same arm, I took the hydralisk by surprise and my blade tore free, nearly flooring the offending creature when my scythe-joint collided with the under side of its jaw in passing

There was no time to free my other blade: the zerglings were practically on top of me. Snarling angrily, I brought the right scythe forward again in a wild swing that hammered my already-stunned brethren aside. With the path clear, I surged against the grip of the other hydralisk, jerking it into the path of the zerglings in mid-leap.

Following the crunch of carapace on carapace and the roar of the outraged beast, my sorely needed left blade was free at last. The agile, brown assassins that remained on the ground changed direction instantly, veering for my new position with claws outstretched. A pair of them practically careened into my waiting attack, but there was work for my blades on the opposite side once more. As I spun to meet the next threat, I do recall sensing the new foe in mid-air, but there was no time to react now.

Blotting my view as it instantly crashed head-on into my face, the zergling planted its curved, miniature scythes in the armored rim of my skull. The high impact practically plowed me to the ground as I was sent fumbling backwards, but this was the only opportunity the smaller, faster enemies needed. Dazed and temporarily blinded by the clinging zergling, it’s brethren rushed on the chance and I was quickly hit again and again by members of the merciless brood until their hurtful scythes and the combined weight finally wrestled me to the forest floor. I thrashed and fought to stand again, but their painful blades were everywhere; stabbing and slashing to keep me down.

Then, without warning, the surrounding forest was suddenly illuminated as if it were midday. The intense lights seared my eyes, but I remember the explosion of gunfire and the outraged growls and squeals of the zerg clearly. When my vision returned, I found that the remainder of the brood had all but abandoned me in a vain suicide attack on the garrison of marines and their protective squad of goliaths. The sheets of flying metal and explosives launched by the mechanical weapons blasted a wide clearing through the underbrush and low branches, wearing down the smaller group of zerg before they could get close enough to do any damage at all. At last, the forest was quiet once more, save for the anxious shifting of so many booted feet in dry leaves and the lumbering rattle of the goliaths’ engines.

I could only stand, to the best of my ability, facing the brunt of the marines’ suit lights, weaving as I waited for their weapons to shred my already-shattered carapace. However, the hot led failed to fly.

After a few unsettling moments of near silence, the rush of adrenaline that had kept me alive in battle quickly began to subside and simply remaining upright became immensely difficult. The pain of my wounds came roaring into my thoughts, clouding my mind with the distress signals of a dying body.

The Terrans still made no move, either to finish me off or, to a less-likely extent, help, while I finally collapsed again, under my own weight. Everything grew instantly numb and consciousness sputtered into it’s last, brief fits of awareness. The nameless soldiers who had appeared so suddenly were now all around; looking down at me with their bright lights and obnoxious squabbling and swears. Although the sounds were muffled, I felt threatened and vulnerable, but I couldn’t have made the slightest effort to resist them if I wanted. My vision failed at last, relenting to the dark swirls of color that awaited.

Yet, before all traces of the world vanished completely, my fatigued mind picked up something strange about the Terrans who had gawked and clamored over my ruined form. Though it was brief, I could sense a familiar mental signature among them before everything turned silent and cold.

***

I don’t know exactly when sleep came to me, but the borders of reality faded with Bane’s last words. Some part of my mind suddenly shut down, leaving my pain stricken body somewhere in that desolate canyon. Ugly shadows twisted across my field of view, signaling the start of a nightmare; like the ones I had before I met Bane. However, this one was to be different...

...The angry tormentors from before were back again, but now they had a definite form. They were the zerg, yet there was something different about them that I couldn’t place. Exact detail was difficult to determine as I attempted to look around, when I discovered that my body refused to respond to my commands. The zerg were everywhere in the darkness, but they too seemed to be held back by the same unseen force. It weighed down on me, hindering any movement beyond standing. This was an entirely new occurrence for me, but something else quickly caught my attention. Bane was there.

The creature that stood at my flank and slightly ahead was unmistakable, yet I could say nothing to my friend. Now the urge to fight my paralysis was rekindled, and I mentally struggled with my senses in attempt to free myself. However, dark colors began swirling across my field of view, indicating that my efforts were only forcing the dream to an abrupt end. I fought this now, willing myself to see more, when the great energy that held me fast made itself known at the last second.

A tall, dark silhouette stood before my friend and I. It’s true shape was difficult to distinguish at best, with the multitude of odd, almost wing-like appendages protruding from somewhere on its upper body. The only thing to suggest that it even had a head was the fierce pair of glowing eyes set in the center of the shadowy mass. This being radiated an incredibly powerful, menacing aura, and it remained even as the rest of the dream gave way to the sound of running water and the uncomfortable feeling of my unforgiving bed of stones.

I woke with a start, finding my vision bathed in an odd, red color. This confused me at first, and I thought I was still dreaming, when a premature attempt to sit up reminded of last night. My ribs were terribly stiff and sensitive, and it made the breath catch in my throat with the sudden movement. I laid there a moment, letting the ache subside while I stared up at the mutalisk’s battered wing that still hung over me. It fell sometime during the night, when Bane finally left the beast, but due to the structure of the wing, it couldn’t be pulled flat against the ground, and the sun shone through it; changing the light underneath to a dull crimson. At last, I rolled over onto my hands and crawled out, into the daylight.

The suns were particularly bright this day, beating down into the rocky canyon I found myself in. Standing took an extra effort and made me dizzy, and I had to resist an unbearable urge to stretch; every joint and muscle seemed tired and sore. While studying the river for the first time, I dismissed the discomfort as an affect of last night, but I quickly reconsidered it as a bad night’s rest. I had, after all, just crawled out from under a dead mutalisk this morning.

As I got my first real look around, I realized that I had no idea where I was or how I was going to get out, or, more importantly, how Bane was going to get me out. The river shrank to a wide, lazy stream here; babbling gently in complete contrast to the roar it was just a few short hours ago. Also, the surrounding canyon looked nothing like the area where we crashed into the water. I quickly saw that there was no way to tell how far down stream Bane and I drifted before finally washing onto this rocky bank. With all this thought on rivers and water, I suddenly discovered myself to be savagely thirsty. Taking slow, easy steps on the smooth stones, I approached the stream’s edge. The clear, running liquid seemed clean enough, but I didn’t know if it was safe to drink or not. I shook my head, deciding I’d take my chances, given that I probably swallowed a lot when Bane crashed into it.

After a long drink, standing seemed easier this time, and I studied my surroundings once more while wiping my mouth dry with the back of one fist. The crumpled form of the slain mutalisk was the first thing to catch my eye. Upon sight, I couldn’t help thinking about what Bane goes through so I can live and feeling lousy about it. I tried to shake the thoughts, looking past the lifeless creature to the new environment set before me. The other side of the river, which was at my back, yielded only an unscalable cliff face that rose about halfway up the canyon. The canyon walls themselves were steeply carved out of solid rock, and even where the slick, grey stone wasn’t shier, it was still beyond my courage to climb out. After my free fall from somewhere in the lower atmosphere yesterday, I wasn’t planning on taking another chance with heights any time soon.

The canyon floor that Bane and I washed into was relatively small, but it was packed with rocks and boulders of all sizes. Very little vegetation could take root down here besides the occasional web of vines and a scraggly stand of stubborn bushes, but leafy trees could be seen along the high cliff tops. With the idea of climbing out of the question, and a lack of options otherwise, a hike up the canyon seemed a reasonable idea for the sake of exploration. For a moment, I worried over leaving my spot, possibly making it more difficult for Bane to find me if he showed up. I shrugged this off quickly, however, as the idea of meeting my friend halfway up the canyon wasn’t without merit.

Just down stream, the water made an abrupt turn out of view and brought the clearing to a close by meeting the rock walls on both sides, making any further investigation downstream impossible. This left only one path, so, with one look back at the still, winged creature, I began following the river.

***

Though I have no idea how long I was out, I knew then, trapped in the spiraling recesses of my own mind, that I had not met death yet. The senses returned as I clawed my way back to reality; and, at last, I awoke to the muffled sounds of explosions and distant gunfire. I snarled in outrage as I immediately attempted to rise, only to find that my arms were bound to some large machine behind me with tightly-wrapped layers of chain. I jerked and lunged against my bonds, but they were set below the scythe joint, leaving the business edge of my blades powerless to cut the metal that held me fast, no matter how hard I strained and fought it.

Finally, I admitted defeat and slumped back to the grated steel floor, not sure of what to do next. My vision had adjusted to the darkness long since my awakening, but now, unable to move on, I studied my surroundings. The first thing that caught my attention was the fact that the fatal wounds stricken to me by the zerg had mysteriously vanished. I was totally perplexed as to the motive of the Terrans decisions at this point, but more importantly, my prison appeared to be inside one of their cramped buildings. With a sudden mental start, I realized that I had been inside this particular type of structure many times before; only on much different circumstances. Without warning, memory recalled those events, and the deep, burning ache grew from somewhere inside, reminding me of the awful toll I shall always pay in return for freedom.

I know not how long I sat chained in the darkness with my grief tearing at me; yet, like all pain, it passed with time, and soon only the continuous repercussions and muffed rattle of the battle outside accompanied me in the makeshift prison. I felt drained by my memory, all I could think of was drifting back out of consciousness, when my numb mind was quickly jarred back to attention by a wave of telepathic images. The swarm had completed its descent on this planet; millions of zerg and a growing hive cluster now occupied the city. Pictures from the countless overlords revealed that the battle was getting more and more desperate for the Terrans as supplies and reinforcements dwindled. Even in my ‘cell’, the actual sounds of the defenses outside were beginning to fade before the roaring backdrop of the endless swarm.

I struggled against my bonds again, jerking and pulling on the chains that wouldn’t budge. The wall of machinery behind me recoiled loudly with each lunge of my arms, but the effort was in vain. I snarled in frustration, helplessly listening to the all but nonexistent gunfire of the crumbling Terran defenses.

Without warning, a series of solid repercussions started pounding from the stubby door of the building, which was just in my sight at the end of the room. It appeared that a number of the zerg had already come for me as the disturbance intensified. I scanned the area with my mind, searching for anything that would tell me about the enemies I was about to face with my arms tied. Try as I might, my assailants offered no clues to their plans, when just as suddenly, the noise stopped.

At this time, the agitated verbal swear of a Terran voice could be heard before the room erupted with gunfire. Bullets riddled the door with holes, ricocheting off the floor and walls as they came through. When the shots stopped, there was only a moment’s hesitation before an armored boot smashed the hatch open. The room was flooded with the light of midday and the sounds of the battle outside tripled. In an instant, four Terrans wearing worn combat suits filed through the entrance. Two of them stayed watch by the door while the others approached me almost at a run. They were all carrying weapons, but one of them toted an odd, bulky canister and some hoses as well. This Terran immediately stepped forward and began inspecting the chains that bound my right scythe. The last one stood and faced me, retracting the faceplate on it’s helmet by hand,

"Sorry it took us so long, biggie, we kinda had to wait on the rebel guards to clear out before we stole you," The Terran widely known as ‘Boss’ said to me in a rush.

"You!" My telepathic words practically stammered, "So it was you I sensed among the Terran ranks; what are you doing here?!"

"It’s a long story that I’ll be glad to tell you if we live," Boss answered before shielding his eyes as the other Terran ignited an intense little flame with the machine they carried.

"Why are you helping me?" I asked in confusion as the torch heated the chains to the point of fracture.

"Just returning the favor," Boss replied quickly, "It would be a little harder to get up every day if I let the rebels turn you into a science experiment after what you did for us back there on Korhal,"

"Ha!" I snarled, "So there are still some traces of morality left among your species, after all."

"There might be," the Terran scoffed, "but don’t tell anyone or you’ll ruin my reputation."

"Alright," the soldier with the torch, who I now recognized by voice as T.J., announced while stepping back and extinguishing the flame, "That should do it. Give them a jerk, Bane."

As instructed, I lunged against the chains once more and, this time, they released their hold on one arm with a satisfying clank. After that blade was loose, I reached across my body and freed the other with four hacks of a mono-molecular edge.

"Wow!" T.J. exclaimed, discarding the cutting torch, "That’s a neat trick."

"Getting out of here without being killed by the zerg, or shot at, will be an even better one," Boss interrupted, "Let’s go!"

The Terran encampment was in utter chaos. Half their structures were either airborne or burning as I moved outside to join my short rescuers. It was now midday, but the light of the suns didn’t bring new hope for the Tarsonian defenders. A thick screen of smoke hung in the air and rampant gunfire was constantly audible some distance away. Though the multitude of fires pierced the dark cloud with their dull, shifting glows, visibility was poor in the ravaged base.

Despite the blinding fog, figures began appearing in the mists. There were only one or two at first, but soon, multiple sets of twin lights could be seen weaving their way through the few buildings still on the ground. A second later, one of them suddenly stopped, turning it’s pair of headlamps at us.

"That’s our cue, boy’s; let’s find the ship," Boss said almost calmly.

A stern Terran voice erupted from somewhere in the smoke while we began our escape, but it’s exact words became inaudible as we left them behind.

We covered a short distance totally unencumbered in the smoke screen, weaving through the pathways left between the seemingly abandoned structures, but the shouts and footfalls of our pursuers was never far behind. As the Terrans led me down a cramped passageway between rows of supply depo’s, much like the one I was imprisoned in, Boss came to a stop so suddenly that the rest of the group nearly stumbled into his backside.

"Shit!" he swore, "Take cover!"

In a split second, the group backpedaled and dove to the ground behind the safety of the last supply depo as a hail of gunfire rained in the open and peppered the buildings’ metal construction.

"What now?!" I snarled with angrily among the rattle of automatic fire.

"They’re taking the ship!" Boss yelled back, flinching as a few rounds of guass fire ricocheted into our protective corridor. Without warning, Mosely, who was the last one in the group, turned from us and began firing his weapon back down the ally, and Joe quickly joined him with a sharp word,

"We’ve got more company! We need that ship, pronto!"

The marines we had been evading finally caught up. They were suppressed at the mouth of the path for now, but they fired rounds of their own back at us, pelting the light armor of the Terrans’ suits. It wasn’t as bad as standing in the brunt of the firepower that held the ship, but my rescuers would not last long under these conditions.

"Wait here," I growled, "I’ll get your ship back."

Moving into the enemies direct line of fire wasn’t exactly the best tactical option, but charging against the streams of lead was all my allies had time for. The relentless sheet of flying metal sparked and bounced from my healed, resilient carapace, but the small group of armed Terrans that guarded the ships in the clearing didn’t show fear of my wrath. They held their positions, uselessly firing their weapons at me as I met the first of their ranks with my blades. My right cleaved the rifle from the marine’s arm, ripping open the hand that held it before a blunt-sided blow with my left plowed the helpless creature to the ground at the feet of its shocked comrades.

Their firing ceased for only a brief second, but I could now sense panic in the remaining squad members as they backpedaled towards the craft, again, futilely attempting to harm me with their insufficient weaponry. The group of six had come together in their efforts, but they scattered again as I lunged for them with my blades. A pair of cowardly foes bolted away, leaving their comrades to pepper my sides with impaler rounds once more while I cut down the hapless individual that was too slow to dodge my initial attack. The last three marines, finally realizing the inevitable outcome of this resistance, abandoned their defensive and retreated up the ramp of Boss’s ship.

Two of them halted at the top of the incline with blazing barrels while the third vanished somewhere inside. I wasn’t far behind my badly outmatched targets, charging into their ever-weakening onslaught of flying metal. One of the marine’s guass rifles suddenly groaned to a stop with an odd ticking sound, indicating that it was out of ammunition at the last possible moment. Holding back the majority of my strength, I swatted the only fighting soldier across the helmet with the blunt edge of one scythe, yet, the Terran was still knocked against the wall and unconscious just by the momentum behind the attack. It’s body fell back to the floor and flopped off the edge of the ramp to fall motionless to the churned dirt. I now faced the lone marine, who fumbled with a new clip as it backed into the craft. I couldn’t help teasing the panicking Terran, following it slowly until it’s path of escape was cut short by the rear wall of the cargo hold.

Finally, the cartridges slid home with a click and the marine held the gun out to me, yet, it never got the chance to release the angry metal shards. I threw one blade into the oversized shoulder of my adversary and the scythe punched through the armor to the other side, bursting one of the lamps mounted there, but the edge failed to actually meet the flesh somewhere inside the metal shell. The soldier all but dropped his rifle in surprise of the sudden movement, leaving me to heft the Terran skyward, smashing it, helmet-first, against the grated metal roof. The marine’s faceplate shattered on impact and it arms dropped, letting the annoying weapon it carried fall to floor with a clatter.

Suddenly, I remembered Boss and his crew fighting the rest of the soldiers just outside. Growling in frustration, I turned only long enough to hurl my enemy in the direction of the ramp before punching in the cockpit door with the other closed scythe-joint. The thin metal hatch gave easily after the second blow, crumpling inwards onto the control panel between a startled pilot and one last, petrified marine.

"Get OUT!" I snarled, prompting immediate action. The pair nodded dumbly before leaping out of the exits adjacent to them without any further hesitation. Bursts of gunfire from the cargo door followed, and I immediately spun to face this new threat, nearly catching T.J. with one scythe.

"Hey! Easy, there, biggie!" He piped, stepping wide to avoid the hazardous edge of my blades and reach the cockpit controls. Mosely and Joe were halfway up the ramp, firing at an unseen enemy on the left while Boss plodded up the incline towards me.

"Good work, big guy," He commented offhandedly on the way to the front, "You cleared the place out faster than the day after TJ’s fajitas." Without warning, the ship lurched beneath us and it’s engines roared to life. Joe and Mosely abandoned their posts at the door, letting the cargo ramp swing into place. Yet, before it did, flashes of brown carapace could be seen streaking past the opening from the right; zerglings. I became sure of it as the thought of my old foes brought brief images from the overlords and the warriors on the ground. The swarm had broken free of the city blockade.

The ship’s engines screamed a higher pitch and the cargo ramp slammed home, sending new shudders through the vessel while it began hovering, fighting for altitude.

"Hold on!" TJ’s voice suddenly blurted from the cockpit; our only warning before the ship leapt forward with a sudden blast of it’s thrusters. I hooked my scythes inside the doorframe of the pilots compartment to resist the exceeding change in velocity. Only dark smoke could be seen in the windshield as I pulled myself forward again. Using just the instruments and teamwork, the Terrans maneuvered the craft through the limited airspace, which was choked with hovering buildings that hung in the air half ablaze. They loomed out of the fog in numbers, forcing the vessel to take, slow, winding turns to avoid them as they appeared.

Without warning, new visions wracked my thoughts, bringing images of the brood’s aerial fighters.

"Our time is up!" I growled, "We must go faster!"

T.J. spoke up after examining one of the screens set among the complicated controls of the machine,

"He’s right, we’ve got a whole mess of zerg signals, and they’re closing in a hurry!"

"Where are they comin’ from?" The Terran commander barked, already beginning to accelerate again.

"Everywhere!" T.J. exclaimed, "The whole grid is jammed with them below the fifth lateral and they’re moving in fast! Punch it!"

The ship replied almost instantly with another eruption of noise from its engines, jarring us all back again as it found new speeds. Boss swore, wrestling the controls to avoid the massive, burning structures that floated in our path. Despite their size, they surged by the windshield as the craft struggled to maneuver past them.

"It’s n-no use!" T.J. stuttered, glancing frantically back and forth between the instruments and the intense show just outside the brittle sheet of glass in front of us, "They’re gaining!"

"How fast can they be?!" Boss yelled in frustration. As if on cue, another sound suddenly burst into earshot above that of the craft, and it was one I knew well. The roar of the mutalisks was only a brief warning before a glave wurm struck the ship like a hammer blow. An explosion of wrenching metal could be heard as the ship swerved off-course from the impact, bringing the corner of one building perilously close. Despite the efforts of the whining engines, we were struck again, wracking the craft aside once more and causing an annoying alarm to start wailing from the complicated Terran controls.

"Machines!" I snarled, releasing my hold on the doorframe to remedy this imminent failure.

"What are you doing?!" T.J. yelled over one shoulder as I turned warily in the heaving craft. I ignored him, lunging past a confused Joe and Mosely to the sealed cargo door. The great hatch responded with a brief clang and the screech of tearing alloy when my blades punched through it.

Growling with the effort, I pulled up on the door with all my strength. The metal groaned and made sudden, giving screeches while the steel grating in the floor warped beneath my tail. Without warning, the craft was hit with yet another glave wurm on the left side. The impending shock from the assault rocked the ship again, and the extra motion added to my exertion on the door, finally ripping the hulk of metal from its resting place with a last, terrible noise and a shower of sparks from the protesting electronics.

Air roared around the hatch as it was suddenly released at such a speed. There was hardly time to comprehend what had happened before the door was sucked away, nearly taking me with it as the wall of metal was ripped from my scythes instantly. It tumbled away, floundering into the smoky haze and causing our pursuers to swerve and dive to avoid a deadly mid-air collision.

"Get your weapons!" I snarled at the two Terrans strapped in the seats. Though they didn’t leave the safety of their harnesses, the pair responded with quick looks of understanding before taking aim with their guns.

In a moments time, the mutalisk’s returned from the fog for another run at the ship, however, they were now met with the stinging metal shards of two gauss rifles and a potent volley of my needle spines. The first of our airborne assailants was actually forced to turn back before getting close enough to release a glave wurm, but it’s brethren sped onward, determined to attack no matter the damage we caused to their outstretched wings.

"HOLD ON!" Boss’s voice boomed over the chaos while we made a hard turn into another cluster of floating structures. The quick maneuver caught me off-guard, practically hurling me to one side of the hangar. Instinctively, I threw my blades out in front, and momentum carried the scythes through the ship’s hull with an ear-piercing screech of metal. I could do nothing but watch the sides of the buildings thunder by so closely they could have been touched by an outstretched blade, were both of them not lodged in the wall of the cargo bay. The uncountable number of mutalisks poured into view temporarily; churning and diving into the maelstrom of hovering Terran structures. The bulk of the flock ignored us, taking easier paths through the base before vanishing in the fog altogether.

For a brief moment, everything suddenly grew still, save for the occasional sway and drone of the ship as it cornered around the buildings when they came into sight. With a twist, and an agitated snarl, I tore one blade free, using it to push on the wall with and draw the other scythe from the hull. TJ looked away from the open rear of the ship long enough to inspect the holes I left before facing me,

"At the rate you’re going, we should have left this poor bird with the Rebels!"

I ignored the Terran’s comment as a new sound became audible above that of the craft. Deep, thumping percussions could be heard somewhere ahead, but this couldn’t have been caused by mutalisks alone. The explosions grew and grew in amplitude, even causing turbulence in the racing vessel, until this new threat made itself known in the form of falling death.

Boss hadn’t even time to swear before a building surged into view directly in front of the ship. The huge machine was fiery wreck, plummeting back to the planet so closely that there was no time to change directions or even react beyond watching as the flaming mass filled the windshield. However, the collision never came; just as quickly as it streaked into view, the structure was miraculously gone again. That danger had passed, but it left only to reveal a stream of scourge flooding through the remaining buildings across our path. The insane fliers rammed headlong into the structures, exploding on impact with plumes of fire and corrosive acid.

"Can we punch through?!" Boss snapped suddenly above the noise. T.J.’s voice was quick in response,

"Not a chance! Drop under!"

Without warning, the ship suddenly pitched forward and banked to the left, leaving the view of the flying swarms somewhere above as we rocketed back towards the ground, which was still hidden by the unforgiving smoke screen. My tail lost grip on the floor almost instantly, letting me slide forward until the blunt edge of my scythes met the cockpit’s doorframe again. With the added benefit of gravity now working with them, the engines screamed to ever increasing tones. All too soon, an alarm began chirping from somewhere among the instruments, and the Terran leader heaved back on the controls, fighting speed and momentum to right the craft once more. I snarled with the effort of standing upright against the great change in velocity, but the angle still wasn’t enough.

"It’s no use!" T.J. yelped, "Here comes the deck!"

Trees raced from the smoke, growing instantly in detail. At the last possible second, fog obscured our view again, and it seemed that the ship may actually pull out of the dive unscathed, until something struck the vessel with a sound bordering on that of an explosion. I was practically hurled to the floor as tree limbs shattered the windshield and the rip and scrape of metal consumed the hearing. Suddenly, the engines died just before the forest reached an abrupt clearing. The grassy land rushed up to meet the nose of the craft, but the point of impact is mercifully absent from memory.

My senses returned quickly; the sound of the ship crashing to a stop could be heard only a short distance away while I struggled to determine which direction was up. After a moment, I regained enough bearing to stand. I wavered at first, still dazed and spitting dirt because my face was buried in it, but my eyes brought the still, smoldering form of the dropship into focus almost immediately. It appeared to have skipped across the field before careening back into the woods, finally coming to rest against a massive tree.

"I hate machines..." I growled, hacking up a final mud clod. Forcing my sore body into a run, I hurried to reached the crippled vessel. Though I believed the Terrans would be hurt in the crash, they defied my reckoning, emerging from the open rear of the smoking wreck on their own power as I approached. They were shaken by the turbulent landing, but seemed to be relatively unscathed, piling out of the ship one by one with weapons trembling, but at the ready. I noticed the last one, T.J., favoring one arm, as Boss staggered to me with a limp,

"You okay, biggie?" He asked, before I could say something of the same.

"Never been better," I snarled before motioning to the injured Terran, "How’s that one doing?"

T.J. piped up suddenly, holding the suspect limb out with a grimace,

"It’s just a little scratch from one of your scythes when you went through the windshield, I’ll be fine."

The wound couldn’t be seen, hidden somewhere beneath the armor of the powered suit. A smooth gash in the metal plating was the only thing that indicated any hint of damage.

"Besides," T.J. added, looking over one shoulder at the lifeless craft, "the ship’s toast; we’ve got bigger problems right now. How are we going to get off this rock before the zerg gain complete control of it?"

No one said anything in response. Even then, the sounds of the remaining military structures were audible, crumpling and exploding somewhere in the distance. Before long, I broke the silence, speaking with renewed resolve,

"Now is not the time for despair; We must put as much distance between ourselves and the zerg as possible. Reece still awaits my return in a canyon not far from here. If I start back now, I may still find the mortal there by dusk-"

"Wait!" Boss interrupted, "You ran into that kid? Here, on Tarsonis?! How did you find him? Reece contacted us yesterday for extraction from the city, but we were stopped by the defense garrison. We all thought he was a goner!"

"Not as long as I have blade in the matter," I growled, "But the endeavor was not an easy one, I can assure you of that. Now, if you’re going to follow me still, we must get moving..."

I let the words die as a new noise crossed the hearing. At first, it was merely a dull drone that barely stood out against the thud and crackle of the relentless swarms, but now the sound was growing unmistakably louder, and the Terrans and I began looking around for the source.

"It sounds like a ship," Joe yelled over the roar the noise had become. Boss spoke up, confirming his comrade’s assumption,

"That’s not just any old shuttle," The leader barked, "It’s Interceptor two!"

Seconds later, a craft could be seen looming out of the fog, hovering into view. It’s engines whined loudly, holding it in a low hover just over the trees. The Terran’s switched on their suit lights and began waving their arms around in attempt to draw the pilot’s attention. It worked; The ship turned toward us, dipping one wing as it passed overhead to land in the field we crashed through only moments ago. It’s thrusters kicked up a whirlwind of dust while it shuddered down to rest on its landing gear.

"Alright!" Boss exclaimed, "Kip must have escaped the Mark II; let’s roll!"

The craft’s engines rolled to a lower pitch and the rear cargo ramp swung down as we trekked across the clearing. I let my rescuers lumber into the waiting dropship first, and an unusually young voice greeted us upon entering,

"You guys don’t know how lucky you are! If you hadn’t crashed the other ship and triggered the emergency transmitter just then, I probably never would have found you before the zerg did!"

I took note of the short, wiry Terran who spoke over one shoulder without looking back at us, furiously flipping switches and working the complicated controls to get airborne again quickly. The ramp to the hold closed behind us while the engines screamed back up to speed.

"That’s odd," The small pilot announced out loud before finally turning around to face us, "The boosters are using more power than they should to just be- Oh, god! Where’d that thing come from?!"

Kip, as Boss had referred to him, practically leapt out of his pilots seat upon first sight of me.

"Relax, man," T.J. tried to calm the panicking Terran, "It’s only biggie! Fly us out of here before his pissed off look-a like’s show up."

"What do you mean by ONLY?! That thing’s huge! What could you possibly be doing with it?!"

"Are all the members of your race frightened so easily?" I growled to no one in particular.

"It speaks, too?!" Kip practically screeched, interrupting me and covering his ears with both hands.

"And it’s going to be doing a lot more of it," Boss almost yelled in response, trying to get the kid to regain his senses before glancing towards me,

"Bane, tell em’ where to look for Reece. We’re getting off this planet!"

***

The hike up the canyon was slow and cumbersome due to my ribs, of which I suspected one or two to be broken or badly bruised, but the scenery along the way was breath-taking. Massive boulders in the river created swirling whirlpools in the water in some places, yet, the stream could appear almost glassy around the next bend, despite the wild current that surly lay just beneath. The rock walls always towered above, glowing a soft red in the afternoon sunlight on one side, while the other stayed almost a constant, cool blue in the shade. I slowly made my way upstream along the left bank, stopping to drink from the cold river periodically to keep myself hydrated. Occasionally, an odd looking fish would leap from the rapids, making an extra splash that stood out against the constant rush of the water. At some points, the river became really violent, and it amazed me that I had drifted so far down stream without drowning or getting smashed on a rock.

I don’t know far I walked, but some time into the trek, I finally came to the waterfall that Bane dove down to avoid the wraith’s missiles. It was almost as high as the canyon was deep, but the rocky incline next to it didn’t look unscalably steep. However, the only way to reach it was a hazardous swim across the turbulent, churning water at the base of the falls. Even attempting further exploration was impossible, yet, I felt strangely content with the just the sight of the majestic feature of nature that I found. Darkness would have been falling soon, anyway, so I decided to make my way back to the slain mutalisk.

Though I was beginning to grow terribly hungry on the way to the clearing where Bane washed up, the canyon’s scenery still captivated me with an entirely different mood. The high cliffs on both sides turned to a deep purplish color as the suns began setting. Reflections of these colors were cast on the running water, illuminating the opposite wall in a soft, shimmering glow. At one point, about halfway down through the hike back, I believe I found the place were Bane and I hit the water, but I couldn’t be sure. The light was fading fast and there wasn’t time to stand around and look.

I made it back to the clearing just before true night came, and once it did, I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. The moon wasn’t out, and my surroundings were pitch black. At first, I managed to keep my cool as it got darker and darker, but once my eyes became totally useless and little noises seemed to spring up everywhere in the night, I began to lose my nerve. The only thing visible was a slit of starry sky, making me feel like I was trapped in some deep, cold hole in the planet. I quickly began to wish for a zergling that could build fires, and as hunger got to me again, possibly one that could catch a few of those strange looking fish as well. Add this to the far off thud and roar of the swarms, and I was on the verge of being petrified by my own thoughts.

It felt like I sat there in the darkness forever, remembering in envy of how well Bane could see in such pitch blackness, when a new sound could finally be heard. It started as a distant hum, and began growing louder until I could identify it as some kind of hovering aircraft. I got to my feet, straining to see something in the impenetrable night, when, at last, a pair of bright search lights appeared from around the bend, about twenty feet over the water. The intense lamps scorched my eyes for a moment before they could adjust, and I had to hold one hand up to protect them while waving the other overhead in attempt to get the pilot’s attention. Who ever it was, they didn’t seem to need help spotting me. The ship approached quickly, with engines screaming in the confines of the canyon, before doing a single sweep over the area for the best landing spot. As it dropped its gear and finally inched down on the rock a short distance away, I got a better look at the craft and couldn’t believe what I saw. It was the other dropship from the Mark II.

***

"Too much time has passed! We should recall to the surface and search while the zerg are still occupied with the remaining Terran defenses!" Teilon’s telepathic voice was growing past urgency to concern.

"I agree," Dair’Sar added, "The cerebrate is more powerful than I expected, but we cannot stand idly by while it is overtaken by the swarms. How could Bane possibly leave the planet without a ship?"

"On the contrary," the last student contradicted his peers with calm, collected words, "We should give this ‘Hero’ more time. The cerebrate contacted us, before, with only the prowess of it’s mind; Surely, Bane would send word if trouble arose."

"San’ Dreale is right, my pupils," Rakeem replied with the same undying tone, but even the old Templar was secretly beginning to have doubts about the decision to let his friend go alone,

"Bane has survived countless sorties against Zerg and Terran ranks alike. I am sure that we will hear from the cerebrate, again, shortly."

"How can you be so confident?!" Teilon blurted suddenly, finally letting the brunt of his frustration be known, "Days have passed since Bane left, and all this while, the Zerg have tripled their numbers!"

The tense air on the bridge could have been cut with a knife at this point, and all students awaited Rakeem’s calm reprimand. However, before the Templar could respond, San’ Dreale spoke up from his constant post at the Kalimar’s control’s,

"In most instances, I wouldn’t interrupt such a productive conversation, but there appears to be a small Terran vessel approaching our position."

"Uncountable numbers of them have been abandoning the planet since the zerg appeared," Teilon turned to his pupil, "What makes this one different?"

The tension instantly dissolved, and only curiosity remained as the eldest student quickly presented the reason behind his decision,

"As you are all aware, the San’Sor arrived from warp space only a few hour’s time ago, and is now providing a cloak. However, the pilot of this Terran vessel has apparently located the Kalimar without the aid of detection. The cerebrate may be onboard."

"How did you come to these conclusions?" Dair’Sar was the first to object, speaking before Teilon could present the same argument, "The pilot could be simply flying towards us blindly; it has happened before-"

"That was my first assumption as well," San’Dreale interrupted while activating the hologram, so his brethren could see for themselves, "But the ship is slowing down."

The bridge fell silent as the four Templar watched the tiny, flickering image of the simple Terran vessel creep to a halt before the hulking shape of the carrier. Without warning, the Protoss were startled by a familiar mental shimmer that passed over them like a wave, eliminating any doubt in San’Dreale’s reckoning.

***

After a brief, but cheerful reunion with Bane and the mercenaries back in the canyon, the trip into space was mostly quiet and uneventful. Aside from the occasional word with Kip, who I was still shocked to see alive, the other Terrans said very little, and Bane was practically in a state of meditation. It seemed that the hydralisk didn’t take notice to me or anyone else onboard once we left the planet’s surface. At one point, when the others broke the silence with a sudden burst of conversation, I finally looked up from my seat to the silent beast that stood next to me,

"What’s wrong?" I asked, almost in a whisper. Bane had no trouble hearing my words, but did not answer with some of his own. Instead, the hydralisk merely stared down at me for a moment before going back into its own little world. Yet, when our eyes met, the answer hit me like run-away mutalisk. A blind man could have seen the pain behind those drained eyes in that moment; it was the kind of awful, grinding hurt that twists your insides, choking the life from you, and there’s absolutely nothing that can be done to stop it.

I wanted to say something, anything, to lift Bane out of this bottomless hole, but again, like back in the memorial, the words were caught in my throat. What can one say at a time like that? This created a feeling of true helplessness, far worse than that of being stuck in a canyon, lost in the desert, or trapped in a zerg-infested city. I could only sit there in the silence, torn by the extent of Bane’s condition, but as if on cue, somebody up front yelled above the others,

"Hey, get Biggie up here!"

Despite only a nickname being mentioned, Bane snapped to, moving up front without a word as everyone else cleared a path. I followed my friend to the pilots compartment, were Boss and T.J. were at the controls. The familiar, black sea of space filled one side of the windshield, with Tarsonis’s bland moon occupying the other. After the hydralisk squeezed itself through the short hatch, which took a moment’s effort, Boss spoke up again,

"We’re here, in the place you said, but I don’t see any carrier. What’s the deal?"

"Though I know nothing about this ‘deal’ you speak of, there is no need to fret. The Kalimar is simply fooling you with it’s cloak."

To my surprise, Bane’s telepathic voice didn’t show the slightest hint of his actual well-being,

"Are you sure?" T.J. piped up, "The scanners don’t have anything on-screen..."

"Indeed." the hydralisk repeated, "As a matter of the fact, you should halt this ship before we crash into it."

"Shit, Bane!" T.J. swore, throwing switches and reversing the thrusters, "It’s kinda important that you warn us about imminent, fiery death’s far in advance."

"Well, what’s the bright idea, now?" Boss grumbled,

Straining to see in the fathomless depths of space, I suddenly remembered how my friend helped me through the sewers back on Tarsonis,

"Let me see," I said quickly, peering up at the towering hydralisk that had to hunch over some to clear the low cockpit ceiling.

"As you wish," Bane answered, not seeming surprised in the least that I asked, "Clear your thoughts..."

"Let you see?! What does that mean?" Boss turned around and noticed me for the first time, but his words grew muffled as a now familiar numbness drifted over my senses. I had some difficulty immediately focusing on the alien consciousness that invaded my mind, but in a moment, the feeling of my body rushed away to be all but replaced by an amplified ability of hearing and the most jaw-dropping view of space anyone could ever dream of.

The carrier that Bane promised was sitting in plain view, only a few seconds’ flight away in the shadow of the moon, but my attention was immediately drawn to everything else. The backdrop for the Kalimar was the rocky surface of Tarsonis’s moon, with every crater and dip revealed in perfect detail. More impressive yet, was the other half of the windshield; It boasted a window to the rest of the universe. It was like someone threw a switch and the black void of space was replaced with light, multiplying the apparent vastness of it a hundred fold. A countless maelstrom of planets and bodies of colorful gases, huge and tiny, could be seen for an immeasurable distance. Eye-shot was ended only by the utterly tremendous light from the innumerable stars, setting the whole scene in an unreachable, fog-like bowl.

"...Wow..." I finally gasped breathlessly, stunned to the point beyond words.

"Hey, Reece! Are you okay? Can you see anything?" With my borrowed sense of hearing, T.J.’s voice sounded load and clumsy, as if it was gracelessly spat into the open air.

I managed to ignore the words, unwilling to answer for fear of shattering the delicate picture, but it was to be short-lived, anyway. T.J. soon took hold of my shoulder and gave me a shake, repeating the words,

"You alright, kid? Talk to us," The sudden movement dashed my focus on Bane’s mind and the dull human senses of my own body returned in a flash. Finally, I managed to shake my head and say something,

"Yeah..." I answered at last, "I see it."

"Well, if that’s the case, it’s a good thing you know your way around ships," Boss spoke up impatiently as he released his seat belt, "Jump up here and park this tub before the zerg find us all out in the open."

"Wait," I croaked as a realization hit me, "I don’t have the slightest idea where to dock with a Protoss carrier!"

"Good point," Boss admitted before turning to face the hydralisk, "We need your help again, biggie."

"One moment," Bane responded with a slight growl, "I will attempt to contact Rakeem telepathically."

"What’s a Rakeem?" Joe nagged from somewhere in the back, but my friend didn’t answer that question directly,

"Silence! It will take much concentration to reach the Protoss mentally; you shall know Rakeem soon enough."

I was grateful for what little practice I had using Bane’s vision and controlling my body with any amount of coordination at the same time, because there was no margin for a slip-up, now. With Boss keeping the ship at a crawl, I was able to maneuver the craft around to the front of the Kalimar, as Bane directed, and safely inside the main hangar without a hitch. Thankfully, once we we’re inside the hull, the cloaking field dissolved, allowing Boss to take command of the ship once more and finish the docking himself. Just past a short tunnel into the carrier, the interior space practically exploded outward, housing four sets of separate mini-hangers on either side. Each space held a row of unknown machinery and one sleek little vessel a piece. Soon, I would come to know the tiny ships as Interceptors, but for now, the sight of them was totally fascinating. The mercenaries and I we’re struck silent in awe as we flew past the fighters and over a motionless assembly line. The automated machines were perfectly still, as if frozen in time; complete with another one of the miniature fighter crafts only half-finished.

"I guess this is where we stop," Boss announced, finally breaking the calm as we came to a clearing at the end of the hangar.

"How do we know its safe to go outside?" I asked in confusion, "I didn’t see any air locks on the way in."

T.J. leaned forward, checking the instruments while the ship shuddered and heaved, hovering down to rest on its landing gear.

"The gauges show that everything’s cool," He reported as we finally rocked to a stop with one last whine of the engines, "The pressure and gas levels are a perfect match to what’s in here; Even the simulated gravity readings are the same."

"That can’t be right..." Boss mumbled, checking the instruments for himself. Mosely, who hadn’t said so much as a word the entire trip, finally spoke up,

"Open tha’ door and let’s see."

Although I don’t recall them being there on our approach, four pale, wiry looking beings, wearing bunches of tired old rags, were standing in a row as the dropship’s main hatch lowered to become the cargo ramp at their feet. These mouth-less, fiery eyed creatures competed with Bane in height, and they really startled me upon first sight of them. After all, I had never seen a Protoss, in person, until then. Without warning, a rough telepathic voice crackled into my mind,

"Bane! May the Khala be blessed; you’re alive!"

"Did you expect a different outcome?" The hydralisk growled, sounding almost sarcastic as it moved down the incline. However, I knew the terrible truth. Bane’s nonchalant attitude seemed paper-thin to me as the conversation continued,

"And you’ve hardly been scathed!" This was obviously a different speaker than the first, yet, Bane was quick to respond again,

"On the contrary, I have come closer to death than you know-"

"How did you find one specific Terran among thousands? Why did you bring so many others back with you?" Another, younger, voice rattled into my thoughts, interrupting my friend in mid-sentence with more prying questions, but the mercenaries were now inclined to speak for themselves,

"Hey, hey! Hold on there, ugly! What’s all this ‘Terran’ and ‘others’ stuff about?"

Boss was the first to break the ice for the odd group, marching out of the ship to stand next to Bane as he spoke,

"I’ll have you know that we played no small part in this little disaster! I’m out three light craft and one VERY expensive renovated cruiser; not to mention all the hardware collected onboard, and, to top it all off, my favorite downtown bar was trashed by a marauding band of zerglings! So, if you know what’s good for you, you won’t try to exclude us so quickly."

"I’m with you, Boss," Joe barked suddenly, "I’ve been running a pint low ever since we left the joint, and that sets me on edge. Now that I’m surrounded by strange aliens, I could start blasting any time!"

Were he capable of it, I believe Bane would have laughed just then, but whether it was caused by the mercenaries’ sudden outbursts or the relief they brought from the Templar’s nagging questions, I couldn’t tell.

These four, lethal-looking creatures, whom we just met, didn’t appear to be amused in the least.

"My apologies for my...friends’ enthusiasm; I had nearly forgotten their due introductions." the hydralisk began again with a growl that sounded more Bane-like than any I’ve had the opportunity to hear since we left the memorial.

"Very well," The first Protoss ‘voice’ announced after a short, tense pause, "What happened?"

"After your shuttle...carried me to the surface, I found the city already under siege by the descending swarms." Bane shifted to one side, so that I was no longer hidden from the Templars’ view, "However, by using their minds against them, I was able to find my friend before time ran out."

Almost before Bane could gesture toward me with one scythe, the Protoss replied in disbelief,

"A child?!" One of them blurted with fierce, glowing eyes. I could feel my own eyes heat up a little as the old peeve of being judged by my age flared at my temper, but I held my thoughts while Bane continued,

"Despite my efforts, we were separated once again and I found myself at the mercy of the swarms. However, before they could take my life, the Tarsonian defenses intervened. For reason still unknown to me, they spared my life, alone, from among my brethren, and took me prisoner. By miracle of fate, the same Terran warriors that ushered the mortal to Tarsonis were among them and came to my aid. With their help, we all escaped the planet nearly unscathed."

"Nearly?" The same Templar that spoke before interrupted with another singe-worded question, only this time, the tone was something more along the lines of sarcasm.

"We had a slight confrontation with a small number of my aerial counterparts during our exodus," Bane stopped only to motion towards his left, signifying the Terran there that still favored one arm by cradling it in the other,

"T.J. was wounded and requires attention..."

When my friend paused once more, he seemed to sigh before speaking again. I knew what Bane wanted to say next, but, somehow, I knew the words wouldn’t come.

"I...feel drained by my struggles...It is my wish that I have somewhere to be alone; where I may rest."

Out of everything Bane said, the eldest Templar seemed the most shocked by this. Yet, despite my expectations, the Protoss appeared to understand immediately. With only a nod, the tall, pale creature I suspected to be Rakeem, and the leader of the group, gave the command, prompting one of the other Templar to lead Bane away to a single, door-less passage that probably went deeper into the carrier.

"Bane!" I yelled as my friend practically sulked away, trailing behind the swift-legged Protoss, "Wait!"

On their own, my feet began to move beneath me, but the last Templar on the row turned with one arm as I passed, gracefully snagging me up by the back of the shirt as if it had preformed this trick countless times before. The featureless, yellow floor fell away from my booted feet as the surprisingly strong being lifted me into the air. I could hear the mercenaries tense up, but they made no move to help as the Protoss commander held me out at arm’s length and it’s impatient voice cut across my thoughts,

"The cerebrate has requested time alone, and even you shall respect that wish." The Templar moved only to shift its piercing gaze toward the other Terrans before speaking again,

"Were the decision up to me, I would cast the rest of you out into the open void of space, but since Bane see’s merit in your presence, you may have free passage onboard my ship until further notice."

I braced myself for the four foot drop to the deck, but the Protoss surprised me again by lowering me back to the ground, almost gently, before speaking one last time,

"However, IF any of you threaten me or one of my students with your barbaric weapons just once more, I shall personally ensure that it never happens again."

Without so much as another word, Rakeem turned from us and stalked off, with the two remaining Templar in tow.

"Hey, wait up! Where are we going?!" Boss yelled after them, but to no avail.

For a long moment, there was nothing but silence left with us in the vast hangar, until Mosely got the last word just as the scrawny, impatient beings vanished from sight completely,

"What’s their problem?"

 

That was the last I saw of my friend for two days. Everyone else seemed more than a little steamed at the Protoss for just leaving us in the hangar, but I didn’t really blame them, even though I never voiced that opinion. Boss and his crew of cohorts bickered and complained over our current situation for an hour or so, but they soon lost the fight for it. After all, the Interceptor II was low on cells, and the Kalimar seemed to be our only chance to escape the sector before the zerg finally cornered us.

From then on, time practically oozed by. The Protoss never returned to help with T.J.’s arm, so he eventually rummaged through the drop ship and found the field kit to dress the wound himself. It took ages, but I finally discovered a half-comfortable position on the cold metal floor of the dropship and managed to fall asleep for a few hours at a time. After waking to a breakfast of ration supplements, I quickly found myself going mad with boredom again, so the opportunity to explore the massive hangar caught my interest easily.

At first, I felt better and better as the sound of other voices faded away with each footstep. They soon vanished completely as I reached the beginning of the assembly area, rounded the corner and began studying the odd arrangement of huge machines. Motionless robotic arms protruded from the mass of rivet-less metal. Made from the same continuos material as the rest of the ship, the contraption before me appeared to be some kind of production line for building the small fighters from scratch, but raw materials and pre-forged parts were nowhere to be found. I walked the entire length of the miniature factory, but to no avail. Small, mysterious tanks were built into the machine at regular intervals, and every mechanized limb held an unusual apparatus that looked almost like a fancy gun barrel. A multitude of curved prongs stuck out like unruly fingers on the end of each one, making the whole mess look like some one melted a bunch of yellow robots together and their arms were left reaching out in all directions.

As my thoughts clashed over the new puzzle before me, the awful question surfaced in my mind again: Was Bane okay? Up until now, the beast I considered my best friend seemed mentally invincible, but I knew that the recent news of this Charley person had torn every last bit of life from the witty hydralisk and I appeared to be the only one who was aware of it. I was the only one who could help him.

I shook my head, tying to clear my thoughts, but the knowledge of Bane’s condition haunted me as I began my hike back to the dropship.

Because there was nothing better to do, I explored the hangar twice more that day; T.J. and Kip even joined me on the third trip, and they were welcome company while I wound my way through each of the adjoining ‘mini-hangars’ for the second time.

By the start of the second day, I couldn’t take it anymore. The mercenaries woke up with the same questions and complaints that no one knew the answer to and I began to wonder if I was ever destined to have a decent night’s sleep. It was in the middle of another one of Boss’s exasperated ‘What the hell are they doing up there?’s when I finally snapped.

"Hey, where are you going, kid?" Joe announced as he noticed me marching off without saying anything. I continued to ignore everyone else, but they didn’t make a move to stop me as I approached the large doorway that Bane and the Protoss disappeared through days ago.

At first, it was easy going. The bland, yellow hallway rounded a corner and began sloping upwards, but I immediately got an eerie feeling that I was being watched. Up ahead, I could see the corridor open to a junction point, and I began jogging to reach this new area, but as soon as I broke my stride, I was stopped dead by a wall of thin air.

"Are all Terrans as aimlessly clumsy as you?"

The strange, hoarse voice intruded my mind as I fell backwards and landed hard on the unforgiving metal floor, but my mouth was quick to bounce back,

"Are all Protoss so cowardly that they have to use their cloak to hide from little kids?"

The proud, rag-clad warrior responded immediately by fading into view before speaking again,

"What’s your business here, Terran?"

"You know what I want," I practically spat the words at the tall, deadly alien as I got to my feet again, "I came to see Bane, now, get outta my wa-"

The Protoss who I ran into glared down at me with fiery eyes, interrupting me in mid-sentence,

"Our patriarch has ordered that you and your kind remain in the hangar; there is no need to disturb the cerebrate."

If this situation happened to me at any point in my life before, I would have backed down, but something was different now. Sparks flew and a great fire roared to life from deep inside, bringing new life to my voice,

"I don’t care about your orders or who they came from," I snapped at the Templar, taking careful note of it’s place in the narrow hallway, "I’m going to see my friend!"

My opposition stood slightly to the right, making the left side the best place to try and slip by. Taking no chances this time, I dove for the floor at the Protoss’s right as I finished my sentence. The quick lunge took the calm warrior by surprise, and I just managed to roll to my feet and take off again without being snagged by the outstretched claw of a hand that tried to stop me. As soon as I knew I was loose, I poured my will into my feet and took off down the door-less corridor at a dead sprint. A few second’s glance back, while I rounded the first corner, revealed the Templar leisurely strolling after me with it’s long legs. In that short moment, the assassin disolved from sight in mid-step, rekindling my flight with the fear of being captured by the invisible alien. I faced forward again and raced ahead without looking back.

Around the next turn, my lone hallway divided off into four different directions. All I wanted, at the moment, was to get away from the stalking Protoss guard, so I hardly even slowed down to decide which passage to take. The next hall went by in a blur, but it opened to yet another junction just like the first. Again, I blew straight through without thinking about where my randomly chosen path actually led, but the persistent sound of my pursuer’s foot falls had finally died to a dull tap in the distance.

To my dismay, the hall began sloping upwards once more, and to make things worse, I was already winded from sprinting so far. At last, the incline leveled out, but I was hardly rewarded for my effort. A few paces ahead, the corridor split in two opposite ways, but I couldn’t go any further without catching my breath.

"...Now...which way?" I panted, leaning against the wall with one hand. As if it would do me any good, I turned and glanced back down the hall before taking off again. However, I only made two steps before stopping in my tracks.

There was a Ghost standing at the end of the corridor. Along with early footage of the zerg, abandoned records from the first Terran dominions were eventually found and pictures of the elite covert operatives had long been published in many history documents. This was obviously one of them. It silently stood there in full uniform, complete with ammunition belts, body armor, and a helmet full of gear that totally obscured this person’s face. The Ghost even wielded the signature C-10 canister rifle that they were still infamous for.

"What the..." I gasped, still somewhat out of breath, "Who are you?! How did you get here?"

The quiet soldier remained perfectly motionless, staring me down without the slightest hint of a response to my rambling questions. Aside from the fact that every piece of equipment it had was kinda worn and badly dated, something was inexplicably different about the mysterious Terran that now stood in my path, but I simply couldn’t place it. In the silent presence of the Ghost, the tell-tale sound of the Templar’s footsteps could be heard drawing near once more, but this nameless soldier seemed to notice the noise as well. After suddenly motioning to me with the barrel of it’s gun in the classic ‘follow me’ gesture, the operative turned from me and swiftly stepped out of view by taking the hallway on the left.

"Hey, what’s going on here?" I yelled ahead while leaping into a run, but I didn’t go far before stopping again. The distance the Ghost had traveled was literally stunning. It stood near the end of this passage in the same pose from the first time, as if it had been waiting there for me to catch up hours ago. In the split second that it was out of eye-shot, the soldier had apparently covered the entire length of the hallway; an impossible feat that sent chills up my spine. I did my best to shrug this feeling off and break into a sprint once more, deciding that following this unreal person had to be better than wandering through the carrier until the dark Templar found me.

"Man, this guy’s fast!" I coughed, struggling to keep this person in sight as I raced through the labyrinth of dull yellow tunnels in pursuit. The Ghost never ceased to amaze me still. Every time I thought I was getting close, it would step just out of sight, repeatedly covering inhuman distances in a matter of seconds without the slightest sign of effort or fatigue. Consequently, I was always left behind, tailing the soldier down hall after hall. At long last, with my legs turning to rubber and my lungs raging for air, I stumbled to a halt where the Ghost had disappeared down a short, wide corridor.

"Aww...c’mon, buddy!" I complained, gasping and sputtering, "Another hill?!"

As much as I didn’t like it, the last passage sloped upwards abruptly before opening to a large, circular area with great columns around its perimeter. Finally, the crazy soldier remained still as I trudged up to it’s side at the top of the incline.

"I really hope all this was worth it..." I began to rant as I came to stand next to the tall, rifle-toting maniac, but he interrupted with a simple jerk of the head, gesturing towards the spacious room before me. I looked again and my heart leapt; Bane was there.

Unfortunately, this happiness was short lived. The hydralisk had it’s back to me, motionlessly staring off into space through a long window on the opposite wall. Bane looked beaten and slumped, crushed by the unshakable weight of raw sorrow. I immediately began to think of some way, any way, to help my friend, when I suddenly thought of the Ghost again. It had led me to Bane.

"How did you know-" I began to say while turning to face this person once more, but he was gone.

The huge room I found Bane in seemed even bigger as I walked across its expanse to meet my friend on the other side. The hydralisk didn’t make any move as I drew near, nor did it acknowledge me when I spoke,

"Hi-ya Bane!" I piped, trying to sound cheerful, "Where you’ been all this time?"

Bane finally responded, but it was only with the same hurt stare that he gave me when I first asked what was wrong back on the dropship. As before, I was left powerless to say anything, and silenced reigned for a few painful moments more.

"You haven’t told any of the others...Have you?" I asked quietly, breaking the calm.

Following a heavy sigh, Bane’s telepathic words graced my thoughts at last,

"...My friend...asked me not to go...But, Reece, I had no choice..."

Along with the words, traces of this sadness were left imprinted on my mind, and the very feeling made my insides ache.

"I-It’s okay, Bane," I almost choked, unable to say anything else, "Everything will be okay..."

Another long moment of silence prevailed, until I could swallow the lump forming in my throat long enough to speak again,

"If there’s anything I could do to help..." I began, but I let the sentence die.

Despite my expectations, this brought a tiny sliver of life back to the hydralisk’s dull, crimson eyes,

"There was one other thing that Charley asked me to do before...I had to go,"

"What’s that?" I rebounded quickly, happy to finally be able to do something to help Bane out of this hole.

"My friend told me that I should...learn to use your written language. Could you-"

"Sure, Bane," I interrupted on purpose, "I’ll be glad to teach you."

 

To Be Continued...

 

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