'Almost finished' yeah? No surprise that I don't have a clue what I'm talking about, huh?
Sincere apologies for the wait. There will still be a few more chapters to go.
Miko Rune, I'm pretty sure that Veger thinks everyone who isn't him is a low-bred peasant too stupid to know what's best for them. So long as he has lackeys and armed men to obey him, his perception of himself won't change…
Ouchies - Yep. It's one of those unspoken repercussions of a system that breaks connections in order to promote procreative ones. It sucks.
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Miko was summoned to take Ashelin away - the dark-coloured woman barely restraining her contempt once she realised who the redhead was. Ashelin was technically a protected prisoner - and it was Miko's job to ensure no Praxis-hater sought to end her life before the arena could. What with the ongoing (if sporadic) invasion, there wouldn't be any arena challenge for quite a while.
Neither woman was happy about it.
When she'd realised that she'd actually just volunteered for a long holding cell wait while other people fought to defend their world, Ashelin had turned to Jak - and frowned at his answering shrug. Hey, he'd tried to keep her out of it. It was nobody's fault but her own.
Her frown edged on a scowl as she left, perfectly matching Miko's.
Daxter sniggered against the side of his head.
The door closed behind them, silence fell, and Jak remembered Sig's words - "a very pissed-off father, maybe somethin' to do with his critically-injured son taking off without word or warning".
He met his father's stony gaze and lowered his own, one hand coming up to rub the back of his head. Dax glanced between them, offered a 'better you than me' pat and dropped down to the floor to wash up in one of the further pools of water
"I'm sorry." Jak apologised, the words stiff from disuse but no less sincere for it. He hadn't even thought about Damas, about how the man might feel to discover his son missing - especially after a near-fatal injury had laid him out for over a week.
"I didn't… I mean I wasn't trying to disrespect you. Or worry you, whatever. I just… I went to see the monks, and then I got healed up and there was a transport headed to Haven and I guess I… I guess I just got back to work."
He didn't mention how he'd always been on his own, be it as a child wandering the streets of Haven or a youth with an 'uncle' who vanished for months at a time. Even when Dax had become part of his life, it had felt like they were one unit against the world.
Then had come Haven, capture, isolation and experimentation, fear and hate and nobody but himself against a world of monsters, even after Dax found him again and hunched warm and small on his shoulder.
(Two years, his mind had whispered. He left me with them for two years.)
He was better, now. He was so much better that some days be barely even recognised himself as the same feral thing that had clawed its way out of the Baron's prison.
He was better, but… some habits died hard, he supposed.
Damas was remote, inflexible and unforgiving.
Until he thawed, face relaxing and one hand coming up to rub over his bald head, massaging around the spikes implanted in his skull - a crown not easily stolen.
"…I am glad you're alright." His Father answered eventually. A brief hesitation and then the hand not holding his staff came up to draw Jak into a brief, manly hug. His back was patted almost hard enough to bruise before he was released.
Jak stood still, dazed. No-one, apart from Keira, had ever… It should have been unfamiliar. A tiny, wretched fragment of his long-gone childhood just keened for the reminder of what it had lost.
"I've had some time to think about… the situation." Damas continued. "And it's not that I don't think you are capable. Precursors know you have endured and accomplished much - more than perhaps I could, in your position. I have… struggled, however, to reconcile this knowledge with the memory of the son I have been looking for for so long. When I think of Mar - of you - my thoughts are coloured by years of fear. Of dread. Of failure. I know you're capable Jak, but you're still my son - and until just a few weeks ago my son was a five year old child. A baby. All I had left of my wife. All that I loved in this world."
The King turned away, visibly reigning his emotions in, forcing them back under control without giving up his brutal honesty. When he turned back, his eyes were dry - but deep with years of loss held back like a dam fit to burst.
"I spent years not knowing if he was even alive. I searched without any real hope of gaining even answers, let alone my son. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, I got him back - got you back. I hope you can understand why the… reflex, to keep you safe and protected is difficult to shake. Even after everything you have done, the life you have led and the warrior you are today… you are still my son."
His father's voice broke on the last word and the emotion inherent in that break reached deeply into Jak's battered, sometimes-bitter heart. He felt a surge of affection for the old man that eclipsed anything he had felt for his Uncle or Samos, ever. In that one, expansive moment, he'd have forgiven Damas anything.
"But… you are a warrior, even before you are a prince." Damas seemed to be reminding himself as much as telling Jak. "So, as much as possible, I will endeavour to treat you with the respect a warrior deserves and not restrict your ability or right to fight for what you believe in. I hope, however, that you will respect me in turn. As King, if you cannot see me as your father. I… care about you, Jak. About what happens to you. If you would but bear this in mind in the future, I will be… content."
Jak swallowed tightly. Cleared his throat.
"I'll try. I mean, I do. I, uh…" He flicked a quick look over to his best friend, half for help and half in hope that he wasn't listening in. He absolutely was of course, but he was at least pretending not to.
"I'd prefer a father, than a King." He managed. Fuck it, if he could spit in Errol's face despite everything the sick fuck had done to him, he could damned well speak his mind (his heart) to his father.
"And, I'm sorry," he added - impulsively but so painfullygenuinely. "That I'm not him. Not Mar. Not even your son, not really. Not like you remember. Maybe… I never should have sent him back. Maybe-"
"No." His father smiled at him, one hand coming up to grip his shoulder firmly, gratitude and comfort and unspoken support.
"The children of the House of Mar are raised on stories of the Precursors and the battles of our ancestor and founder, Mar. These battles extended far beyond the city he founded at the end of his trials, far beyond our world and even beyond our time. Through his experiences, we know that Time is a force that even the Precursors treat with caution. Deliberate disruptions never turn out well. You did what had to be done, what had already been done. Your choice was no choice at all and not your fault. It is true that I miss the son I once had, but I would not give up the son that I have now for the world. All children grow up eventually after all - some just a bit sooner than others. What is, is. I am content."
Jak nodded, unable to hold his father's gaze, unable to remember a time that there had ever been so much unqualified love directed at him before. Samos' absent fondness and even Keira's fresh-growing affection were like nothing in comparison. Even Dax, his best friend of so many years, had never looked at him like this.
This time, Jak initiated the hug.
Strong arms welcomed him, the moment hung, then both pushed away with pats to the arm and cleared throats.
"My monks tell me that the Daystar is only days away - perhaps less." Damas strode towards the window, through which the Daystar could be clearly seen - an ugly, ominous purple light as big as a fingertip. "More than a few have gone into fits, some foreseeing the end of our world, others seeing only blinding light or nothing at all. We don't know what form the Daystar will take when it arrives but my Wastelanders are ready to fight it. What of Haven?"
Jak frowned, dredging up anger to stifle fear.
"Veger sent troops into the Port." He reported. "I don't know how they are now because Vin's out of range, helping them. Worse, though: Veger's planning to drop the palace on them to cover up his own attack. It'll kill everyone."
"Hmph. And I thought his treachery limited only to myself." The ex-King of Haven observed contemptuously. "Why? Because they're yours?"
"Probably in part," Jak acknowledged, feeling the burn of irrational guilt. "But there's something else. He's looking for something - some kind of weapon - underneath the palace. We stopped one attack already but this time? I don't think we can stop him. He's placed explosives all throughout the tower. It's coming down, maybe already has."
"He wants into the catacombs." Damas concluded. "Though it may not be as easy as he hopes. There are gateways after gateways, many of whose locks have never responded to even our bloodline - we would not even know of them if not for the monks' records. It should take him some good amount of time to study and get past however many survive the falling of the tower."
"Maybe not that long. He has monks too." Jak hedged around actually saying that Seem was working for the guy, but the speed with which Damas snapped around meant he probably wouldn't be able to protect her for long - if he even should be at all.
After all, if Seem had never helped Veger in his quest for power, the man would have had no reason to even think about demolishing the tower - and aiming the rubble at thousands of innocent people.
"Who?" Damas demand, every inch the King of Spargus and once-King of Haven.
Jak weighed his options and his loyalties, lightning-fast, pitting the gentle monk with unknown motives against the father and king who could be brutally unforgiving but at least paired it with straightforward honesty.
"I don't know everything," He cautioned "But… I know at least one of those who might be involved. Her name's Seem - and she hates the guy, so I'm pretty sure she's not doing it out of loyalty or disloyalty. There's… something else. Some other reason that I don't know."
"We will know soon." Damas growled, raising his glowing staff and slamming it into the ground. A near-invisible, completely intangible shockwave rippled violently away from it, vanishing into the world around them.
"I have summoned her. She will answer to her King, or she will answer to her Makers."
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Explosions rocked the city, stalling everyone - mob and guard alike.
Everyone knew, even if they hadn't believed it till now, what was happening.
Concrete, bricks, wires and dust rained down on the city below. The ground under their feet shuddered as the palace twisted and bent, buckling under its own weight. Faces turned upward in alarm, fear, terror.
A cable tore free and pulverised stretches of New Haven, industrial material the width of a bus whipping and writhing as the palace fell and dragged it along behind it.
A second cable tore free in the Stadium district. The Agri, Port and Slum cables all dipped, bowing under their own weight even as the palace pulled them irrevocably down.
People in the Port screamed under the Palace's shadow, struggling evacuation attempts turning into a free-for-all flood of people trying to escape. Yellow, blue and orange armoured soldiers threw down their weapons and ran right alongside everyone else. It was stupid, and it was futile.
No-one could outrun two hundred tons of falling death.
Tiles and glass smashed all around them, heralds of the palace above, knocking down and caving in skulls. People fought to get in and out of buildings, they dove under water and under bridges, they climbed over each other at the barriers and pushed each other down and away, mindless in their need to survive.
The screaming whine of engines pushed to their limit didn't even register over their terror until there was a world-shaking SMASH of sound… and their screams weren't snuffed out beneath it.
Thousands of people half-stood from instinctive crouches or got up from where they'd gone sprawling, skin scraped and bleeding, eyes wide and white.
The War Factory, entire frame shuddering under the force its massive engines were putting out, had propelled itself directly into the palace's path. It was protecting them.
It was… it was sinking. Slowly but surely, the sheer mass of the building and its trailing support cables were overcoming the weapon factory's thrust capacity. The whine of massive, blue-glowing engines reached a new pitch, shrieking in unsustainable effort like the construct itself was screaming.
"Move! Evacuate to the Agrisector NOW, any men left at the barrier: blow it! MOVE, PEOPLE!"
Aconite roared her orders, the throb of the engines overheard muddling and drowning her words out from all but those were wired into her comm. It was enough. Those who heard her got back to work, soldiers and guards remembered their duties and oaths and resumed a more ordered form of evacuation. It helped that Veger's men simply resumed running, many retreating to ready troop transports, a few actually pausing to allow the very people they'd come to kill on with them. Whether it be to spare their own skin or out of a sudden disregard for the orders of the man who'd tried to drop a building on them, they didn't hamper or attack anyone further.
And if several never made it out because some people prioritised vengeance over mercy, well…
No-one would miss them.
The barrier between the Agri-sector and the Port was swiftly demolished and people began streaming out in greater numbers, the looming shadow of the palace and Agri-sector's support cord still an axe above their heads.
One of the weapon factory's engines blew out in a sudden belch of flame and black smoke. A corner dipped, the factory and the palace on top of it sinking several rapid storeys before dozens of tiny pin-point thrusters kicked to life, desperately acting not to prop the war factory up but to steer it. The factory spun slowly through the air, shifting the dipping corner to aim for the edge of the Port and towards the ocean. Dozens upon dozens of tiny flying drones spewed out of it like baby spiders from a broken egg sac, lining themselves along two edges and the underside of the factory, pushing their own insignificant engines beyond the red to eke out just… a little… more…
A second engine blew right over the shield wall. The factory tipped like a spilled glass, explosions and flame spreading throughout. Its last two engines flamed out, almost like whoever was steering it was trying desperately to tip fate just that hair's-breadth more.
It hit the shield wall and crushed it, the ocean beyond swelling and crashing through to flood the Port, but the Palace…
The Palace lay beyond, sinking fast and taking the factory with it.
The people it had been meant to kill didn't have time to wonder, to praise or thank. With displaced water rising fast, they could only keep running.
All around them, the bots which had waded in to their rescue now lay silent and dead, swiftly disappearing beneath the rising tidal wave. People splashed over and around them - they were only machines, after all, and not worth thinking about.
Alone, The War Factory burned, and drowned.
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Only a minute after issuing the summons, an aide entered the throne room to report that Seem had made contact - she was at the Temple but was returning to Spargus as commanded. Since Damas was still the King of a city preparing for all-out war, Jak took the opportunity to leave before he got wrapped up in the many things waiting for the King's attention.
Prince or not, his knowledge of Spargus' systems were extremely limited. Right now, his best use was in combat - there'd be time after to learn the ins and outs of supply lines and troop movements.
Precursors, he couldn't even imagine what kind of life he'd have after all this. A prince of Spargus would probably allow for something close to the freedom he'd known most of his life… but he still had the feeling that even in Spargus, invisible strings would restrict him in what he could say or do or go or be.
It was easier to be a fugitive.
With Daxter's help, he patched his comm into Spargus' tower, boosting the range his encrypted signal could reach - but there was no pickup, not from anyone. Haven was distant enough that it might mean nothing - but unless there was something fully occupying Vin's attention, the floating bit brain should have been able to either come closer or send out drones to act as a communication bridge.
He'd done neither, and Jak knew all too well just what that might mean about the state of the city.
He couldn't even go find Sig, because he'd left the man back in Haven - left him, along with Tess, Keira, Samos, Bolt and all the others who'd come to him for protection. They could be dying or dead right now and he wouldn't even know.
'It's hard to send people out to do what you could do. To risk their lives instead
of yours. To be the one responsible, even when the inevitable clusterfucks
aren't your fault. It's the hardest thing in the world, I think,
especially when you care.'
Ashelin's words came back to him like a terrible portent, so naively ignored.
Daxter patted the top of his head, solemn.
"C'mon buddy. We may as well check in on that flea-bitten menace of yours while we're here."
But you're right here, the automatic and all-but-invited retort didn't make it past his lips. He'd been angry and afraid before. He'd even been terrified before, but this… worry. This dread. This was new, and he didn't like it one bit.
"Yeah." He agreed shortly.
A fifteen minute walk saw them in the veterinary section of caves. Most of the city's livestock had already been moved deep within, to be kept as safe as possible in case of a siege situation and the entry area had been converted mostly to storage. Jak stopped, looking around for a sign - but apparently Wastelanders thought directions were for the weak.
A joyous bark broke the peace, rapidly followed by a blur of green coming right for him.
Jak laughed and fell to one knee just in time to catch an exultant crocodog straight in the chest. The heavy little animal was almost insensible with joy, licking at his face and hands, leaping up into his arms one second and bounding in circles another.
"Hey Chubby, you been good?" He greeted, rubbing his ears and gently thumping his chest. The dog barked and pranced, skipped and rolled over to bare his belly.
"He's been very good, if lonely." A voice reported and Jak looked up to see the not-a-monk!girl from before. Her hair was less closely shaved now, like she hadn't had time to tend it since he'd last seen her over a week before. "He kept leaving - to try and find you, I think - but he came back each time."
Jak felt a pang in his chest. He didn't deserve the animal's affection and loyalty, he really didn't. He gave it another solid petting before standing, inwardly resolving to do better - to be better. It helped that his own fondness for the animal came a bit easier these days, less smothered like all his positive emotions had once been.
"Thanks for taking care of him." He nodded to the girl. "I owe you one."
"You owe me nothing." The girl contradicted him. "I may not be a monk yet but Ibelieve in the creed. Stewardship and care for all of the precursors' creations is not something that should ever become so scarce that it must be sold."
Jak nodded as Daxter launched himself onto Chubby's back for a wild crocodog ride. The girl bowed briefly and left Jak to watch the shrieking, growling fight for dominance.
The crocodog won.
"Who's a good boy?" Jak crooned with a grin, lavishing mocking attention on the animal as it pranced proudly towards him, leaving the Ottsel in the dust. "Who just proved that opposable thumbs don't mean nuthin'?" Chubby panted happily under his hand as Dax peeled himself off the ground long enough to glare.
Jak laughed, open and utterly without the undertone of malice that had tainted it for over a year. He stayed crouching long enough for his best friend to dust himself off and jump back up to his shoulder before standing to leave, Chubby scampering out ahead of them.
As they left the shadow of the cave, a single shot of highly charged eco energy sizzled through the air. Jak flinched in automatic defence - but the shot hadn't been aimed at him.
Chubby hit the ground with a scratching, whining yelp, twitched once, fell still. A curl of smoke rose slowly from a hole in his size, blackened and burned and lethal.
All the shadows in the world thickened and spread as Dark flooded his veins, hazing his vision even as it enhanced it, nascent fury driving it on.
He looked up and saw a small, satisfied smile curl cruel, white-painted lips.
Fury was ignited by hate and Jak became Dark Jak in the space of one violently willing heartbeat.
The white-painted monk went down under his weight, his claws, red slashing the ground around him. Blue-white light flickered and flashed around him - burning, hurting, healing, failing. He shrugged it off, rage burning too hot, too strong, to be felled by the weak attack by the scum below.
He didn't remember why he wanted to kill it kill itbut he wanted, and the wanting felt good - almost as good as the doing. Skin and muscle split and shredded, a weapon was crushed and thrown away, limbs scrambled desperately to hold him back and frantic noise scrabbled at his ears, uselessly.
Until one voice broke through.
"Jak! If you truly are a man and not a beast, then by the Precursors, STOP!"
Dark Jak paused and looked up. Another white-painted creature stood before him, hands glowing blue-white in threat. The Dark in him spat and hated, but even now he wasn't the monster he'd once been. He knew this black-clad body, knew those narrowed eyes. This was Seem, sometimes-friend and maybe-traitor, who thought better of him than he deserved but wouldn't hesitate to kill him either. That didn't piss him off though, it just reminded him of what this looked like - an out of control berserker slaughtering a helpless monk. Aiden didn't deserve having his death cleanse his sins, nor for it to leave Jak's reputation stained.
"You're right." He said, voice crackling, a nightmare that could think.
"When I kill this piece of shit... I want there to be no mistaking that..."
With a shudder, Dark Jak reverted to an equally murderous Prince Mar.
"He fucking deserves it!"
So saying, he stepped back. One boot on the shaking mess of a man's chest, he pulled his gun and switched to blaster mode. One shot, between the eyes, would be more kindness than the murderer deserved. He took aim, Seem hesitating off to the side - without being Dark, her authority to act in this situation was abruptly less clear. Still on his shoulder, Daxter kept a sharp eye for any interference as Jak pulled the trigger.
A hair from firing, his finger froze. Just a scrap of pressure more and the monk would be dead, brain fried, just an unfortunate accident of timing. If only the order had come sooner. Such a shame.
He breathed out and lowered the gun, unfired.
He was a man, not a monster, and men obeyed their kings - if not their fathers. His father was both, and he couldn't pretend otherwise.
He stepped back and another unknown monk rushed to help his fallen brother with green eco and bandages.
"What is going on here?" King Damas demanded. Seem stepped back and remained silent, Aiden was too damaged to do more than whimper, so Jak holstered his weapon and answered.
"He killed Chubby." He answered, face blank but eyes hard. "Just shot him down. No reason. Just did it."
"And that's worth his life?" The monk tending the bastard spat. "King Damas, even if this is true - which I highly doubt - by law an animal is property. This man's attack was unprovoked and obscene - he's twisted by Dark Eco!"
"Twisted?!" Daxter yelled, fur puffing up as he glared at the monk. "I'll show you twisted you jumped-up circus clown!"
Jak caught him mid-lunge, eyes locked on Damas'. His father's expression was carved from stone, but he thought he caught a flicker of understanding. This was Chubby, after all. The little animal who had trekked the desert alone to find his younger self, who had stuck by him and guarded him where Damas could not. He understood. But… the law was the law… and by law, Chubby was property. Killing him wasn't murder, it was no greater crime than breaking a plate.
There was nothing Damas could do, not while keeping to the laws that governed his people - and himself.
Jak turned away, boxed his hate into a dark little corner where it could fester and ferment into fuel.
"'Stewardship and care for all of the Precursors' creations'." Jak rasped, partly to Aiden and partly to the crowd. "Isn't that the monks' creed? Maybe that doesn't include me anymore and maybe for a monk the slaughter of an animal just to cause pain wouldn't get more than a slap on the wrist." He looked around. Wastelanders were a hard people - but they felt deeply. Old pain and harsh living paradoxically made those feelings easier to stoke.
"When someone comes into your home and attacks you, breaks your things and kills while relying on a loophole to go unpunished - is that right?" The crowd rumbled a negative. "Is that us?" He demanded. "Is that Spargus?" Denial was shouted, now, the people of Spargus never shy about voicing their opinions - it was why many of them had been exiled right alongside their King. Weapons were raised in the air, mob justice ready and willing.
He turned to Damas.
"We already have enemies outside the city. Can we afford to shelter them too?" Jak challenged.
Damas had gone from stony to stern. True anger flickered in his eyes and for the first time, Jak realised just how badly this could go. He'd only meant to get justice, but in his anger, he'd gone about it the wrong way. Justice was about more than personal grievance backed up by public opinion… and now he'd all but demanded the King ignore the law to side with his son.
"Indeed not." The King growled, flicking two fingers that saw one of his guards peel out of the crowd to stand over the bleeding monk in question. "Though his crime is minor, war is upon us and his punishment must reflect that. He is to be tended to, then exiled." He commanded, briefly looking the incredulous monk dead in the eye before turning a much harder expression onto his son. "This I have decreed, now return to your duties."
Jak met his gaze, forced back howling indignation and lowered his eyes.
The King left, fresh reports and new orders already resuming their chaotic dance around him.
Jak raised dark eyes to Seem's tight glare. "Didn't the King summon you?" He growled, because who the fuck was she - mass-murderer-supporting traitor that she was - to judge him? And not because he was a prince, or a monster, but just because she was in league with Veger. Veger, who had probably already…
"Something about helping a Havenite to slaughter thousands of innocent people, wasn't it?"
Her head reared back, ruby eyes widening in shock before flicking after the busy King.
"Need some help finding your way there?" He offered darkly, as the Wastelanders around them stirred and muttered. "Wouldn't want you to get lost and run in the opposite direction." The crowd shifted, several members nonchalantly moving close enough to make a grab for the monk if she resisted. They might not know what was going on but nobody could accuse them of being stupid.
Seem looked around at the mass of unfriendly faces. Up, at the Daystar hanging ugly in the sky.
She closed her eyes.
"What I have done," she said lowly, almost whispering "I have done in service of the world and all of the Precursors' creations that live upon it. What sacrifices that entails will be judged by my brethren, by my King and by my creators." Her eyes snapped open, faintly glowing with power. "After we are saved."
A brilliant flash of light blinded them all. Though at least two Wastelanders surged forwards despite it, they met with empty air.
Seem was gone.
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This chapter was re-written three times. Originally, Jak just straight-up murdered Aiden - then Damas wandered in and pointed out that even in Spargus, shooting a *dog* probably wasn't sufficient cause for execution. Jak let his temper get the better of him and I was thiiis close to writing a whole "THIS. IS. SPARGUS!" moment before the stupid story got away from me again. I'm still not happy with that last section, it may be edited later.
Also-originally, Vin was supposed to die several chapters ago so he wasn't here to try and intervene during the palace-drop. Yep, originally, everyone was gonna get squished.
Next chapter: The catacombs have been busted open. The start/end of the story is finally here.