Disclaimer: Not mine. The end.
Comments are always welcome.
By, Nicole Silverwolf
Damp, bitter winds threatened to sweep him off his feet but he resolutely jogged onwards, dropping to all fours and continuing. Not that he needed something else to complicate his night but Daxter wondered when the dramatic rain would start to pound down and soak him. It'd be fitting at least.
He'd have snorted derisively at his internal monologue. Might have even knocked on his head (as wood was not a particularly popular building tool in Haven) for luck. But at three thirty in the morning...he was too damn tired.
Sleep was a craving he easily shoved aside though. This was too important.
"Hey! Rat! Wait up! Oh why for all that is holy did I agree to this? Onin is as vindictive as my parents were. This is probably the most idiotic scheme she has ever come up with."
Pecker had been forced to land and was now waddling along several yards behind.
Daxter scowled, brows down and rolled his eyes. Skidded to a stop and rose to prop hands on his hips. "Y'know monkey head, this mighta been 'your' idea, but no one said you had to come," he shouted heatedly. "Just go the hell back to the bazaar if you don't wanna help. I sure as ain't gonna stop ya!"
Pecker's face held only slightly exaggerated horror at the idea. He walked forward and stopped with a huffing sigh, winded from the unusual workout. "And face Onin? You don't know what she can get like. I'd be lucky if I escaped with even half my feathers and my ability to have children intact."
A look distinctly similar to swallowing soured yakkow milk crossed Daxter's features and he stared at the bird out of the corner of his eyes. "Too much information birdbrain," he informed curtly.
Before they could get into the word wars they were famous for, their target became visible. Dull already peeling blue paint and rusty metal, the air tran hovered on the edge of the pier, where it always waited. Eerily silent, and curiously unattended just as they'd been told it would be.
The council must have been serious about getting rid of Jak as quickly and with as little fanfare as possible. The only other explanation was that they were worried about a vocal opposition were they to make his banishment more public.
"Is this it?" Pecker asked, anxiously glancing around for guard of any type. On edge for good reason; it wasn't helping the situation.
"Torn said this is the only transport capable of leaving Haven. The rest were damaged when the palace blew up." Daxter replied, but he also seemed wary. They could not screw this up. One chance and one chance only or they'd lose Jak for sure. And a sick knot churned in Daxter's stomach with the knowledge that if it took two years to track down Jak in Haven, searching the Wastelands would mean he'd be looking for a body, not a best friend.
"Then why is it unguarded?" Pecker persisted in a tone that made Daxter want to strangle him. Even if the bird had brought up a reasonable point.
"It's too early for anyone to want to steal something?" Daxter tried. It was fake even to his own ears.
"And you've lived here for how long fuzzy head?" was the incredulous reply.
The ottsel huffed a breath, muttering "too long" before straightening as he came to a decision. "Look, Torn wouldn't give us bad information. He said it came straight from Ashelin. It's the best we've got."
Pecker didn't look particularly enthusiastic but there really was nothing better to go on.
Without a word, they shot across the unprotected walkway from the tower they'd been attempting to hide behind. Pecker didn't seem impressed, though he'd never used a transport before.
"Pft. This species lacks every possible ability to make a decent flying machine. Honestly, if they wanted to make something capable of flight they should have modeled it after a prime specimen of the flight capable species." Here he paused to preen a bit and leap into the air. Presumably to show off his skills.
"Yeah, if they wanted a prime example of making a fat and lazy tran," Daxter quipped even as he started to poke around methodically. They needed somewhere to hide, and fast. He didn't have a watch, and there was a distinct possibility it was closer to four in the morning than he thought. Torn said they were planning to leave by then, in order to get far into the Wasteland before the sun got too high.
He scaled the pipes leading up the walls. Pecker was continuing to critique the air tran's less than aerodynamic design, but he didn't really pay attention. Because he could feel a grate in the ceiling give a little under an insistent shove.
"Help me instead of talking to yourself Pecker. I think we can fit up here." Daxter called, voice cramped as he lay against the pipe, bent his back legs and kicked up. The force pushed the grate to the vent loose and by a stroke of luck didn't crash down on him.
"You seem to have it all under control so I will simply stay out of your way," the bird replied before continuing his monologue.
"Lazy bastard," Daxter growled and scrambled to jimmy the heavy metal wide enough so they could get in. It would be cramped, and the ottsel wasn't looking forward to spending the next few hours in there with Pecker of all possible companions but it would be safe. He hadn't seen the opening or the grate from the floor of the ship. The metal slats were thick enough that if the grate could be seen from some other angle, it would be difficult to discern anything out of the ordinary.
Pecker seemed to have finally noted the plan, his response typical for the stuffy bird.
"You expect me to hide in there? You have got to be kidding me."
Daxter responded with a clear roll of his eyes, shifting his weight to one leg without any sympathy. "You got a better idea 'o great interpreter'? Cuz if you do, let's hear it and fast. Because in something like ten minutes or less, they're gonna be here with Jak. And you KNOW why we can't be here then."
"I'll be telling Onin and Samos about this."
"Yeah well it's not like the log in the head or your crazy keeper would do anything anyways." There was an odd near bitterness to the statement, uncharacteristic for the ottsel. Daxter was right, though he wouldn't admit it. Being the highly portable sidekick didn't always come with a lot of perks.
The whole affair of actually crawling into the dust coated conduit was accomplished with much cursing. But eventually, with more twisting, shoving, turning, lost feathers and bruised fingers than necessary the two creatures had managed to fit inside the vent and re-hook the grating more or less back in place.
They were silent, having no need for conversation. Time slowly ticked by, though at most it was twenty minutes.
Tense, bright blue eyes darted continually over the patch of floor and bench Daxter could see. He forced his tail to stop twitching, as the thick appendage made a dull, echoing thump against the thin steel alloy. Even though he knew there was nothing they could do until the rest of the party arrived. Too keyed up to rest, though he needed to.
Even if he'd deny it till his death Daxter was starting to feel real fear.
Precursors, they couldn't get this wrong. Friendships like theirs weren't supposed to end like this. They'd stopped by the bar to hang out, having come from the palace ruins where both of them had spent the day helping to clear rubble and search for survivors. Mostly it'd been spent picking off Metalheads rather than finding survivors and mostly that'd been Jak's doing but still.
Business had picked up that night for some reason and Daxter hopped behind the bar to tend. Tess had given an appropriately disgusting cuddle for the much needed help.
He hadn't even seen Torn come in, or talk to Jak.
They'd just needed Jak to be at the council meeting, it would only be a short one. Not even an hour.
'You don't need to come Dax, I'll be back. It's too busy to leave Tess by herself.'
He'd hesitated. An anxious twinge deep down that he almost couldn't acknowledge. There'd been a lot of bad rumblings in the council. Something seemed wrong, but it was the council, and Samos--hell the entire city--trusted them.
He should have gone with him, though what good would it have done?
"Yeah, course. Seeya later 'kay?"
"Alright. Later Jak!"
He refilled a glass, and caught a glimpse of blond hair as it wove out of the Ottsel. Didn't think about it after that, focused on the rush of business.
Torn had come back three hours later.
Haggard and almost paranoid, two things Daxter would have never associated the former Underground leader with. On a scrap of napkin, like in some bad suspense story he'd gotten Daxter's attention.
And in hushed tones told him what had happened. They'd taken Jak into custody on the spot, a near universal vote calling him responsible for the current situation. Ashelin, Samos and several others had objected but were in a distinct minority. What would have been a call for execution had been parried down to banishment from Haven City.
Anger directed at the council was only compounded by anger at Torn. A deep achy disbelief infused his words.
"Why didn't you DO something Torn?"
At least Torn hadn't made any excuses. Apologized yes, but didn't excuse actions he could have taken and didn't.
"Be at the port. Before four AM. There's gonna be a transport there. The council wants to get Jak out of the city as soon as possible and it's the only way outta the city that's fast."
He hadn't suggested any course of action, nor offered any advice or encouragement. Daxter almost wondered why. Maybe Torn didn't have any idea what was gonna happen either or what a two foot tall loudmouth could do except say goodbye. He'd told Tess not to worry and to hold the fort down; found Onin (who saddled him with Pecker as advice) and raced here.
Even now, Daxter didn't know what he was going to do. But he'd made a promise, three years before when they'd been separated. Less promise than prayer, if he ever managed to find his best friend in all of this he wouldn't leave again. Not for any reason, not for any real length of time that might matter. Didn't know how or if he could keep it. And it didn't matter that he'd never told Jak to his face. That the closest he'd gotten was a whisper to the sky the first night they'd been reunited and Jak had fallen asleep.
It was still a promise.
Sound reached their ears, and both ottsel and monkaw glanced apprehensively at each other. This was the moment of truth. The approaching footsteps sounded right--metallic and measured--almost like marching.
A long moment, then the sound of a shove and the uneven steps of a near stumble. "Get in freak. Try anything and you'll be dead."
Another voice interjected, smooth and deadly quiet. "Do that again guard and you'll be joining him." Daxter could imagine that Ashelin's body was casually posed as it always was when she made a threat. Hip cocked to one side, hand on the hilt of her ever present gun.
Even though it was almost trivial at this point, the confirmation when it came brought a sigh of relief from both of them. It was hard to get more than a glimpse out of the corner of their window, but no one had blond hair like that, nor that particular combination of features and clothing. Jak was just unique enough to stand out in a crowd when it counted most.
"You do not have the authority to do that Governor. One should always remember that the council, and by default, the people have more power than you."
Daxter knew that voice, and at once knew who was responsible for this entire situation. Veger was everything that one could dislike about politics condensed inside a single reedy body. The council grandmaster vaguely evoked memories of Dark eco sages. Something deceptive about him reflected Kor's personality.
Pecker's disapproving glare confirmed that he was thinking similar thoughts.
"Last time I checked Veger, that included you," Ashelin retorted.
"The council did vote. I am only carrying out the will of the people." The way he said it was clearly patronizing. In a way that made it evident that he'd manipulated the vote in some manner, but could not be penalized.
There was no reply to that though Daxter could only imagine the glare being directed by the red head.
A low whine and the shudder of everything around them indicated that the tran was ready to go. Shuffling feet moved around a bit, and Daxter could just see Jak's knee from their vantage point.
"Get comfortable freak. We're gonna be here for a while." This advice was accompanied by derisive chuckles from the guards. No reply was given, but by the way they suddenly stopped, Daxter knew Jak was giving one of his more threatening smiles.
Rushing white noise obscured anything further said. A banking sweep that brought Pecker and Daxter in smashed contact with each other and the steel wall let them know that they were on their way.
It would take several hours to get out into the real Wastelands. Despite his promise to himself that he didn't need sleep, Daxter found himself nodding off within minutes of takeoff. He fought it, shaking his head hard and yawning in the attempt to get rid of the feeling. About to prop his eyelids open with his fingers, he was surprised to hear Pecker speak. If it were anyone other than Pecker, the tone might have been mistaken for compassion.
"Rest. I will alert you if we land and you do not wake up."
The stare directed at the bird was warily suspicious. But Daxter couldn't read any falseness or teasing in his face.
After a moment, he nodded slowly. Curled head to tail and immediately nodded off.
Insistent shoving woke him two hours later, just at the brink of sunrise. Daxter startled groggily out of habit. He'd been dreaming but couldn't remember about what, though it had left him queasy and unsettled. The lack of noise indicated they'd slowed or stopped altogether.
The feel of grainy desert air, and dry sun in their throats brought instant awareness.
Jointly the two managed to get the grate loose. Still wary of giving up their ace, they could at least get a full view of Jak as he tried for what was probably the thousandth time to muscle his way out of the heavy metal cuffs.
The two guards had shoved him down the sloped ramp onto the ground. Veger almost looked like a preacher speaking at a pulpit rather than a man condemning another to a slow, painful death.
"By the order of the Grand Council of Haven City. For heinous acts and crimes against the people, you are hereby banished to the Wastelands, for life."
There was a moment of pride when Pecker so thoroughly interrupted Veger that the man forgot what he had been spouting. It was squashed a minute later as the bird proved his tendency to look out for number one.
"Jak?" Daxter could feel his ears fall back against his head. Knew and hated the fact that he looked so scared. They were going to die out here; that was now starkly apparent. He'd go with Jak for a thousand reasons he'd never say, but dying was one of those ephemeral concepts that didn't mean much until it was staring you in the face. Hell if anyone could spit in Death's face, it would be his crazy best friend. But that didn't mean he wasn't scared.
"Just go back to the city Dax," Jak nearly ordered. An attempt to sound harsh ended up sounding more like sulking than anything else.
No. Oh Hell's no. No way Jak was pulling that self-sacrificing-noble bullshit with him. No way. If he'd been closer, maybe a few feet taller and a bit heavier, he'd beat the crap out of his best friend. Hell, he still might anyway. Ottsel nails were pretty sharp if applied in the right way.
Jak wouldn't look up from the bit of cactus that suddenly garnered far too much of his concentration. A habit he'd developed years ago when he was trying to make something count even when he didn't agree with it. Trying to be the hero.
"You heard what Jak said Daxter," and Pecker gave a nervous high pitched giggle. He was obviously relieved; slinking back into the shade. "We should just go back to the..."
"Shut up," Daxter hissed, low and dangerous in a tone Pecker had never heard out of him. If the ottsel had been nervous, he was flat out mad now. He grabbed the bird's wing in a viselike grip. With a careless, savage yank he pulled the monkaw out of the transport and onto the sand. Unseen by everyone--even Ashelin.
The woman was talking to Jak, but it was low and impossible to hear exactly what she was saying. Daxter thought he saw her hand something over, but couldn't be sure. He was all for blaming this on Ashelin too so didn't give her the benefit of the doubt.
At least she'd removed the cuffs, watching Jak absently rub at his wrists. It was probably his friend's own fault that he'd made them sore, but Daxter wished he could clobber the guards anyway.
Jak looked up, maybe trying to find the two of them among many feet but it was hard to tell.
It was easy however to read his expression. Jak had never been particularly good at keeping emotions away from his face. He could bottle up reactions somewhat, (with some rather notable exceptions that included his temper) but expressions were something he couldn't wipe.
Daxter remembered that look. The one that asked what he'd done wrong, promising to do whatever it took to make it up even though there was no reason. He'd save the city again if that was what they wanted.
No trace of the mercenary hero was there. Just honest, too nice for his own good Jak. He didn't want to die alone out here. Didn't want to die period.
"May the Precursors have mercy on you." Veger's insincerity caused every fist to curl.
A sandstorm was suddenly in their faces, and the two animals hit the ground in a real attempt not to be clipped by the engines, dangerously close to the tops of their head. They were deaf and blind in that instant, breathing a difficulty they hadn't even expected. If Daxter and Pecker were hanging on to each other, it would be impossible to drag such an admission out of either of them.
It felt like eternity before the sand began to calm. Though the momentary agony was worth it when Daxter heard proverbial music to his ears.
"Daxter?" Jak sounded a little disbelieving, and a little more than relieved.
He had to joke, because if he didn't, that would give them time to consider what exactly they'd all just gotten themselves into. The ottsel cleared his throat, already coated in fine dust. "Yeah. Well. Don't thank me. I'm only here because you wouldn't last a second without me!"
A thin, relieved smile crossed Jak's features, a faint memory of a similar instance from childhood.
So maybe it was pretty much hopeless. Better than impossible at least, and it'd only taken a week to get out of an "impossible" situation.
Jak bent slightly to offer a shoulder, which was only met with a balled fist. It glanced off the hard muscle and would have even if Daxter hadn't meant it.
Daxter wagged a finger in his best friend's face, easily able to affect aggravation. "Don't ever pull crap like that again...you got that buddy? I didn't follow you all over the world on two separate adventures to leave you by yourself now!"
The almost frantic nod the young man favored him with was from a lifetime ago. A even rarer smile brought a grin to the ottsel's face.
Worn boots rushed to catch up to Daxter's shuffling strut.
So comments, criticisms, flames, praise...anything you'd like to throw at me? Please do so now.
Thanks for reading.