AUTHOR'S NOTE: Okay, I'm really sorry for taking so long to update, but now you know why. Wow. The end of this story was so epic that I had to split it in half. That's why you get 2 chapters in one update, because I wanted to make it easy on your EYES. Thank me. Anyways, after much anticipation, experience the final (two parter!) explosive chapter of War Stories, in which the fates of Fox, Wolf and Andross will be decided and the Lylat System will be forever changed. Again, it would do you good to have read my previous stories to fully appreciate this, but to each his own. Enjoy.-TU
-Heroes and Villains, Part I-
Forty Five Minutes Ago…
It wasn't unfamiliar to see a storm raging in the ashy, orange skies of Venom. Though the atmosphere processors constructed by Andross had made the Venomian atmosphere breathable years ago by replacing the natural methane and sulfuric acid with oxygen and carbon dioxide, the planet's volcanic activity pumped enough greenhouse gasses into the sky to ensure that there was no shortage of extreme weather year round. This, however, was different.
Magnificent streams of dull light traced their way across the thick clouds, followed by faint booms as the sounds of orbital explosions made their way down to the planet's surface. The fiery meteor shower streaks of debris entering the atmosphere and disintegrating traced their way across the beyond as the occasional aurora of built-up charged particles intermingled with Venom's magnetosphere to create dazzling waves of boreal radiance amongst the clouds.
It was as if the skies themselves were acting as a curtain, behind which the apocalyptic battle of Adjudication was being fought between the God Lyla and the shape-shifting dark dragon of betrayal, Kalimo. After Lyla defeated Kalimo, She would re-create the Lylat System from the beginning, reincarnating the souls of the righteous so that they could play their parts in the grand story of the galaxy, which was told and re-told time and time again throughout eternity.
"All of this has happened before; and all of it shall happen again," stated the first line of the Epic of Judgments, the final lengthy poem of the Lylatian Tome that described the end times. Wolf O'Donnell remembered it well. Despite their lack of understanding or genuine faithfulness, Hank and Luann O'Donnell were prone to using the Epic of Judgments as a model for raising and disciplining their children, and habitually quoted it (mostly out of context) in between their arguments and drunken humping. Wolf was most familiar with it out of all the epics in the Tome, and had to admit that he rather liked the story. The idea of the entire universe ending in a great fight, only to begin again in a constant cycle towards the same fate, was somehow appealing to him.
And as he stared out the opening of a large hangar bay, watching the Venomian skies while the immense orbital battle raged beyond the clouds, he could not help but draw parallels between the current situation and Judgments. He could sense it in the air, like an electric current tingling beneath his fur: somehow, everything was going to change. It would all be different after today.
"You called for me, Commander O'Donnell?" a synthetic, sophisticated voice inquired from behind him.
Wolf turned, his brown duster billowing slightly in the wind, meeting IG-N 96's cold yellow photoreceptors with his single lavender eye. Unlike previous times, there was no apparent air of hostility to enable another verbal sparring match. With the Venomian Empire making its last stand, there seemed to be little justification for anything but grim realism in the face of defeat.
"I wanna show ya' somethin' we received last night," Wolf breathed, reaching into a pocket of his duster with a sharp-clawed hand and taking out a small disc-shaped holoprojector. He held the holoprojector in the palm of his paw then squeezed it gently. The space just above the projector flickered for a moment, and then the miniaturized figure of an orangutan appeared in Wolf's palm. The orangutan was a middle-aged male dressed in a dark maroon uniform with several impressive bars on the chest, which failed to distract the observer from the bald spots in the orange fur on his head. Anyone on Corneria or Venom familiar with the war would've recognized the orangutan as General Maximilian Zaius, the commanding general of the Imperial Venomian Armed Forces.
"The war is coming to an end, StarWolf," Zaius began in an exotic, baritone voice, "Despite the Emperor's objections, we are making preparations to evacuate to Eladard and gather as many forces as we can. We've managed to broker a deal with the government of Fortuna. They'll harbor us in secret and allow us to establish a government in exile from there. It is Emperor Andross' wish that you remain here to protect the Imperial Palace; he seems to expect StarFox to come down separately from the Cornerian Fleet, and he insists on remaining here to confront them. He has specifically ordered that you utilize the new Wolfen II fighters to destroy them. If you manage to succeed, you will contact me and I will alert the Emperor to evacuate. You will proceed to the cosmodrome outside of Dromoda. The Lone Wolf is waiting there with your original Wolfens inside. You will take the Lone Wolf to the rendezvous coordinates at Eladard for further briefing and then for your dispatch to Fortuna. IG-N 96 will continue as your robotic operator. You have your orders. Good luck, Commander O'Donnell."
With that, the image of General Zaius winked out, and Wolf put the holoprojector back into the pocket of his duster.
"I am aware of the situation, Commander O'Donnell," IG-N 96 stated, "I intended to pilot a shuttle to the Dromoda cosmodrome at the earliest possible convenience, however our current conversation is preventing me from doing so. When the Cornerian armada in orbit captures us because I stayed here and gossiped with you rather than getting the ship ready for an escape, I'm sure they'll be perfectly merciful towards Emperor Andross' personal hit squadron and his android emissary. So by all means, chat away. It's not as if it's an emergency or anything."
Wolf's only sign of acknowledgement was the slightest huff of dismissive laughter, after which he looked deadly serious at the robot.
"Give the sarcasm a rest, IG; this is important," Wolf growled sternly, "I'm alterin' tha' mission. You're not headin' ta' Dromoda immediately. You're gonna send a holo and have one of the ground crews at the cosmodrome get the Lone Wolf prepped so that she's all ready ta' go for us when we get there. Say it's a priority order from Andross himself or somethin'."
"I'm sorry, Wolf. I'm afraid I can't do that," IG responded, "Before you even explain, what you're asking me to do is disobey the Emperor's orders. You are merely my Commander. The Emperor is my master."
"Look at the clouds, IG," Wolf murmured, tilting his head outside to the streaking flashes in the sky that hinted at the tumultuous battle beyond it, "This war's over. Venom's done for. I don't give a shit about Zaius or Andross or what's left of the Army after today. If I make it outta here, I'm takin' the Lone Wolf for myself. From now on, the only ones that decide what StarWolf does are the people in it and whoever's got tha' biggest wallet. Ya' understand? That's the future, an' I'm gonna need ones I can depend on. As pathetic as it sounds, you're the only thing I trust besides Leon. If I'm gonna make StarWolf work on its own, I'm gonna need you ta' help keep an eye on Pigma and Andrew."
"You are free to desert as you wish, Commander O'Donnell," IG replied coldly, "Not being an organic, I do not have that luxury. Despite the fact that your plan may be more logical than following General Zaius to his fate, I am bound to Emperor Andross."
Wolf exhaled hotly, looking down for a moment. A look of inspiration came over his face, and he looked back up at the android.
"Then use your logic," Wolf said, "You've gotta be loyal ta' Andross up front, but just consider this: I'm not askin' you ta' desert, just adapt. What if Andross doesn't make it past today? Even if he does, he ain't the emperor of anything after today. So just call ahead ta' Dromoda an' have them get tha' Lone Wolf ready. You stay around with a shuttle to pick us up and take us there. We'll deal with this when we get ta' that point. That way, you're not disobeyin' orders, you're just modifyin' em. Got it?"
IG's metallic head tilted slightly and paused for a moment, then responded, "You do present a situation that my programming allows me to undertake. I will send a hologram to Dromoda and maintain a comm. channel with you in order to coordinate your extraction from the shuttle. And we will deal with this situation as it develops. In the meantime, I wish you well, Commander O'Donnell."
Wolf nodded, then started walking further into the depths of the hangar.
"Commander O'Donnell," IG called.
Wolf looked over his shoulder with his singular lavender eye.
"Speaking in strictly hypothetical terms, if the Emperor were not to live past today, my loyalty would pass directly to you as my new lord and master," IG informed, "In previous times, the idea might have led me to short-circuit with disgust. However I must submit that, now, I understand you to be a most fascinating and capable individual. If it were not against my current parameters, I would be honored to refer to you as 'Lord O'Donnell'. If events progress in the direction that they appear to be headed, I may well end up addressing you as such very soon."
Wolf gave a simple bow of his head.
"Do take care, Commander O'Donnell," IG added, "The Lylat System is a much more interesting place with you in it."
"Thanks, IG," Wolf replied.
With that, the android and the lupine went their separate ways. Wolf continued further back into the hangar, where four large fighter ships sat in a row, gleaming bright and brand new. Aside from its red, black and white color scheme and distinctive split fuselage, the experimental VenCom X-13 Wolfen II fighter had very little in common with the original B-35 Wolfen. Only four Wolfen II fighters had been built, designed as a last-ditch effort to hopefully destroy squadrons of Cornerian fighters in the last stages of the war. Instead of the original Wolfen's four blade-like wings, the Wolfen II sported only two, which were larger and gave the ship a somewhat arrow-shaped appearance from the top or bottom. At the base of each wing were two large g-diffuser units that slanted forward over and under the wing like a pair of open scissors, painted red and black. Between the pairs of g-diffusers was the central fuselage, split vertically up the middle like an insectoid pincer rather than an open mouth, which terminated in the black cockpit bubble. At the rear of the Wolfen II, set at both sides of the cockpit were a pair of large engine thrusters as opposed to the Wolfen's central four-thruster configuration.
According to the technical briefing, the Wolfen II improved on all of the original Wolfen's drawbacks: Its additional g-diffusers allowed far superior shields and maneuverability while giving the Wolfen II even greater blinding speed than the original. The fighter sported two rapid-fire laser cannons and an electronic counter measure system that prohibited enemy targeting systems from locking on. The performance characteristics of the Wolfen II were so beyond that of the original Wolfen and the Space Dynamics Arwing that the fighter was equipped with an artificially intelligent computer system that acted almost as a co-pilot, working with the pilot and the radar data to anticipate and execute the best move. To almost all concerned, the Wolfen II was a fighter that could wipe the floor with the Arwing or any other fighter in the Lylat System.
But as Wolf looked at the gleaming, brand new fighters, he couldn't banish an instinctive wariness in his gut. He'd initially felt excited at the thought of a new fighter, but now something was warning him away from the Wolfen II. It was untested, unfamiliar, and, in Wolf's opinion, maybe too advanced. The ship depended on that flight computer to make decisions for the pilot, taking the operation of the fighter out of the pilot's hands at vital moments.
His gaze shifted from the ships to the pilots around them. Pigma Dengar sat in his Wolfen II cockpit in full flight gear, calibrating the systems to his preferences. Andrew Oikonny was standing next to his ship, suiting up at a snail's pace. Leon Powalski leaned against the wing of his Wolfen II, already suited up, checking his fingernails nonchalantly.
Did none of them sense it? Had none of them considered the possibility that, in that vital moment when the computer took over and made a move in response to combat conditions, that it might make the wrong one? There was a reason that droids didn't pilot star fighters. In the end, there was no replacement for the natural instinct of a living pilot that could take in the fight and respond in ways that computers just couldn't.
Wolf's breathing began to increase, and the unease in his gut intensified. He couldn't explain it, but he knew that using these ships was the wrong move. If StarFox did show up, the Wolfen IIs would spell disaster. And somehow, Wolf knew that they would show up. His anxiety got the better of him, and Wolf couldn't stop himself from giving it a voice.
"This ain't right," he growled worriedly, shaking his head and glaring at the Wolfen IIs with contempt, "Why tha' hell we gotta go out in these things? We've never even test-flown 'em before."
"Because we've been ordered to, Wolf," Andrew submitted condescendingly, "Besides, the control system is practically the same as the Wolfen. Aside from the performance differences and the guidance computer, it works like the same ship. It'll tear those Arwings to shreds in a matter of seconds. StarFox won't last even half as long as they did on Fichina."
"Then maybe you can fly one a' these robots with wings. We all know you could use a computer ta' help ya fly. I'll stick with my instincts and somethin' I know," Wolf retorted, walking towards Andrew.
The ape didn't back down, a smug look on his face.
"Too bad. Andross wants us to fly these fighters. And since we're protecting him from StarFox, we'll follow his orders, not your instincts. We might've run into a few setbacks, but my uncle is still the Emperor," Andrew smirked.
"Setbacks?" Wolf demanded angrily, "Are you delusional, or just retarded? We've lost. Andross lost. If you think otherwise, you can go tell that to the Cornerian ships in orbit that are kickin' tha' crap out of us."
"Andross is going to re-shape the Lylat System and bring it into a new age. He's foreseen it," Andrew stated, "It's our future to go into hiding and rise again even stronger from the ashes, as Andross say—"
"Andross is FUCKING INSANE!!!" Wolf roared, grabbing Andrew and slamming him up against his Wolfen II, "When was the last time ya' talked to him, huh?! When was the last time you looked at what he's become?!?!"
Andrew's smirk was gone, his mouth hanging slack and his beady eyes locked onto Wolf's bared fangs. Wolf was fed up with Andrew's pompous bullshit, and as he glared down at the ape there was a part of him that wanted to open his jaws and take a bite out of the wormy bastard's neck. He worked hard to ignore it.
"Andross and even Zaius don't have a future. They're polishin' the bulkheads on a sinkin' ship," Wolf snarled, his teeth snapping together mere millimeters from Andrew's nose, "If you wanna go down with 'em, be my guest, but I know you're not that brave, and surprisingly, I don't think you're that stupid. If you wanna have a future, ya' better get with tha' program."
At that point, Wolf shoved Andrew further into his ship and stalked off in a rage. He tried to contain his fury, clenching his jaws together so tight that his teeth felt like they were about to shatter. He went back to the opening of the hangar bay, and looked back up at the sky, with its flashes of light and faint, echoing booms.
"Wolf," Leon Powalski said as he came up behind him.
Wolf didn't respond or even acknowledge him, instead kept staring into the sky, trying to calm the raging storm inside him. Leon silently moved to Wolf's right side, looking up at the fiery Venomian sky with him.
"This reminds me of those nights on Katina, all those years ago. Remember?" Leon inquired softly, "We'd sneak out at midnight and meet on top of Black Mesa. We'd watch the stars and see who could find Lylat and Triton first, and who knew the constellations best. Then we both would talk about what we were going to do when we got off of Katina. How we were going to see all of the Lylat System. How we were going to track down James McCloud and all of StarFox and convince him to let us join up. It's a funny universe we live in, isn't it? The way things turn out."
Wolf sniffed, remaining motionless.
Got that right, Wolf thought.
"We've never kept secrets before, Wolf, at least I don't think so," Leon remarked, slowly brushing a speck of dust off his flight suit with a green-scaled finger, "What's bothering you?"
Wolf sighed, letting out a small growl.
"Every moment up till now, I thought it was goin' fine," Wolf answered, "I just had this feelin', ya' know? It's like I could smell him comin'. McCloud. It felt like today was gonna be different, and that I was supposed ta' kill him. But now, all of a sudden it just feels like nothin's addin' up. It ain't just the war or the fuckin' ships. There's something different about today."
"What's different?" Leon asked.
"I dunno," Wolf whispered, exasperated, "It was just a feelin. But now it's all gone wrong."
Wolf didn't say anything after that, and they both stayed silent, looking up at the writhing sky. The Battle of Venom continued to rage beyond the clouds, while the surface of Venom itself remained an eerie calm. Leon finally broke the silence.
"Do you remember that story I told you back on Zoness before we ran into StarFox on Fichina?" Leon inquired, "The one about the Zen master and the cub?"
"Yeah," Wolf smiled distantly, brushing his left hand over his eye patch, then over his ears and finally to the back of his neck, scratching lightly, "'we'll see'. Right?"
"Right," Leon nodded, "What happens just happens. Nothing is permanent. And in the long run, nothing really matters aside from whatever purpose you ascribe to it. You think you're supposed to kill McCloud today? Then kill him. You can't change that feeling any more than you can change those new ships over there. So who cares? You've done what you could. Whatever is supposed to happen will happen."
Wolf nodded slowly.
"You're right," Wolf acknowledged, "Ta' hell with it. I'll kill him just like I could've on Fichina. I know what's supposed to happen. I'll make it happen."
Wolf's words belied the feelings of apprehension that remained in his gut, telling him that this was his only chance to destroy McCloud and that he was going into it all wrong.
He did his best to ignore those feelings. He couldn't afford to go into battle with that on his mind. Wolf needed to kill McCloud, destroy StarFox and become the best warrior in the galaxy. People would fear and respect him and everyone in Lylat would mourn the day that they neglected to make him their hero.
It had to happen. Wolf deserved it.
Searching within himself, Wolf could not find an answer that satisfied him.
He put this too out of his mind as he went to don his flight suit and prepare for destiny.
'WARNING: ATMOSPHERIC RE-ENTRY. HEAT SHIELDS 80%', the computer console flashed over and over as the Arwing burned its way through the dense brown atmosphere of Venom. The star fighter plunged through the clouds at 1500 kilometers per hour, 100 kilometers over the planetary surface and getting closer by the microsecond. The thickness of Venom's atmosphere and the distant point of ingress meant that StarFox's atmospheric re-entry procedure had to be at a much milder angle than usual, making use of both the Arwing's guidance computer and the planet's gravitational pull to guide them slowly down through the mesosphere and over the northern pole to reach their destination: The Venomian capitol city of Blight and Andross' Imperial Palace.
Their descent had lasted for the past thirty minutes; it was expected to take at least fifteen more before the Arwings came within 100 kilometers distance and five kilometers altitude of their target. Team StarFox had planned to maintain radio silence throughout their descent; however the mission had a way of mandating it: the thickness of the atmosphere had combined with the regular interference from re-entry to ensure that both their comlinks and their radars were effectively scrambled. Furthermore, the thick, greenish brown clouds and the glowing sheath of re-entry fires prevented each StarFox pilot from seeing any trace of his wing mates. The members of StarFox were effectively isolated, and with the guidance computer on full autopilot to steer the Arwings on their long, difficult course, their minds were thus free to wonder.
Nestled inside his cockpit, Fox McCloud was quiet and reserved, breathing steadily in and out as the fighter rumbled and wobbled gently against Venom's resistant atmosphere.
Remember your goal. Remember the mission. That's the only thing that matters, Fox mentally told himself.
It was hard to do so, however, with the idea that this was probably his most important mission yet. Fox could end the entire war, right here, if he succeeded. It wasn't like at the beginning of the war, on Corneria, in Sector Y and even on Katina. Back then, it had felt thrilling and challenging, almost like a game, a couple of freedom fighters working to stop an evil empire. It was different now. So much had changed since that defeat on Fichina at StarWolf's hands. They had all seen so much.
When StarFox worked with Katt Monroe to take down the early warning system over Zoness, Falco's outrage and horror at the sight of what Venom had done to the planet seemingly robbed him of his aloof sense of humor for days. Before she left, Katt told Fox that Falco had actually cried a little after the attack, something she'd never seen Falco do.
Then, a month and a half later, StarFox worked with the Cornerian Army and the Macbeth Resistance in a three-pronged campaign to free Macbeth from the Venomians. As Peppy and Falco provided air cover, Fox and Slippy moved into Wayland using StarFox's modified versions of the Cornerian M6A2 Landmaster tank. By accident, Slippy stumbled across the Solovet Prison Complex, and became one of the first to realize the extent of Venom's atrocities. Solovet was the premier internment camp for Wayland, the pinnacle of the Venomian plan to 'equalize through retribution', as one captured Venomian officer put it. The prison camp housed millions of canines, felines, leporids and avians from the area around Wayland, imprisoned in order to begin the process of making all of Macbeth a 'specially equalized' planet in Andross' image. Throughout the war, almost everyone in the Cornerian Commonwealth had dismissed the rumors of systematic killings in the camps as an exaggeration, and the horrible truth confronted Slippy graphically with the sight of truck-loads of corpses, mass graves in the process of being dug and incinerators that burned conveyor belts of bodies. Solovet had been abandoned by its Venomian administrators; the few prisoners still living were found stumbling around and nearly starved to death around the grounds by the time Slippy's Landmaster crashed through the gates.
Slippy went into a state of utter shock, unable to move much less operate his Landmaster. StarFox ended up diverting away from Wayland, securing the area around Solovet and summoning a priority medic shuttle.
Slippy was still quiet and morose, despite it being more than three weeks since.
Even Fox himself sensed that something had changed within him. It had all become apparent during his conversation with Peppy before the warp jump to Venom, still so fresh in his mind that it might as well have just happened:
He entered Peppy's quarters to find the forty one year-old leporid sitting on his bed, staring down at a large picture in his hands. Peppy's cabin was small and sparse, about five by eight meters of durasteel floors and walls. At the back, the wall sunk in between two bookshelves full of dusty old volumes, where Peppy's bed lay sideways against a large transparisteel window out into space. Against the other wall of the cabin was a desk, a closed portable computer on top. The soft orange light of an antique Cornerian glowlamp added a measure of warmth to the room that the glowpanel in the ceiling couldn't offer, and a scarlet and ivory rug on the floor gave additional coziness to the otherwise sterile dormitory. Fox smiled at the sight of Peppy, seeming so peaceful and pensive as he stared into the picture frame in his hands. It took Fox by surprise when Peppy actually spoke, thinking that he hadn't noticed him.
"I always loved this picture," Peppy sighed, "It was such a shame to have to go back and have it doctored."
Peppy looked up and turned the picture frame to Fox, showing him the image inside. Fox smiled as he stepped forward and took it into his hands. The picture showed a group of adults and children all huddled into the frame, their enraptured smiles at the viewer frozen in time. Standing at the left side of the picture were Beltino and Beatrix Toad, with their huge mouths grinning wide as they rested their hands on an eleven year-old Slippy in front of them. Next to them was Jacqueline Grey and her husband, Lieutenant Daniel Grey. Bill, also eleven years old, was kneeling in front of Daniel and making a face at the camera. Next were Vivian and Peppy Hare, with their daughter Lucy standing in front of them, hands on her hips. There was an odd, large empty space next to Peppy that didn't seem quite right, due to it being digitally composited into the image years after being taken to erase Pigma Dengar from the picture. Finally, at the right end of the frame stood James McCloud, arms crossed and a cool smirk on his face as his pale blues peeked out from behind dark glasses. Standing in front of James like a scaled-down replica was Fox, mimicking James' pose down to his own pair of sunglasses.
Fox gave off a light whistle. Was he really that small, that happy and innocent, just seven years ago?
"The good old days, huh?" Peppy submitted as Fox handed the picture gingerly back to him.
"They were the best," Fox nodded distantly, watching as Peppy got to his feet and carefully put the photograph into a bookshelf.
Peppy sat back onto his bed, scanning Fox with deep brown eyes. Fox returned the gaze, a corner of his mouth curling into a crooked smile.
"Maybe it's just my trusty old instincts, or the way you look like you've got the weight of a star pressing down on you, but I'm going to say you've got something important to talk about here," Peppy inquired, "Would I be right?"
Fox nodded. Peppy flashed a warm look, then beckoned to the chair at his desk.
"Please, sit," Peppy invited.
Slowly, Fox took the chair and turned it towards Peppy then sat down with his elbows on his knees. He licked his muzzle, pausing for a moment before opening his mouth to speak.
"I've been having this dream," Fox said.
"A nightmare?" Peppy asked intently, "With what Pepper wants us to do, facing Andross and all, I wouldn't be surprised if you've been having bad dreams about it. I'm not sure I entirely agree with the idea myself."
Fox shook his head, "That's the thing, it's not a nightmare. Andross isn't even in it. It's not like any dream I've ever had. It's like… a message… or something."
"Go on," Peppy said softly.
Fox paused once more, remembering back to the slumbering vision that had come to him for the past three days since the planning of the attack on Venom.
"It's of me and my father," Fox continued quietly, "We're in a… tunnel or a hallway or something. There's light all around us. He wants me to follow him somewhere. I keep hearing the things he used to say to me all the time. You know, 'Trust yourself' and all that. And, I don't know why, but it feels like, if I follow him…if I reach the end of the tunnel…it's like I've gone through all that I have in life just to get there. Like it's all coming together in that one moment."
"What happens when you reach the end of the tunnel?" Peppy asked.
"I don't," Fox answered, "I always wake up."
Peppy nodded quietly, looking off at an angle in thought.
"What do you think it means?" Fox submitted somberly.
Peppy looked back at Fox, smiling tenderly.
"I think it's pretty obvious what it means, Fox," Peppy responded, "I think it means you want to follow in your father's footsteps, at least in the manner of living up to what he represents. And you feel like, if you can accomplish this mission on Venom, you will have done that. But you're not sure if you can."
"I guess so," Fox nodded, unsure.
"Let me ask you a question:" Peppy continued, "What do you want to accomplish out of this mission? What's your goal? Be honest."
"Ending this war," Fox responded, "Making sure that no one else suffers."
Peppy smiled, his erect ears twitching forward as he nodded in agreement.
"You see, the thing is, for a long time there, I'm pretty sure you had a different goal," Peppy mused, "During your training, in the beginning of the war, and just about up to when we ran into StarWolf, you wanted revenge. You wanted to get back at Andross and all the people that helped him take your father away. But that's selfish, Fox."
"It is," Fox admitted, looking away, "One more dead body won't bring him back, either."
"That's right, Fox," Peppy affirmed, "I think you learned that when we lost on Fichina. You realized that revenge would only get more people killed. You needed to focus on saving people. On doing what's good for Lylat, not for yourself. That's how your father thought. Now that you know that, I think part of you realizes just how proud James would be of the person you've grown into, and you know the right thing to do. That goal, ending the war, making sure no one else suffers, that's the only thing that matters right now."
"But do you think I can do it?" Fox inquired, desperately, "Can I do what he would've done?"
Peppy smiled, putting a hand on Fox's shoulder.
"Fox, right now when I look at you, do you know what I see?" Peppy asked, "I don't see the son of my best friend, I see a hero that's going to save us all. A hero."
Fox exhaled, not sure how to take the comment. All that he could muster was, "Thanks, Peppy."
"You're going to be alright, Fox," Peppy assured, "Do what James told you to do. Never give up. Trust your instincts. And most of all just trust yourself."
A jarring bump of turbulence shook Fox out of his reverie, and he looked back out at the dense clouds of Venom's atmosphere, obscured by the orange glow of heat all around the canopy.
The altimeter on the scouter over his eye read twenty kilometers, and a distance of 130 kilometers from their target.
His daydream had passed most of the time of their descent; in a matter of moments Fox would break radio silence to coordinate the rest of StarFox's journey to the palace.
'G-BRAKES ACTIVE. DECREASING SPEED', the computer console's autopilot program flashed, and a series of high-pitched screeches could be heard at both sides of the Arwing as the gravity brakes pulsed and slowed the Arwing down to 1000 kilometers per hour.
The plasma sheath of re-entry fires faded away from around the Arwing as the fighter began to slow down. Outside the canopy, the brownish clouds suddenly whipped away like a veil to reveal the vast landscape below. The land was barren and rocky, the color of sludge. Huge, conical volcanoes dominated the landscape, one every dozen miles or so, all belching smoke and spewing glowing orange lava that drizzled down the slopes and flowed into rivers of molten rock. Ash could be seen falling from the sky like grey snow in many places, coating the land. The only evidence of civilization was the occasional broad, sweeping track of a heat-shielded highway system for hovercraft and skycars making their way from one city to another.
Venom looked worse than the holovision footage or the pictures. He wondered how anyone could live here, and at the same time felt a level of understanding for the Venomian people: No wonder they supported the invasion of Lylat with varying levels. If the only place they felt like they were treated fairly was on the hellish landscape of Venom, it made some sense that they would want to conquer the rest of Lylat, if for no other reason than to have a better place to live. It didn't justify the Venomian Empire's actions, but Fox did feel sympathy for its people. Andross probably took full advantage of their suffering to further his goals. It was one more reason why the war needed to be stopped, so that the people of Venom could finally get the fair treatment they deserved.
Fox looked right and left out through his canopy to see Peppy, Falco, and Slippy's Arwings flying next to him, finally able to see his wing mates once more.
The four Arwings rocketed forward, still over a dozen kilometers over the ground, and soon Fox could see a series of spires in the distance, jutting up like enormous claws from beneath the ground. In a matter of moments, the spires became towering skyscrapers, and the sight of an enormous metropolis became apparent.
The Venomian capitol city of Blight was regarded as one of the best-designed cities in the Lylat System, for anyone that was willing to live there. Of course, the city had to be well-designed, in order to function in one of Venom's most volcanically active regions. A circle-shaped mega-city almost 100 kilometers across, Blight was Venom's first and most populous city. It was ringed by an array of high-output energy shields that could be activated to protect the city from a severe volcanic eruption or an orbital bombardment, and also housed the one of the gigantic atmospheric processors that helped make the Venomian air breathable. The shields, the atmosphere processor, and the city itself were all powered by the very environment that made the land so hazardous: An intricate canal system weaved its way throughout the metropolis, channeling the vast lava flows from the volcanoes into the city itself, where it could be shielded, contained, and used for power production. The system proved so effective at generating power that it kick-started Venom's energy export industry, one of the planet's most productive cash crops.
From an altitude of fifteen kilometers, Fox could still see the glowing orange canals of lava that flowed like a labyrinth throughout the metropolis. The air-lanes were filled with very few sky-cars, most of the citizens probably seeking shelter indoors due to the space battle taking place in orbit. The dark, mechanical buildings looked so very different from the polished, white and curving architecture of Corneria City. It had some similarity to the industrial, towering skyscrapers of Wayland; however there seemed to be something else. The buildings looked like they were built to intimidate, as if the city itself was meant to frighten people into submission with its hard edges and pointed spires. Every so often, a large statue of an ape in a military uniform looked down at the populace from the roof of a building. It was a city built on deception and fear.
As the Arwings descended below ten kilometers, at fifty kilometers distance from the Imperial Palace, Fox shook the thoughts out of his head, reminding himself to focus on the mission, and then spoke into his comlink.
"Alright, break radio silence," Fox instructed, "Everyone in good condition?"
"I'm good," Falco called in.
"In the green," Peppy answered.
"Same here," Slippy replied.
"Good," Fox said, "Lock into all-range mode and get ready with your bombs. We'll be reaching the palace in a few minutes."
They obeyed the instructions, switching the auto-pilot programs off and taking full control over their ships.
"I can't believe they're not firing on us," Slippy remarked after a moment, "They've got to have us on radar or something."
"The advantage of being a small, elite unit, Slip," Peppy said, "Everyone assumes you're too small to be an attack force, so they usually leave you alone."
"Or they're expecting us," Slippy glowered slightly.
"Heyyy, c'mon, Slip!" Falco assured, "War's almost over! What happened ta' 'Let's kick some Venomian ass'? Nothin' bad's even happening. So don't get all glum or you'll jinx it for us."
"He's right, Slippy," Fox encouraged, switching to all-range mode and hearing the whine of machinery as the wings came forward to be perpendicular with the fuselage, "We got this far. We should be proud. It's been an honor to serve with all of you."
"Yeah, yeah, and you're pretty alright yourself, Foxie," Falco muttered.
"Look at this!" Peppy exclaimed, "Falco's trying to cheer Slippy up and then he gives Fox a compliment? What is the universe coming to?"
"Don't push your luck, old man," Falco warned, his voice warm.
"Yeah, careful, he might start being nice all the time. What'll we do when we need some abuse?" Fox quipped.
They roared far over the city of Blight, soon finding the metropolis beginning to thin as they reached its outskirts. The computer indicated that they were about twenty kilometers from the palace. Far ahead, Fox could see what looked like a giant dome sticking out of the ground. The radar still showed no contacts aside from the four Arwings. By now, they were less than a kilometer over the ground, the details of the rocks and the intricacies of the lava floes below them somewhat clear.
Monolithically intimidating and still, the dome of the Venomian Imperial Palace loomed ahead. Fox exhaled in anxiety.
Just focus on the goal, he thought, That's all that matters.
He tried not to think about the fact that he'd be face to face with his father's murderer today. He would have to find him within the bombed-out remains of his fortress, look him in the eye and demand that he surrender. And if he didn't, Fox would have to kill him.
Just focus on the goal, he repeated in his head, Focus on the goal.
The palace suddenly came up close, an enormous dome with four large ridges that sloped up and ended just at the peak. In the area all around, towering high into the air were several large rectangular pillars of greenish-black stone. Carved into the apex of the columns at all four sides was the stoic face of Andross, staring out at them and daring them to attack. The Arwings swooped past, and then banked into a turn back towards the dome.
"Commence bombing the palace on my mark," Fox breathed, his heart racing.
"Ha-ha! Hope the monkey likes fireworks! Say your prayers, Andross!" Falco laughed.
As they turned, the beeping alarm on the radar sounded and Fox's body seized in shock.
"We've got inbound contact, coming in fast!" Slippy shouted, "It looks like… four of them."
"Ohhh, shit!" Falco cursed as a heavy feeling of dread welled up in Fox's stomach.
Everyone knew who it was.
There was no one else it could be.
"Don't get too cocky, StarFox," the rough, growling voice of Wolf O'Donnell came in over the comlink.
"Let's see what you think of our new ships," Leon Powalski's serpentine voice hissed.
With that, a quartet of large star fighters screamed into the area, separating with blinding speed.
"Break!" Fox yelled with alarm, jerking back on his control stick. The four Arwings scattered as the sight of an odd-looking star fighter with a split fuselage shot past Fox's cockpit.
It looked very different from the Wolfen that StarWolf had used on Fichina. It actually looked similar to an Arwing in many ways. Fox was instantly worried.
"Too bad Dad's not here to see yuh FAIL!!" Pigma Dengar taunted.
Fox gritted his teeth, then barked into his comlink, "Same as before, pick your man and stay with him!"
"Good luck with that one, kid!" Wolf snarled, and suddenly Fox heard an alarm and gasped at the radar display of an enemy already on his tail. It was so damn fast!!
Fox shoved the stick forward, but not before a pair of blasts rocked the back of the Arwing, one immediately after another and dropping his shield energy to 84%. The Arwing dove to the ground and Fox shoved the throttle up, pulling back on the stick and shooting the Arwing up through the air around one of the gigantic pillars.
"Bastard's on me already!" Peppy yelled over the comm. as Fox glanced at the radar, trying to ascertain where everyone was while still keeping his own ship in the air.
"How long ya think you're gonna last, McCloud?" Wolf taunted.
"Fox! Falco! I need some help!" Slippy shouted.
"Goddamn, take a number, Slippy!" Falco remarked in equal parts sarcasm and distress.
Fox spotted Slippy's green arrow on his radar display with a black arrow close behind, closer to him than Peppy, and he gunned the Arwing in Slippy's direction. His fighter flashed past another huge Andross monument, and he could see Slippy's Arwing perhaps a half kilometer away, taking three hits from the StarWolf fighter close behind it.
Fox drove the fighter in the direction of Slippy, swerving through the air just as the enemy fighter came into his crosshairs. Only then did he notice a black arrow on his tail once again.
"Shit!" Fox cursed, firing two shots, only one of which hit Andrew Oikonny, then pulled to the right just as another laser blast struck his fighter. He throttled up, tightening his turning radius more and more, but Wolf's fighter was still on him.
Fox yelled and pulled into a barrel-roll to the left, flaring the shields just in time to deflect a stream of laser blasts away from his fighter. The barrel-roll ended, and immediately the Arwing jerked with another hit. Fox barely noticed that he was on a collision course for one of the pillars until he was right up to it. His breath frozen in his lungs, Fox yanked the stick back up, rocketing the Arwing further into the air, up the side of the Andross monument. He turned the upwards bank into an Immelman turn that shot him out in the other direction. As he rolled the fighter craft back right side up, Fox finally had time to take notice of his shield read-out: 66%.
It had been only a matter of seconds, and he had already taken a beating. However, the panicked maneuver that had prevented the Arwing from crashing into the monument had also shaken Wolf off his tail, and Fox instantly shot towards the first pair of fighters he saw. A quick glance at the radar told him that it was Peppy and Pigma; however it also showed that Wolf was well on his way back after Fox's fighter. Fox pulled the throttle into a boost, feeling the G-forces press against him as the Arwing sped forward to catch up to the two fighters. The inertial compensators kicked in and removed Fox's feeling of acceleration, allowing him to focus merely on the twin green engine flames of Pigma's fighter.
"Just lie back and accept it, Peppy: Yuh ain't makin' it off this rock a second time!" Pigma gloated, sending a shower of laser blasts into Peppy's fighter, two of which pounded into his left wing.
"Leave him alone!!" Fox spat, tapping down on the firing button, sending twin blue laser blasts into Pigma's fighter. The fighter shook with one, two impacts before it spun into a barrel roll, scattering Fox's next few shots, then pulled into a swift climb up into the air, looping over Fox's ship. As Fox glanced at the radar to see where Pigma was headed, he was just in time to see another black arrow lancing towards his Arwing from the left. Fox rocketed into a boost and pulled hard in the same direction, barrel rolling to reflect the hail of red laser fire from Wolf's ship as it charged through the air. Fox leveled off from the barrel roll just in time to see the fighter roar over him in the opposite direction.
The Arwing streaked over the dome of the Imperial Palace as O'Donnell's fighter sliced into a turn.
"Cut the bullshit!!" Wolf bellowed incredulously, "Stop fuckin' around like a goddamn coward!"
Fox barely had the time to process Wolf's taunts, let alone make a comeback. It was a struggle enough keeping alive.
Another StarWolf ship zoomed out from around an Andross monument, curving through the air past him. Not even knowing who it was, Fox tapped down onto the firing button, unleashing blue laser bolts through the air, hitting the StarWolf fighter three times before it spun into a barrel roll and pulled into a turn out of Fox's vision.
"Hey, Foxie, ya' got a minute?!" Falco snapped with alarm.
Fox's vision darted briefly to the radar, where Falco's blue arrow was being chased up the screen by black arrow, essentially parallel to Fox's course. He glanced out to the left, seeing Falco dodging laser blasts from a StarWolf fighter as they approached another Andross monument.
"You know how to do a Thatch weave, Hot-Rodder?" Fox yelled, "Around the big one right up there, FLOOR IT!"
Fox dropped his altitude by a few hundred feet and tore into a boost just as Falco's Arwing went into full throttle, both of them converging on the Andross monument. As Fox swerved from the right around the pillar, Falco swerved from around the left. Fox pulled up hard on the stick as he made it around the monument, intersecting Falco's curve just as his Arwing blew past. Fox tapped the firing button the moment Falco was clear, and the StarWolf fighter streamed around the monument right into a shower of twin cerulean laser blasts. The fighter trembled through the air as four direct hits pelted into its front before it pulled up, rolling at the same time into a barrel-roll.
"I'll FUCKING tear you in half!!" Leon Powalski screamed, "You AND the FUCKING PARROT!!!"
Powalski's fighter streaked past Fox just as Falco came in over the comlink, "Looks like I owe ya' one, Academy-boy."
A jolting hit rocked Fox's Arwing as soon as Falco finished speaking, and Fox boosted to the right, pulling into a barrel-roll as Wolf's fighter came back in from ahead.
Shit, he's persistent!, Fox thought to himself.
His shields were holding at 50%.
The radar showed Wolf already closing fast into a turn on his rear.
"I gotcha, Foxie!" Falco called, flying in on the radar behind Wolf's fighter.
The black arrow suddenly curved off of Fox's tail, chased away by Falco's blue arrow.
"Son of a bitch! LEON!" Wolf roared.
Out of the corner of his cockpit, Fox could see another StarWolf fighter scream past in Wolf and Falco's direction. He prayed Falco would see it in time, blasting the Arwing forward over the jagged, rocky surface of Venom, seeing Peppy's fighter still desperately trying to evade Pigma up ahead.
"Yuh can't beat me, Peppy!" Pigma taunted, "I got a bettah ship! I always know how tuh call tha odds!"
Fox's Arwing streaked behind Pigma, lining up wonderfully.
Peppy pulled up into a loop, dodging Pigma's shots just as Fox opened fire, tearing into the back of Pigma's ship twice. The twin green engine thrusters flared, boosting Pigma away and curving him around another monument.
"Two against one, Pigma!" Peppy yelled, "Try those odds!"
The crackle of static came over the comlink as Slippy's distressed voice chirped, "I've got to bug out, Fox! I'm sorry!"
Fox snarled in frustration at the sight of Slippy's green arrow retreating away on the radar screen.
"I've taken care of the pond scum," Andrew Oikonny's dull voice remarked smugly, "Not that he put up much of a fight."
"Do what you want, Andrew, just stay out of the way," Wolf growled.
"To hell with that, I'm going after the real prize," Andrew laughed, and suddenly Fox noticed another black arrow headed for his Arwing.
Fox throttled into full, speeding forward as two enemy fighters began to converge on his tail.
"Oh shit ohshitohshitohshitohshit," Fox murmured to himself tensely as he weaved in and out through the air, dropping his altitude and trying to dodge the shots that he knew would be coming.
A red laser bolt flashed past his canopy bubble, then he felt a rocking impact as another punched into his left wing, reducing his shields to 46%.
"You fuckin' chimpo!!" Wolf roared, "I'll kill ya' myself! FUCK OFF!!!!"
Fox had no idea who he was dodging shots from, Wolf and Andrew seemed to be in a race against each other to kill him first. The stream of red blasts never seemed to end as they pounded into the ground just ten meters below him. He pulled into a barrel roll to the left, the shields reflecting a deluge of crimson bolts out into the air above.
He shoved into full throttle, guiding the Arwing in a sharp turn to the right, but the two fighters stayed on him.
"Peppy! Falco!" Fox yelled, stressed.
Another hit rattled the Arwing, his shields now at 41%.
"Hail Andross!! Ahahaha!" Andrew laughed.
"I said knock it tha' fuck off! He's fucking mine!!!" Wolf howled.
The two black arrows were hard on Fox's ass, unshakable. One of them would tear Fox apart if he turned left, the other would tear him apart if he went right. Both would tear him apart if he stayed in between them.
Fox pushed into a boost, barrel rolling as he looped upwards. Dozens of enemy laser blasts scattered off of the Arwing's flared shields. He blasted forward at the apex of his loop, spinning to right the ship vertically, knowing that he'd bought a second or two at best.
"SOMEBODY!!!" Fox yelled, banking hard to the left, unable to boost again. The two black arrows were closing back in on his rear. In the brief split second that he looked at the radar, Fox thought he also saw a green arrow on the screen, headed towards him and his assailants. Just as he was about to check, another two laser blasts tore into his Arwing, chipping his shields down to 33%. Fox grunted in stress, swerving the Arwing to the left, back towards the palace as he frantically pulled into another barrel roll. In that brief instant, he glanced back at the radar screen and saw a green arrow just about on top of the three of them.
Without warning or even a clue, Slippy Toad's damaged Arwing shot out from the sky above, roaring over Fox's canopy.
"What tha' fu—" Wolf O'Donnell barked in alarm, cut off as the Arwing rolled ninety degrees and plowed into Andrew Oikonny's Wolfen II, slicing into the fuselage with its right wing. A tremendous explosion was heard as Slippy's wing tore itself off into the side of Oikonny's fighter, ripping off the Wolfen IIs right G-diffusers. The shockwave of the explosion flung Wolf's ship wildly out of control as Slippy's Arwing spun through the air with a thick trail of brown smoke and flames.
Andrew Oikonny tumbled, screaming to the ground, until the Wolfen II computer blew off the cockpit bubble and activated the escape system. Andrew's screams were cut off as the rocket boosters in his ejector seat blasted him clear of the doomed fighter and opened a parachute that carried his traumatized form softly to the dirt.
Back in the air, Fox looked dumbfounded as Slippy's Arwing slowly stabilized itself through G-diffusion despite its lost wing.
"Slippy are you okay?!" Fox demanded with shock.
"I'll be fine…" Slippy groaned, "The Arwing's almost totaled. She can still fly, though."
"You stupid bastard, that was the bravest thing I've ever seen!!" Fox beamed with gratitude.
Then his eyes locked onto Peppy's Arwing, still struggling in its fight with Pigma, and Wolf's fighter slowly managing to regain control.
"Get back to the Great Fox!" Fox commanded, "You've done your job! Go!"
"Don't have to tell me twice," Slippy remarked, his Arwing awkwardly shooting into the toxic Venomian clouds.
Fox soared into a boost, blasting back towards the Palace complex.
"Hold on, Peppy!" Fox yelled.
He fired a chain of lasers in between Pigma and Peppy, which Pigma dodged by veering into a swift loop through the air.
"Get on my nine o'clock. We've got him together!" Fox instructed.
"Yuh know, I think afta I kill tha both of yuh, I'm gonna go up tuh tha Great Fox an' kill Slippy, too, for you bein' such assholes all tha time," Pigma snarled with aggravation.
"You won't last sixty seconds," Peppy shot back as he formed up on Fox's left.
Fox smiled, leading Peppy in a broad turn to the right after Pigma's fighter.
He knew that he had to focus on the ultimate goal of ending the war and nothing else.
He wasn't focused on revenge.
But Pigma was in the way of ending the war. Fox needed to get Pigma out of the way, simple as that.
And Peppy never said it would be wrong to enjoy it.
On the radar, Fox watched as his yellow arrow and Peppy's red arrow curved through the air, moving towards Pigma's retreating black arrow. On the other side of the radar, he could see what could only be Wolf's black arrow headed in his direction. They didn't have much time before Wolf reached them, perhaps seconds. But Fox was willing to gamble that it was enough time to take care of Pigma.
"Peppy, accelerate and form on my eleven," Fox instructed as they drew closer to Pigma's fighter.
Fox knew Pigma was a greedy coward down to the core. Even as a member of StarFox, Pigma hated getting into a fair fight, and he would absolutely avoid a conflict where the odds were stacked against him. With his faster, more powerful ship against Peppy's Arwing alone, the odds were in Pigma's favor. Against Peppy and Fox together, the chances were much slimmer. Fox was counting on Pigma to play it true to form. And just as Fox knew he would, Pigma began a bank to the right as Peppy and Fox came in on his rear left flank. By keeping Peppy on the left and keeping just out of good shooting distance, they'd corralled Pigma into retreating to the right—closer and closer to where Falco was keeping Leon Powalski occupied.
"On my mark, boost forward and fire on Pigma," Fox called into the comlink, louder than necessary to hopefully catch Falco's attention and give him a heads up.
"Wolf! Leon! Any time now!" Pigma demanded, a level of tension just barely evident under the belch-like gloating tone of his voice.
He seemed to sense that Fox and Peppy had him pinned. But he obviously didn't see just how pinned.
Fox tried to suppress the sneer forming on his muzzle as Pigma's arrow sped further to the right in retreat, just as Falco's blue arrow broke off sharply from its duel with Leon's black one.
"Falco! Gift-wrapped pig at four o' clock!" Fox yelled, "Peppy, boost and fire now!"
Almost simultaneously, Falco, Peppy and Fox slammed their throttles into a boost, exploding forward through the air and converging from three different points on Pigma Dengar's Wolfen II. They all stabbed their thumbs into the firing buttons on their control sticks, showering Pigma with volleys of twin cerulean laser beams.
Pigma gave off a distressed cry that was half animalistic roar, half porcine squeal as dozens of laser beams pounded into his ship in less than a second. His Wolfen II jittered through the air with every impact like a pebble in an earthquake, and abruptly dropped altitude sharply as if the star fighter had forgotten how to fly. Pigma's ship suddenly blasted forward awkwardly after falling hundreds of feet, flying through the air at a much slower speed than before and with a thick cloud of black smoke trailing out one of its thrusters.
Falco suddenly pulled up into an Immelman turn back the way he came, converging back on Leon while Fox and Peppy sped up behind Pigma.
"Take him," Fox ordered, figuring that Peppy deserved the honor more than he.
"Now hold on Peppy!" Pigma stammered, "I swear, yuh nevah gonna see me again! Yuh let me roll outta here an' I'll jus—"
"Shut the fuck up," Peppy menaced. He held down on the firing button, charging up his shot as he thought of all the original StarFox adventures, all of the good times with James, and all of the suffering that followed when a piece of shit named Pigma Dengar sold the both of them out. He didn't even need the targeting computer to make this shot. He knew when the time was right.
"Wolf! Get tha fuck over here!" Pigma squealed.
"Eat this, fat-shit," Peppy snarled, "This is for James."
A thick glob of green light erupted from the nose of Peppy's Arwing, lancing through the air and mowing into the rear of Pigma's ship. The explosion crumpled the Wolfen IIs airframe like paper, the wings warping as the twin thrusters sheared themselves apart in a cloud of smoke and debris. There was a crackling on the comlink as Pigma let out one final anguished squeal, then the Wolfen IIs cockpit bubble flew off, the ejector seat blew out, and the white parachute deployed. The rest of the fighter dove into the ground, bouncing once on the hard volcanic rocks before exploding in an orange plume of fire.
"I've been waiting more than three years to do that," Peppy exhaled as he and Fox soared over the burning wreckage. Fox nodded quietly in his cockpit, leveling his Arwing off with Peppy still on his eleven o' clock.
He saw movement out of the corner of his eye, and only then did Fox remember that it was far from over. The black arrow of Wolf's fighter was now deadly close to the both of them, and before Fox could even react, a burst of scarlet laser bolts streamed past his cockpit and stabbed into Peppy's right G-diffuser. Part of the blue durasteel paneling on the G-diffuser blew off as the lasers overwhelmed Peppy's already-weakened shields, and the Arwing dropped about fifty feet before wobbling back into flight.
"Better start runnin' home if ya' wanna live, old man," Wolf growled, "This is a two-person-tango, an' I'm tired a' waitin' for it!"
Fox glanced at the radar, seeing Wolf's arrow beginning a broad circle away from them, then turned his gaze on Peppy's Arwing as it trembled through the air.
"Your shields are shot and one of your G-diffusers is hit," Fox said, "Leave, Peppy. He'll kill you if we both try to attack him."
"What if he kills you? What about our mission to bomb the palace? What about your goal, Fox?" Peppy dissented.
"I'm not letting you get killed in the process; I don't give a damn if it's selfish!" Fox argued, "Do it now before he comes back around. I'm ordering you to disengage!"
The moment of hesitation lasted for barely a second.
"Wilco, sir," Peppy hissed, his Arwing banking left before soaring up into the sky.
As soon as Peppy was gone, Fox looked back at the radar to get a sight on Wolf. The lone black arrow was weaving slowly across the radar map, almost as if waiting for him. Fox took in a breath and let it back out, then gripped the joystick and guided the Arwing into a U-turn through the air.
"I'm glad ya' got rid of the old man," Wolf remarked, his drawling growl sounding almost polite, "I always thought he was alright. Wouldn't have liked killin' him."
"But you don't mind killing me," Fox returned coldly.
"That's how it's supposed ta' be," Wolf answered dismissively, "It's fate. I'm the best. And I'm finally gonna prove it."
Fox's jaw tightened as he accelerated his Arwing. In the distance, the dark shape of a star fighter turned and blasted toward him head-on.
"Alright, StarWolf, you wanted me, here I am," Fox McCloud rumbled, "Come and get it."
"With pleasure," Wolf O'Donnell snarled.
TO BE CONTINUED… on the next page. Go take a smoke break or something (or maybe leave a review), then come back and continue playing the StarWolf or StarFox theme while you read.