Once again, an enormous, dark cloud swirled around the Stone Dragon. This time, though, there was very little sand. It was dark black smoke.
The wind was stronger out in the open desert sea, so I knew that the shell of fumes would disappear soon, letting us know if we had succeeded or not.
"Excellent work, Katrana. You too, Skyler. Our plan worked…it worked." Considering that we had heard nothing from Mansod or Sifen, and Kavid was more than likely…gone…I dared not say that the Charged Particle Gun ambush went well.
The PAC-Wolves and their "invincibility" were nearly defeated once again. When we fought the Death Sniper, we faced an enemy that had a secret weapon to destroy two of us. This time, it was a foe that relied on brute force. Most of the PAC-Wolves were beyond repair just from the Stone Dragon's sheer determination.
PAC-1 was a sad sight. Its armor plating was dented and scarred, and there were some armor plates only dangling on. The thump in the controls was twice as bad, now.
"I was happy to help you, Captain Kelt." Said Skyler. "That was quite a rush."
Rush. That murdering bastard.
When Katrana's voice came up, she was angry, "Skyler! That Vampire of yours is wimpy! Your beams fired at half power! Why did…oh no!"
My eyes shot over to the vanishing smoke.
The Stone Dragon was still standing.
"Impossible!" yelled Skyler. Was that a touch of sarcasm?
The entire right side of the Liger was charred black, and little patches of fire danced across its body like bugs—but its legs were still attached. All of its starboard-side armor was stripped away, but the CPGs hadn't penetrated the Zoid's core, or even broken the leg joints.
Now I knew what a Zoid steak might look like.
The only answer could be…
"Plasma Armor." Said the voice of the Dragon's pilot. It hit me like a Gojulas fart. I knew that voice! "You've seen it before. We all have. Even your Blade Liger buddy Skyler over there."
"Bruticus!" The voice was that of Namor Bruticus, the pilot of the Death Sniper. "How did you get out of prison? How did you get your hands on a Zoid that powerful? How did you get Plasma Armor again?"
So many questions were pounding through my mind that I didn't take notice of the Blade Liger Vampire running out to take stance next to the smoking Stone Dragon.
Luckily, Katrana was on top of things…in more ways than one. "So, Skyler is your Imperial ally, eh, Bruticus? We knew he would be big, but we didn't expect the Vampire. That explains why his CPG shots had such a low power level."
I was starting to feel very left out of everything. "What are you talking about, Katrana? You knew Bruticus was the Stone Dragon's pilot?"
Katrana's image popped up on my HUD, and she looked very guilty. "I'm sorry, Jeremy, but we wanted to catch his Imperial weapons supplier, so, we let him escape."
I felt like the stupidest guy on all of planet Zi. Once again, betrayed by Katrana Sared.
"We knew he'd come straight for you, so, for your protection, we gave you the PAC-Wolves."
I butted in. "And Skyler joined Nevets' squad to keep an eye on us until Bruty-boy could reach us. You just didn't expect that Nevets would be trying to kill us, too."
"Exactly. Coming out here because of Nevets' information probably saved your life, Jeremy." Said Lieutenant Sared.
I felt my face go red with rage. "Tell that to Kavid, Katrana!"
"Well, now that everything has been cleared up, let's finish this up, shall we?"
The Blade Liger Vampire's Charged Particle Beams nailed the Berserk Fury's starboard side, quickly burned their way through and exploded out of the opposite side. They weren't half-power anymore. Katrana screamed both in shock and in pain. The Fury's body collapsed onto its chest, flopping like a dead fish.
"Damn!" I growled. I picked up a remote control that Sifen had given me this morning, and hailed Skyler. I knew that his ego had to respond. His gloating image flickered into my view in just a few seconds.
"Don't try to beg for your life, Kelt. I intend to kill you, too. You were stupid to trust me."
Before he could flicker off, I showed him the remote control. "See this, Skyler? I never did trust you." I pressed the button atop the remote.
The Blade Liger Vampire was engulfed in lightning bots as its power core went into hyper-discharge. Skyler was forced to endure electrocution for nearly a dozen seconds until his fried Zoid's power was totally drained, and its smoking body teetered over and crashed onto the sandy dunes.
"Sifen found some really neat equipment in that parts hangar. Wish I had one attached to your Zoid, Bruticus."
"We seem to be at an impasse, Kelt. I'm out of ammunition, and your wimpy dog could never break my Liger's armor. Shall we call it a draw?"
I was so mad at that moment I nearly broke my teeth with all the grinding I was doing. That asshole had possibly killed all of my friends, and now he was telling me to just let him go?
But he had a point.
PAC-1 could fire for all eternity and never knock out the Stone Dragon. Eventually, that big Liger would take out my little Command Wolf, even if the Liger was half-cooked. Maybe my only choice was to retreat, re-arm and come back stronger…
That is exactly was Bruticus would do as well! And if I ever did it, Kavid would never forgive me, even if he was gone…
A new feeling overwhelmed me, a feeling I swear was real. PAC-1 felt my passion, and channeled it into the loudest roar I've ever heard a Command Wolf roar. As if guiding me along, PAC-1 started running towards the Stone Dragon even before I moved the controls. The turret aimed quickly and precisely. The shots seemed to fire even before my finger could pull the trigger.
My Zoid and I fought as one, for a similar purpose, willing to pay the same price.
Bruticus' Zoid was struck again and again. Each strike seemed to hurt it more are more, despite it's plasma protection. PAC-1's 150mm cannon did not miss, as if it had supernatural powers. The Stone Dragon could not outmaneuver the Command Wolf in its damaged state. I focused on the right side of the SD, and with PAC-1's help, I hit the same spots over and over and over.
Finally, after over two-dozen hits on the front right leg's shoulder joint—the leg snapped!
Was it because of weakening by the Charged Particle Guns, was it because of spiritual powers gained by PAC-Wolf-1, was it a miracle? Who knows. The fact of the matter was that the Stone Dragon was finally damaged.
But it didn't fall.
Amazingly, the battered Zoid managed to stay standing upright. It was wobbling, however. I finally had the upper hand.
I opened a hail "Do I start firing on the rear leg, Bruticus?"
"You will not defeat me…again." The determination in his voice was deep.
"Sorry, buddy, but I've got too much to fight for right now." Before I could open fire, heavy blasts slammed down from the sky, raising up a wall of sand between PAC-1 and the Stone Dragon.
I looked up to see a squadron of Redlers swarming in. The squad knocked my Zoid over as a pair broke off towards the Blade Liger Vampire. They dropped heavy hooked cables down to the Zoid, snagged it and raised it into the air. A group of four did the same with the Stone Dragon.
In a matter of moments, I was left gazing up at the shrinking silhouettes of my enemies as they disappeared over the dark horizon.
I couldn't tell how long I had been sitting in the cockpit of PAC-1, bit I was tired and thirsty. My cheeks were wet, and my throat hurt. My Command Wolf's head was slumped down on the sand. Either it was depressed or in pain. Or both.
After all was said and done, after all my friends had suffered, it had been for nothing.
The Stone Dragon had gotten away.
What did I have to show for it? It's leg? I had been betrayed again, so now I had no home, and possibly no friends.
All thanks to Plasma Armor.
Insanity began knocking at my door.
Someone really was knocking at my door. There were knocks against the Command Wolf's cockpit hatch.
Well, there was no point in delaying the inevitable. The Imperial Army had come for me, and I had nothing left to fight with. Oh, I had some ammo left, but the desire to fight was done. Without that, ammo doesn't mean much.
I popped the hatch.
"Captain Kelt! Whatchu' doin' in here? I sure is happy ta see you's alive!"
"Back at you big guy!" I had been fighting for so long that I had forgotten about Bruno. He must have been watching the battle from a distance the whole time. His big ugly mug had never made me smile so much. I quickly grew more somber. "I'm afraid the others may have been killed. At least Kavid has."
"Oh. Well, I don't knowse about the others, but I know that Kavid ain't dead."
I looked up hopefully. "What makes you say that?"
"'Cause he hasn't told us yet!" Bruno smiled a huge smile. I just couldn't bring myself to match it. He always had a lot of faith in Kavid's strength.
As I climbed out of PAC-1 I could see Bruno's eyes were staring hard to the west. "What's wrong, buddy?" I asked as I turned around.
"Would ya look at that."
What arose over the desert horizon was a vision of legend. An armada of Whale Kings emerged from the red sunset. The wall of flying Zoid cargo-ships spread from one end of the horizon to the other, flying at a slow, determined speed and low altitude. The dozens of lights on the massive Zoids all blinked in haunting unison as they passed over us and head east..
"They're all from the Republic." Bruno said in shock. "Where do you suppose they're going off to?"
There was only one answer.
"They're going to war."
To Be Continued…