The Saurian Crisis
The Prince, pt.1
"I'm sorry James, but I can't authorize you sending weaponry to an under-developed world."
"Maybe you missed the part where my SON IS DOWN THERE!" James McCloud shouted at the hologram of General Pepper. "We have evidence that the Venomian Reign is supplying technology to the local pirates on the planet. These people can't have tech like that for decades!"
"Listen, it's not that I don't want to, but the council is adamant in its decision. They say that we are not allowed to bring any type of advanced technology to the planet. They don't want us stooping to their level."
"Screw that! I don't give a crap what the council thinks, all I know is that my only son is down on the planet in a potentially, no, certain hostile situation!"
"They've tied my hands, James. If I authorize sending weaponry down there, they'll never sanction your fee, and that means you won't get paid!"
"Like I care,"
"But your son does, James." The vulpine looked up at the general. "Fox knows how important the Great Fox, the team, everything is, both to him and you." James looked away. "If it means keeping everything together, he'll fight them all barehanded if he has to." James let out a scoff of derision as the hologram faded.
The tunnel she lead them down was lit by torches along the walls, giving it barely enough light to find their way down. Fox felt the steps slimy with moss and God knows what all as Krystal led him further down into the earth. Finally the corridor opened up into a cavern, the torchlight gathered in the center giving more light, and Fox could see a large form resting inert on the ground. It looked like one of the larger natives, the "Thorn Tails" as Krystal calls them, but this one had a large frill on its head, a smaller beak and tail. It lifted its head at the two newcomers and tried to stand up. It faltered, and fell back to the ground with a mighty thud. Krystal ran to its side, placing a gentle hand on its flank as its breath came in and out laboriously. She spoke softly to it, something that Fox couldn't hear nor understand, and the being seemed to be becalmed by this, for its breathing slowed, but Fox could hear it wheezing and gasping for air, like it was suffocating. It spoke to her in a wheezing voice, and the two talked for some time, then Fox saw one the eyes focus on him, and he could see the spark of intelligence, wisdom, and hurt in it. Krystal stepped back from the form and turned to Fox. "This is the Queen Earth Walker." she said simply.
"What's wrong with her?"
"She is sick. The Sharp Claw poisoned her when the King left for the Walled City and hasn't returned."
"Can we help her?" Krystal shook her head.
"She won't accept any medicine until her son is returned."
"The prince. He's been taken by the Sharp Claw to the Snow Horn Wastes. We must find and bring him back here."
"Any idea where it is, or how to get there?"
"I know how to get there, but first we need to get supplies before we leave."
"Know where we can get some supplies?"
"A merchant in this valley has been supplying me since I got here. He'll help us."
"Okay, but what about the how? My ship can only fit one person so…"
"We won't be taking your fighter. What I have in mind is a bit more…faster." Krystal
walked away with a knowing smile while Fox looked on, confused.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
They came from the edge of the forest. A mob of Sharp Claw raiders arrived, armed with maces and axes. They shouted amongst each other in Saurian and they spread out around the frightened Thorn Tails, the males shielding the females and hatchlings and swinging their tails agitatedly. The raiders were split into two groups; One group kept the Thorn Tails at bay, feinting swings at them, while the rest scoured the area for anything they could use. The first thing they saw was the entrance to the temple. Their minds filled with wild ideas of treasure and loot, their greed drove them into the opening. Those that waited at the entrance heard grunts and shouts, followed by bodies flying from the entrance. A lithe, feminine figure with a pole ran from the dark interior, and with staff in hand, Krystal swung at one of the guards, knocking him senseless before turning on his compatriot and thrusting the sharpened end into his chest cavity. The corpse slid off the staff as the last breath of life left it and the Cerinian turned on the surprised mob of raiders. She twirled the staff around before taking a combat stance, making a 'come hither' gesture with her hand wearing a predatory grin. The first couple ran at her with snarls, only to be met with strikes from the Cerinian's staff to their face and body. They fell within seconds. Fox made it to the entrance to see the vixen take on a third Sharp Claw and dispense with him with as little effort with a simple blow to the head and a thrust under the jaw with the sharpened end of her staff. Shocked at the brutality and the sudden change in situation, he was rooted at the spot. As Krystal swung her blunt end of her staff at another, she turned to Fox. "What are you doing?!" she nearly shouted. Raising her staff above her head, blocking an ax strike from a raider.
"What?" he asked. Krystal spun around, smacking the raider in the back of the head and cracking his skull open.
"Use the brace!" she replied, spinning the staff around planting it in the back of the downed raider. Fox winced when he saw this, then looked back at Krystal. The Cerinian Shouted, whirled the staff above her head and struck another combat stance, the raiders giving her a wide berth. A larger form loomed over the raiders as it approached, its footfalls making slight tremors as it got closer. The raiders made a pathway for the newcomer, and Krystal and Fox felt their hearts drop closer to their stomachs at what they saw; A massive Sharp Claw raider with a blue hide and wielding a large battle ax in a clawed hand that looked like had to be hefted by two, glowered at the Cerinian vixen, its breath reeking of flesh as it breathed down at her. Krystal took a couple of steps back, readied her staff and braced herself. The attack came swiftly. The large raider backhanded her with enough force to send her sprawling on the grassy floor. The vixen landed on her side as she skidded to a halt and propped herself up on an arm, then to a knee. Fox let out a fear-filled gasp and tried to rush to her side, but a couple of the raiders stood in his way, brandishing their maces threateningly. He grabbed one by the arm and shoulder-tossed him to the ground before delivering a spin-kick to the other, his steel-heel knocking some teeth and sense out of the other before turning to the fallen and with the same foot, sending the steel-toe into the side of its face, knocking it unconscious, if not more. Others took notice of this while the larger raider bore down on Krystal menacingly, wearing a hungry smirk as it licked its lips. Then a sound of grunts and shouts were heard, and both Saurian and Cerinian looked to see more of the raiders attacking Fox, and the Cornerian fighting back. One tried to bring his mace down on the vulpine's head, but Fox evaded the attack and came up with an uppercut to its jaw, making it take a couple steps back while a high-kick floored it. Another tried to blind-side him, but Fox blocked the attack, sent a knee to its gut and a punishing fist to its eye, making it stumble back and snarling in pain while Fox focused on the other raider. This one lunged at him, but the Cornerian grabbed and rolled onto his back at almost the same time, using the raider's momentum against him and sent him almost flying into the other, knocking both senseless. As Fox trotted his way to the large raider, he sent a fist to the throat of one that tried to brain him with a mace, making it fall to the ground trying to breath with a crushed windpipe, swept the legs out of another with his arm after catching the weapon hand in his own and knocking him unconscious, and the third and last before the alpha raider he actually leapt clean over in a somersault, landed behind and just as the raider turned, it was met with Fox's boot in its face, its world going black. As Krystal watched, she couldn't help but be impressed with Fox's hand-to-hand prowess, while the alpha raider just snarled in agitation in response. Fox turned to the blue leader, a scowl on his face.
"Why don't you pick on someone your own size, ugly?" Fox taunted. The raider turned around, the Cerinian, for the moment, forgotten as this newcomer made his way through half of its men. The alpha raider gave a whistle, and the ones keeping the Thorn Tails at bay came in around the larger one. The alpha raider let a growling chuckle from its throat as the other tan-skinned underlings brandished maces and axes in a threatening manner. Fox felt his heart sink again when he saw them beginning to circle around him. He can take on two, maybe three, at a time. But a mob like this, he was certainly a goner. Gradually they closed in as Fox turned to face them, almost frantically, looking for a way out.
'Fox, remember what I said."
"Zenith," Fox muttered and looked down at the brace.
'You have my power now, Fox. Use it.'
"How? I don't know how to use it."
'I'll show you,' It felt like soft hands were on his arm as it seemed to be lifted gently of its own accord. His right arm with the brace was raised over his chest and left shoulder and paused. Then he felt fingers on his hand close it into a fist.
"What's going on?" he asked. Even the raiders seemed puzzled by this. At that point, an image appeared in Fox's mind, one that looked like the being Zenith in the same pose as he was, bringing his arm down slowly as a type of glowing blade extended from the brace. Fox felt his arm doing the same action, and to his surprise saw the same type of blade grow from the brace. When it was fully extended, Fox looked at the sword with surprise and shock, while the raiders muttered in their native tongue in bewilderment. As Fox looked at the new weapon, he looked back at the raiders, and felt an understanding grow in him. With a smirk, he wielded his new weapon intently and rushed at one of the raiders. He slashed downward and sliced open both chest plate and chest cavity as the Saurian coughed blood and fell to the ground dead. One bore down on him with a shout, but when Fox raised the blade up to guard against the mace, the Saurian's weapon head sliced itself in half when it struck the glowing sword. The raider looked down at his useless stick, then back at Fox who wore a confident smile. The raider threw down what was left of his weapon and ran the other way as fast as he could. The others saw this, and decided that survival was more important than looting. They even threw down their weapons as they ran. Fox could only chuckle in triumph while the alpha raider shouted curses at his underlings in his native tongue while Krystal was amazed at the sudden turn of events. It was then that Fox turned to face the blue-skinned raider as it waved its heavy battle ax in a threatening manner. As Fox ran with a shout and his blade ready for a side swipe, the alpha raider raised his battle ax to bring it down on the Cornerian. Both celestial weapon and Saurian metal met in a shower of sparks, and the ax head went flying off in another direction to fall to the grassy plain. The alpha raider looked at the useless handle before chucking it at Fox, who sliced it in half. He then ran at the raider again, but the Saurian stepped out of Fox's way and almost caved his skull in with a heavy fist. Fox's vision swam and his head pounded, but Fox fought the darkness to remain awake and fight this foe. As Fox swung the blade to keep the attacker at bay, the alpha raider chuckled in response and circled around him, waiting for the opportunity for Fox to drop his guard. However, Fox's senses returned just in time as he sent a thrust at the raider, hoping to stab him in the gut, but the Saurian twisted out of the way in a split second and sent a kick to Fox's body, sending him skidding to the ground. Fox coughed and had the sickening taste of bile in his mouth as his ribs ached and pained whenever he drew breath. He stumbled to his feet when he felt something large knock him to the ground and plant him there. He looked over his shoulder to see the alpha raider plant his clawed foot in his back, the claws digging into his vest as the raider laughed dementedly as it looked down at him. Krystal got to her feet and pointed her staff's round end at the raider and fired off a couple of fireballs. Both red balls of flame struck the raider in the back, but they seem to hardly faze him as he looked over his shoulder in puzzlement. Krystal looked slightly afraid as the raider turned from Fox and strode to the Cerinian. Krystal swung with her staff but the raider caught it in a clawed hand and jerked it free of her grasp, throwing it to the ground away from them as he grabbed her in his other hand. Krystal choked as the grip nearly crushed her throat as the raider lifted her up off the ground to his eye level. Krystal fought back by pounding the fist with her own or kicking him in the stomach and chest, but this proved to be futile. He shook her violently, and action that threatened to snap her neck like a twig. The raider heard a sound and looked over his shoulder to see Fox running at him with a yell and the blade raised over his head, only for the raider to use his tail to knock Fox back in a backwards somersault. The blade vanished from the brace when Fox stopped rolling and looked up at the alpha raider as he seemed to study the Cerinian, as if wondering which part to mutilate first. Krystal spat in its face, but it hardly noticed. "Now what?" Fox asked.
'There is one option.' Like before, Fox's arm seemed to be guided by unseen hands, bending upwards at the elbow while the brace glowed brightly. From either sides of the brace, two blade-like appendages sprung out, while a thin line of white materialized between them, like a bow made of red light. The arm then pointed itself at the back of the raider as the other arm guided itself to the bow-string, pulling back on it as Fox looked down the sight where the arrow should be. He breathed in and out, slowly, then released. An arrow of light launched itself from the bow and flew into the back of the raider. It let out a scream of pain as it suddenly released Krystal, who backed away from it as it tried to clutch at the thing in its back that caused it so much pain. When it turned around to face Fox, he was already readying another arrow, and fired the second one into the Saurian's face, almost cleaving the skull in two. The dead raider fell to its knees, then to its side as blood gushed from the large rent in its face. Fox lowered the bow, the limbs dissipating like vapor as he ran to Krystal.
"Are you alright?" he asked, holding his hand out to the vixen. She nodded, and with a smile she accepted the hand as Fox helped her up.
"Yes, I'm fine." Fox looked down at the brace, the red diamond glowed softly with a warm light, then went back to its normal scarlet color. Fox studied it more intently as he brought it up.
"This thing is amazing. We don't have anything close to this." Krystal felt a knowing smile creep along her face.
"That's nothing. You haven't used Zenith's full power yet." Fox looked at the Cerinian.
"How do you know so much about it, and him? You acted like the brace belonged to you, and Zenith even talked to you. How do you know him?" Krystal tried to answer, but looked away and back at the temple.
"We should find the merchant. His shop is not far from here." With that, the Cerinian walked towards another part of the ruins, leaving a bewildered Fox to ponder more at the situation. Krystal stopped at one of the walls of the temple, and placed a hand on it, sweeping over it as if looking for something, then she felt her hand press against a switch, and a part of the wall in front of her slid out of the way, revealing another entrance into the ruins. Fox felt his eyebrows rise and Krystal turned to face the Cornerian. "Shall we?" she asked. Like before, the Cerinian led Fox into the bowels of the earth.
The way down didn't seem quite as long as the walk into the Queen's chambers. It only took a third of the time to reach the end of the steps and come across another entrance blocked by a piece of hide with a symbol on it. Krystal lifted the flap out of the way and gestured for Fox to enter with the Cerinian following. The interior of what Fox assumed to be the shop was rather large. Torches lined the walls of the cavern, giving ample light to those who wished to buy wares from the stands and shelves that lined the walls, while other corridors went into other caves, also with wares and products. However, it was the shopkeeper that had Fox's undivided attention; It floated towards them, having no legs at all, just having a long tail coming from the abdomen, while the Saurian wore a dark tunic and braces on its body and forearms, its head wearing a hide cap with strands of fur coming from the crown and trailing to the back. Its head was like that of the Sharp Claw, but its demeanor was more sly and crafty, like a scaly weasel. It had its hands clasped together and what Fox could only assume a smile on its face as it floated towards them. "Ah, welcome mistress Krystal once again, to my humble store," the Saurian spoke in a reedy voice, making an elaborate bow. "And I see you have brought a friend with you. And I assume that it was you who caused such a ruckus up there?" he asked, pointing an accusing digit at Fox. "Bad enough that the Sharp Claw frequent the valley now that the King and Queen are all but dead and gone, but now you've given them cause for revenge, and to raze everything to the ground!"
"Don't forget, friend, that you were a Sharp Claw yourself." Krystal retorted, saying the word friend with a hint of sarcasm. The shopkeeper only grunted and took on a different demeanor, while Fox was surprised that the Saurian was able to speak near-perfect Cornerian, at least that's how it sounded to him.
"Well in any case, you know the drill, little missy. But as for you," he pointed at Fox, "let me lay down some ground rules; Everything here is for sale, for a price. Anything you could ever need to survive the perils of Sauria can be found here and nowhere else. However, I won't accept anything else, but the rarest of treasures."
"But, we don't have any-" Krystal ribbed Fox to keep him quiet while the shopkeeper continued.
"Furthermore, if you find something of interest, bring it to me and we'll discuss the price, and I'll not tolerate thievery, and I'll know if something's been taken." He leered at the Cornerian, who seemed to be slightly intimidated by this strange creature. "Other than that, please browse my wares and see if anything in my humble abode strikes your fancy." The Saurian made another bow and moved out of their way as Krystal and Fox walked down the chamber.
"Is he always like that?" Fox asked.
"Don't worry, he gave me the same treatment when I first came here."
"What all do we need?"
"We need maps, and this place is the only one that has them."
"Well I can just call my friends and they could…"
"It won't do any good. Something here jams all sensors from taking accurate readings of the planet and the landmasses. The only way to navigate around is by the local maps."
"Oh. What else."
"Some supplies, cold weather gear, and something for the gate keeper."
"Gate keeper?" Krystal stopped at one of the stands that held something that looked like square-cut stone with gold patterns and a ruby in the shape of a diamond in the center. Krystal picked one of them up, feeling the weight in her hands.
"Oh, good choice," the shopkeeper said, popping up behind them. Fox gave a startled grunt while Krystal almost whirled.
"Could you please not do that?" Fox asked. The shopkeeper chuckled in response.
"You mammals are so easily startled. It's the only amusement I get anymore. Well, that and the occasional blood-shed that occurs when a raiding party rolls through."
"Whatever, just add this to the list." She handed the stone to the shopkeeper and headed down one of the other tunnels with Fox following. The Cornerian found her looking over a stand with various large scraps of parchment, with other stands having the same, and assumed that this is where the maps were kept. Krystal picked up a few and rolled them up before going down another tunnel, making the slightly frustrated Fox follow her again before he stopped at another cavern entrance where Krystal was gathering what looked like furs and hide. "Here, make yourself useful." She handed the bundle of furs to Fox, who took them while grunting in confusion as the Cerinian ran down another hallway with Fox following, feeling the strain in his arms as he tried to keep up. At this point, he cursed the fact that Saurians hadn't invented the shopping cart. He found Krystal to be gathering other supplies, presumably food since he saw her grab what looked like eggs from a stand. She looked back t Fox as she went down another tunnel. "Well don't just stand there, we need to hurry!" she said with a sense of urgency. Fox let out a groan as he followed Krystal, the strain becoming almost painful as he wondered whether or not she remembers he saved her from a near-death experience. When he did catch up to her, it looked like she and the shopkeeper were negotiating the price, and the Saurian sounded less than enthusiastic.
"If I had known you were trying to swindle me out of my own goods, I would have thrown you out the first time I saw you. Sixty!"
"Goods that you got through ill-gotten means, I'm sure. Forty!"
"Fifty, and that's it!" The shopkeeper grumbled and bowed his head in defeat, holding out a clawed hand. Krystal pulled a pouch from behind that seemed to be brimming with something that wriggled within. When Fox got a closer look, he could see small shapes moving in the cloth, and when Krystal opened and poured out some of its contents, he could see what they were; brightly colored beetles, ranging from metallic green, red and yellow. The Shopkeeper held out his hands greedily as his eyes lit up with glee when he saw the scarabs. He cackled as he turned around and floated down one of the corridors, clutching his wriggling prize to his breast. Fox looked on in confusion and turned to Krystal.
"That's the 'rarest of treasures'?"
"He…really likes scarabs." she said with a shrug. The climb upward was harder for Fox, and wishing he didn't have to carry so much supplies did not help much either. When they finally reached the top, he nearly dropped everything when Krystal said he could put them down. She went over to a large stone and with her staff extended, inserted the edged end into the notch where the rock met the ground. Using the staff as a lever, she lifted the stone up, revealing another passageway down. She asked Fox to gather the supplies again and follow her down. With a groan, Fox gathered the winter gear and went down another set of steps, vowing that once this was over, he'd never climb another flight of stairs again. The climb down wasn't long, and when he reached the bottom, what he saw took him for a loop; It was another cavern, lit with torches and runes, figures and symbols etched onto the walls. In the center of the cavern was a silvery, angular ship that seemed to be in the shape of a bird of prey, or something similar. Around the ship were crates and bags of supplies and rations, making Fox wonder why she needed to barter for all this stuff. When she told him to set everything down in front of the ship, she went into the hatch and disappeared within. When she came back out, she was carrying a large empty sack, and began to fold and stuff the supplies in the sack as Fox looked around the cavern. Aside from the crates of supplies, most of which were half empty, there was a stool and table near one of the torches with books, a battery-powered lantern and a sleeping bag. Though why she wouldn't want all of these in the ship in the first place was anybody's guess.
"How long have you been on this planet?" Fox asked, looking round.
"Two months, I think. It's easy to lose track of time around here." Krystal finished loading the sack with the gear, and started loading the food and supplies in another one.
"Why didn't you send a message back to your people? Maybe get some help out here."
"The transmitter was damaged when I tried to reach Krazoa Palace. In case you didn't know, the palace is protected by a storm that never ends. It's a mystical barrier produced by the palace's energy source. I was foolhardy enough to try to land there when I intercepted the SOS signal. I'm lucky all I lost was the transmitter, and no small amount of pride." Fox raised an eyebrow at that. "When I first got here, I thought that I'd settle the matter quickly, rather than take the smarter course. I charged in headlong into the storm, and it wasn't until I got jostled around and nearly scared out of my wits that I decided on a different course. I was able to find this place, and the Earth Walker Queen filled me in on what has been happening here."
"What all is happening here?" Fox asked. Krystal looked up.
"General Scales, the leader of the Sharp claw, has stolen the Spell Stones, the relics that hold Sauria together, in the hopes that someone would find them and the Krazoa Spirits."
"What are…Krazoa Spirits?"
"Mystical beings said to have been born when the universe was made. My own culture references them, but here they are a vital part of the Saurian society. They are said to be the maintainers of the balance of the universe, and the temple on this planet is one of the few left in the cosmos that can harness their power. It is said that they helped shape this world, and created the Spell Stones that hold this world together."
"But why would General Scales want someone to find the Krazoa Spirits?"
"Maybe because he couldn't do it himself. It takes someone who is pure of heart to house a Spirit and bring it to the temple."
"Someone like you?" Fox asked. Krystal saw the smirk, and smiled back.
"I'd like to think so," she replied. "I've already gotten one in the palace already."
"How many are left?"
"Five. And they're in shrines that only the king and queen know about. If we're going to find them, we need to find the prince and bring him here."
"What are we waiting for then?" Fox asked. Krystal couldn't help but smile at his enthusiasm and shouldered one of the packs and handed another to Fox, who one of the straps over his shoulder.
It was dusk when they traveled up the side of the hill where the temple rested against. Following the trail upwards, they reached the top of the hill, which had a small pond in the center and a large stone idol in the center. To Fox, it looked like the stone eyes of the statue followed them. When Krystal set her pack down in front of the statue, she looked up at the face of the idol. "I've come bearing an offering, great Warp Stone." Just then, the face of the idol moved, and the rest of the body did as well. Once more, Fox was rooted to the spot in amazement as the golem loomed over the Cerinian.
"Have ye got what I desire, lassie?" the golem asked in a thick accent. Krystal smiled and pulled out the same stone-like parcel she bought from the shop in the ruined temple. With a grunt of satisfaction, the golem tenderly took the rock in between thumb and forefinger. "A sweet from a sweetie, indeed," it replied. Krystal had to smile at that. It took the rock to its cavernous mouth and swallowed it. It looked down at the Cerinian with a satisfied smile on its rocky face. "Where would ye like me to take ye to, lass?"
"We wish to travel to the Snow Horn Wastes!" Krystal said to the golem.
"Hmmm, mighty chilly where you're going, lass. Are the both of you dressed warmly enough?" he turned to Fox's direction as well.
"Best not to waste time then," the golem lowered one of its hands to the ground palm up, and both Krystal and Fox stepped onto the hand. "Off to the Snow Horn Wastes you go!" A blinding light emanated from the statue, and Fox had to shield his eyes from the brilliance as he felt Krystal's hand on his as the sensation like being sucked through a vortex pulled them from the hand and into a place he couldn't imagine.