Author's Note: I know how late this is and while I could name a number of them, there is no excuse in the world that I can use to justify it. The important thing now is that it's done and I'm working on the next one as we speak. Anyway, enjoy the chapter everyone.
Chapter 31: To Overcome, To Endure
Seeing ribs held by an arm, through his subconscious Eric saw an opportunity. He knew that Zack wasn't invincible and he was still a man. His personality and ethics said otherwise, mind you, but he was still a man, and thus he could be killed. While the Chthonian Armor itself was run purely on emotion, Eric could still see what was going on. Although in the past he couldn't… at least not clearly. Maybe it was because he had a better understanding of the armor itself compared to last time. Maybe it was due to its reduced power that he maintained a degree of his senses.
It wasn't as if the suit itself was completely sentient, it just react to the user's emotions. The whole idea in the creation and proposed distribution of this armor was that it was supposed to make the ultimate soldier. One that wouldn't be hindered by fear and other crippling emotions. While he may appear to be brave… or stupid, given the reputation of the man in front of him, in the inside he was scared. Scared that he could possibly die, or end up killing anyone else. The last time, he almost killed Tara and Hope. He was going to have to make sure that it didn't go too far.
Watching him rush towards his direction, bursts of energy continued to fire from his palms as he dodged them all. Despite his injury, Thomas still was able to move. Perhaps Hope did have a point about him not having any emotions or feelings. Eric discarded those thoughts as he rushed forward as well, his armored hand pulled back as his fingers curled into a talon. Despite his fear of death, he could care less if he died or not, all that mattered was that he went down for good! Then they could focus on saving Penny and the others, getting the hell out of there, and forget all that has ever happened. Then he could finally go back to Kim, and she would finally be avenged, "DIE!"
Upon impact, both were knocked back as Eric looked down at his tendered hand. Sparks of electricity sprouted from the metallic covering as Zack landed on his feet still favoring his ribs. All he had to do was to just keep moving, keep keeping him on the defensive until he let his guard down. Then it would be the end, and the Black Demon would be put to rest once and for all…
"Is that all you're good for, Mayers?" He heard his taunts, "Just a little bitch that hides behind his armor and blasts?" He knew he should just ignore them. There were only mere words of a desperate man. "How about you try fighting like a man for once in your pathetic life?" He was the one using beam sabers yet he was the one accusing him of hiding behind a weapon? No matter, the armor protected him from them before, and what Thomas wounded he could always heal. He may've been a good fighter, as mercenaries go, but compared to him with this armor, his whole body was a weapon.
Slash after slash after slash, the electrified fists repelled the beam blade as Eric looked for an opening. Behind those dark glasses, Thomas' had to show some sign of fatigue. With his injuries as well as the intensity of the battle at some point he had to tire. That was where his advantage kicked in. The armor wasn't as powerful as it was originally, but it had enough power to act as his life support.
Using whatever force he could to parry him back as far as he could, behind the helmet his eyes narrowed. 'This was it,' He decided. He was going to send Zack to hell where he belonged, and avenge every single person he's ever hurt, maimed or killed!
The sliding doors of the elevator slowly opening, a head peered out. Checking to see that there was absolutely, positively, undeniably no one guarding outside. The last thing they needed was to be ambushed. "Looks like the coast is clear…"
"…Are you sure?"
"Unless they can hide in the shadows – which is pretty cool itself – yeah, I'm sure there's no one here."
Sighing, Tara stepped out after Ron, followed by Hope and Usagi. Knowing the risks they were taking, they would have to make sure that there was nothing that could put them into danger. She knew Ron and Hope could defend themselves at least. But for Usagi and herself? High precautions would have to be taken. She wanted to see her sister once again, the last thing she could do was to show up in front of her in a body bag or worse. All both and Hope had in their hands were guns. Ron had that golden sword that sometimes appeared in his hand, but would it be enough to handle real guns and rifles?
Hope wasn't exactly feeling the atmosphere, seeing a small amount of rust on the otherwise-high tech cells. She knew that it had to be some type of holding block, but was it where Penny was being held. "Is Penny really here?"
"She's gotta be…" Ron's resolve was absolute, "I'll search this entire building until I found her…"
"And I'll be there to help." Tara was determined to not only save Penny, but to work on developing a relationship with her. The last time they talked Penny showed absolutely no desire whatsoever to have anything to do with her. She wouldn't be surprised if she held her responsible for the way she was. She closed her eyes, now she definitely had to work on developing a relationship with her. The last thing she wanted, the last thing she could possibly stand, was to have someone in your own family who hated, loathed, and despised you, especially if that person was your twin.
"Wow…" Usagi looked around, "It's so quiet here… I mean doesn't anyone find it strange that there aren't any guards around here."
"She has a point…" Hope glanced, "Wouldn't the guards want to make sure that there wasn't anyone trying to break out Penny or Penny trying to break out?"
"Either she's not here, or they're really lax with the security."
"Or what if it's all a trap, Ron?" Usagi froze, "What if they know we're here?"
"Shh!" Ron leaned himself back against a wall. "I think I hear someone coming!" He turned to the girls, "Get back!"
Without question, the girls scurried behind him as the blonde peeped through the corner. Upon distance he could hear the sound of wheels rolling on the hard floor as he heard voices…
"She seemed to be more filled with rage by the day."
"It's only a matter of time, Albert. It's only a matter of time before she is broken completely…."
Tara blinked at their words, "Broken?"
"Shh…" Ron had to admit, hearing what was being said wasn't exactly comforting. If they were talking about who he thought they were, he had to find and get Penny out of there quickly. With the possibilities of what they could be doing to her in his mind, or worse… He furiously shook his head, not wanting to even think about such horror. Ron watched on as he saw two figures. One appeared to be of a man who was as wide as he was short. While the other, an elderly Mediterranean gentleman, was one he knew too well. "Senor Senior Sr.!?"
"You know him?"
"Kim and I used to stop him and his son all the time, foiling their evil schemes." Ron sighed, "I still can't believe that I got him into villainy in the first place…"
Hope scoffed, "What did you do, tarnish his family name? Kill his son? Ruin his career?"
"I basically attracted him into the life of a villain. Now it looks like he's moving up in the big leagues." He shook his head, "I still can't believe he actually went with the Spinning Tops of Doom."
"Terrific…" Hope watched them push a stretcher with white sheet covering a body place on top. However a white, fur-covered tail was visible… "Is that…"
"It's her…" Truthfully, all that he had seen was her ears and tail, but from the size of the body under the sheets, it did seem to match hers.
"I'll see to it that she is secured and safe," They heard Khan offered.
The elder of the two was a bit shocked, "Are you sure? You do know the risks of-"
"She's still sedated, is she not?" Senior's nod was the confirmation he needed as he smiled, "Relax, I'll make sure that our guest is treated well. You go back with the others."
Senior sighed, "Despite that it goes against my better judgment, very well. I shall leave this task to you."
"Tell the others that I may take a few minutes. We all know how cranky she can be if awaken from her slumber…"
Hope's eyes narrowed at the remark, "I don't like where this is going…"
Usagi blinked, "What's that? What'd you mean?"
This comment only made Hope roll her eyes at how naïve she was, "It's not good, that's what! Don't you see he's gonna-"
"Shh…" Ron watched SSJ walk away as Khan opened the door. As Penny was wheeled inside, he was ready to make a move…
He could sense a small movement of her tail, but it didn't matter to Khan. It was now just her and him, no one else. She could cry all she want, try to escape, it wouldn't matter. This containment block contained cells, but the beauty of them was that they were sound proof. Perfect if they wanted to perform more "personal" experiments. The girl could struggle all she liked, but her screams would fall on death ears.
Carefully closing the door, Khan proceeded to remove the sheet from her form, revealing her in all of her glory. Aside from the cut-off jeans and torn T-shirt, her body showed all the right curves and assets. "You are a marvelous one, aren't you?" Chuckling he stroked the blonde hair, as its owner's movements began to increase. She would awake soon, but it wouldn't matter. It was just her and him, all alone and no one else…
"Damn…" The smell of burnt leather and flesh entering his nostrils, a frustrated groan escaped Zack's lips. Even when not at full power, the armor was still formidable, too formidable. Especially when you were with cracked ribs, bruises, and burns from WEE's torture. Not to mention a headache. Mayers, on the other hand seemed not to even break a sweat. In fact it seemed the longer they fight the stronger he became.
Quickly rolling to the side, evading another blast, Zack scolded himself. Why didn't he just kill him when he had a chance? When he was bounded, defenseless, and not wearing the Chthonian armor. Oh that's right, he wanted to give the bastard a chance to fight for his life! To make it more sporting! And look where it got him: Trapped, fatigued, tired, and nearly out of ideas.
His beam saber held downward, this whole ordeal was becoming more trouble than it was worth. Why was he even here anyway? What was he fighting for? All logic stated that he should've just moved on and cut his losses after he rid himself of those girls. To hell with it being a complete waste of time and effort, this whole "Project Neko" crap has been nothing but an albatross hanging on his neck! He's been betrayed, tortured, ambushed, and annoyed beyond all belief, yet still he involves himself with this case. Even now, he was still doing a job for one of Xemanas' cronies, fighting and assassinating Mayers. Stoppable and the Scooby gang were here to save Penny. He was here to kill Xemanas and take what he was owed, along with a small severance pay as well.
Pushing those thoughts to the back of his mind, Zack resumed his attention to the obstacle in front of him. The one who stood between him and getting at least one job done since this whole "Neko" crap started. Armor or no armor, Mayers was still an amateur, an upstart, a third-rate fighter. If he couldn't live through this, then he deserved to die. His eyes narrowing, teeth clenching, and grip tightening, "Bring it on…" Dodging blast after blast, Zack maneuvered closer and closer. Moving as fast as he could while ignoring the eternal pain he was feeling through his body. The head was the key. All he had to do was to decapitate him, and it would be done. The armor covered his head and body, not to mention his limbs. But his neck, however, was a different story. Heading toward his target, if he could somehow get close enough, one stab would be all that it took to bring the Chthonian Soldier down, once and for all.
'Almost there…' His masked eyes not leaving him, Zack continued to evade blast after blast. He hasn't seen him show any hand-to-hand skills as of yet, thus it could play into his advantage. If he could not get, but stay close to him while still on the move, Mayers wouldn't be able to aim his blast efficiently. True, there was still the possibility of a close-ranged shot, but that was easily avoidable. He could just stab his palms to plug up his bursts. Mayers tries to fire and it'll explode from within, blowing off his hands and thus making his job a lot easier. Then again, he'd be without his sabers consequentially. While he still had his guns to use, they were only for a last result. Besides, he preferred the use of a sword, or beam saber in this case to that of a gun. Easier to make sure that your enemies stay down! Any punk kid could get lucky and survive a gunshot. Besides that, he couldn't use two now anyway. His ribs were injured and he had to hold them and protect them with one arm while attacking with the other. Perhaps he should've recognized his own limits and thought more about this fight with Mayers…
'A little further…' Flipping the beam saber in his hand downward, he prepared himself for the kill. If this went according to plan, Mayers wouldn't be getting up from this at all, no matter how much the armor could heal him. Dodging another streamed blast, he launched himself up into a jump, eying his target like a predator would do to its prey. Within his strength, he forced the blade downward towards his neck, "TRY HEALING FROM THIS!"
"I DON'T THINK SO!" Seeing an arm beginning to glow, Zack tilted his body backwards and to the side to evade, but it was no use as he could feel a heated blade cut into cloth and flesh. Letting out a fatal scream at the pain, he hit the hard floor, feeling blood beginning to pour from the fresh wound from the left side of his hip to the right of his shoulder. To add emphasis to that attack, the discarded dropped to the ground as within a clang, electricity began to flow around it before the beam blade retracted.
Using whatever strength he had left, Zack barely managed to get back on his feet, looking in shock as he saw engulfed in Mayer's arm, a blade of energy. "Y-you can't be serious…"
Opening eyes fluttering, Penny rolled onto her back, still trying to adjust her eyes to the lighting. Despite her blurred vision, she could make out two pair of hands headed directly towards her. "W-wha…"
"Ah, you're awake!" She heard a conniving voice, only to find that lecherous smile of that repulsive, philandering fat man, "Did you rest well?"
The numbness feeling was leaving her, but it wasn't fast enough as she could only make small movements, "W-what are you…"
"Relax, dear girl. There's nothing for you to be afraid of." Khan stroked his finger along the soft white fur on her legs, "Daddy's here now, and he will take very good care of you…"
Feeling his prying fingers advance upward, from her calves, to her thighs… Horror crept inside of her. Penny wanted to scream, but she couldn't find the strength to do so. She soon felt another hand on her shoulder, specifically the loin of her shirt. Khan wouldn't dare, would he? This… this pig wouldn't go that far! She tried to muster as much energy as she could, kicking, screaming, flailing, whatever she could to break free, but her body wouldn't obliged. She could feel drops pouring out from her eyes he really was going to do it! No one else was there, just him and her! Knowing the guards, they would just look the other way since they were on this pig's boss' payroll. Tightly clinching her eyelids shut, she wished that he would just go away and leave her be. Within moments, the trespassing hands were no longer there as she heard a sharp thud sound onto the wall…
She didn't want to open her eyes, for all she knew whoever mercifully stopped that monster could've been someone who wanted to do the deed himself or worse. She couldn't trust anyone anymore. It may've been a few months since her imprisonment, but she already knew enough to know the horrors of this place. She may've been blonde, but she was hardly near that popular stereotype. She knew that she wasn't the first, and certainly wouldn't be the last. Upon her first days she heard the cries, the screams, and the moans. At some nights, she could even hear voices. "Kill… Me… Kill… Me…" That was before she transformed to this… thing! She was worried what kind of monstrosity they would make her into. Now… This was the worse! This was the worse than anything she had experienced with this curse. No matter how much Xemanas tried to "glamour" it up, no matter how he tried to make her feel "at home," nothing could erase what he and his cronies have done to her. She used to be Penny Erikson, she used to be an ordinary girl… well, as ordinary as she could with her condition. But now… she was a monster.
A hand was felt on her shoulder, not the same way as the previous, but more of in a comforting sense. An inviting sense… Slowly, she began to rise, stains of her tears shown on her face as she moved closer to its owner. Feeling her face touching the cotton fabric of his shirt, her arms wrapped around him, wanting to stay near as long as she could! Emotions flowing through her, she bawled. Bawled for all the pain and suffering she's been through the past months…
"It's okay Penny…" Ron held her close, feeling her tears stain through his shirt. "I'm here for you… I'm here…"
"Ron…" Looking upward, she saw the somber expression of the blonde boy. Then to the side, where she saw the unconscious form of Khan laid face-first, with a trail of blood on the wall originating from his forehead. Within confirmation, her head once again leaned against his chest. "It was horrible…" She sobbed, "It was horrible! They… they-"
"I know…" He stroked her hair, "Penny… I'm sorry that I didn't come sooner. I'm sorry that I couldn't… That I-"
"It's okay… Even when you were nearly killed, even seeing what I am now! What they did to me, you still came for me!"
"I had to, Penny! I had too…" Ron closed his eyes, "I've lost you once, I'm not ready to lose you again! …Ever."
"Oh Ron…" Looking up, a small smile formed on the anamorphic cat's face, "You're so sweet, so caring… That's what I've always like…" She shook her head, "What I've always loved about you." She pushed herself away from his embrace, "But I can't…"
"No!" She shook her head, "I can't be with you, I can't go with you… I can't even be around you or anyone!" Looking down at her paws, "…Not like this..."
"Just go be with normal people, Ron! Just leave me be!" Tears once again began to pour as Penny thought about the aftermath! The hell she will be put through, the torment she would be burdened with. The cat ears, eyes, and tail were one thing. At least she could hide them to some extent! But this, however… She was a freak of nature, a monstrosity! And there was no way to get around that, no matter what reason Ron could come up with them. "I don't want to go back there, not like this…"
Ron quickly rushed towards her, "Penny…"
"I SAID LEAVE ME ALONE!" Feeling her claws connect, Penny's eyes widened at what she saw. Ron's head slamming against the metal door, fresh, bloodied scratch marks appearing on his neck. "…oh no…" Thoughts began to haunt her…
"They'll never accept you!"
"You're a monstrosity, a threat to the people!"
"You're all but a weapon to be used as a tool of war…"
Xemanas used to say those things, to break her! To crush whatever hope she had to be saved, to be rescued. But she still believed, she still held on to her hope that someone would come for her. And now, with one swipe! With one show of anger towards one person – probably the only one given her experience – who would've accepted her, maybe even embrace her physical appearance, she had proven what he was saying all along. No one, no human would've reacted as violently towards those who tried to help them. "He was right… He was right… I am a danger! I don't deserve to live!"
Eyes blinking, Penny looked to see Ron slowly pulling himself up from the ground, not minding the cuts he had just received. His eyes narrowing, "Just shut up for one minute, Penny! You think you have problems? You think you're at Rock Bottom? You don't even know what Rock Bottom is!"
"What would you know?"
"You've been at Middleton High for a while, right? Then you should know very well about how well I was liked, or lack thereof! I was a loser! I was worthless, even the chess team thought that I was pathetic! I wasn't the strongest, I wasn't the fastest, I wasn't the smartest, I wasn't the smoothest! But I still kept going! I had best friend in Kim, despite what's been going on between us lately! She was the most popular girl in school, so you could believe a lot of people who weren't happy with the fact that someone of her status was friends with someone like me! Captain of the cheerleading squad, top grades, active in school activities as well as community service! Not to mention being a kick-butt fighter! I, on the other hand, was the guy being mocked by D-list celebrities and bloggers while I was everyone else's favorite punch-line! No matter what I did, it would always fall through and I would end up looking like a lost cause, a loser! Yet she still stood by me! She accepted me for who I was. As the years went by, things started to pick up! I ended up getting a few more friends and my grades got better. And look at me now! Four years ago, I'd still be running away, getting locked into closets! Now, I'm risking my butt coming all the way here to save you, knowing how likely it is I'm going to get myself shot."
He could see the blank expression on Penny's case, wondering what did that had to do with her situation. He had to say… he wouldn't blame her, "Yeah, I'm not exactly sure how much relevance that has now either, but the point is Penny: I made the best of the worst! I could've just given up, accept the fact that I would always be worthless, that I would always amount to nothing, and that I would always been a failure, but I didn't! I was the boy who used to run away in fear of being at a mile radius of a monkey, now I own one! I thought… no, I knew I could do better, I know that I can do better, and now I am doing better! It's still a long way to go for me, but I'm doing well so far! And if a loser like me can do it, you can too!"
"At least a 'loser' like you can change!" Penny looked away, "Me, on the other hand…"
"Snap out of it! All you're doing is just proving Xemanas right! Proving Trish right! Proving all of those kids that picked on you right! And above all else, that's quitter talk! Look at you, Penny! Yeah you may be an anamorphic cat, but at least you still have two arms and two legs! Do you know how many people in the world would kill to have what you have right now, especially those who were born without arms or legs? And besides, do you know how many guys who are attractive to anamorphic girls?" He noticed that stare again, "Strange, I know, but it's true! For every five people who shun you, there's at least one person who loves you! What I'm trying to say is don't let this… this… curse get you down! There are still people who care about you and will be there for you: I care about you, Tara cares about you, and I believe our friends are willing to accept you! And your moms, both of them, care about you too! Please Penny, I'm begging you! Come with me, and we'll live though this! We'll all live through this together!"
Through all of his talking, all of his convincing, the only thing Penny did was just turn away from him. Ron didn't want to give up hope, he wanted to believe that he had gotten through to her somehow, but he knew better than anyone not to push his luck. He may've gotten better, but even then he could still fail. With a depressed sigh he turned away, admitting defeat. As much as he tried, there seemed to be no use talking to her… Before his hand could grace the long metallic knob, he felt a hand… paw… whichever, lace into his.
"Ron…" The boy turned to see a small smile on the feline's face, "Let's hold hands so that we may never be separated again!"
His face brightening, Ron wanted to jump for joy, cheering celebration. But he knew that even with Penny by his side, there was still work to be done. "Let's go home…" His fingers wrapping around the knob…
Turning the knob, he heard Tara's voice from the outside. From the fearful tone in her voice, it wasn't good. He had to get out there quickly, to see what was wrong.
"No! Don't come out!"
He heard her voice again, this time along with Hope's and Usagi's. But it was too late, as the door swung open. Armed soldiers with rifles aimed directly towards him were the first thing the blonde saw, "Uh oh…"
"Ah Ron Stoppable," He turned to find, with two of the soldiers as his escort, Senor Senior Sr. grinning towards him. More guards had surrounded the girls, also ready to fire if necessary. "What a delight it is to see you again."
Next Chapter: Finding and rescuing Penny was easy. Escaping alive on the other hand… Also, the duel between Zack and Eric ends in a twist only a few can see coming.