Several months had passed since Venus and Ratchet left for the Breegus System in a desperate attempt to recruit more troops for the Renegades. To their dismay, many of the people they had approached had already sold their loyalty to Zarthon in exchange for raritanium and bolts, and as such had tried to either capture them or kill them and claim the hefty reward on their heads. That didn't mean they had been unsuccessful - a decent number of individuals had joined them. The races ranged from Agorians to Terachnoids to even a few Grummels. Transport vessel after transport vessel had come and gone to take the new recruits to the Renegades' latest base camp on planet Sargasso.
Now, as Ratchet piloted the ship back to the overgrown primordial jungle, Venus stared out at the stars as they passed. She had told herself that she wouldn't be afraid, but now that the final battle was nearing, she found herself nearly paralyzed with fear. She had seen what the Shraalites could do and, more importantly, what the Shadow Hydra could do. She also dreaded at the thought that Zarthon had been building up his own army, and she knew that his was likely much larger than the Resistance.
After a while, she was jolted out of her thoughts when Ratchet gingerly placed his right hand on her shoulder. She turned to face him, a look of empathy on his face. "I know you're scared, Venus," he said reassuringly. "And frankly, you'd be insane if you weren't. But you can't let that stop you."
"I don't plan to," she replied in determination as she turned to look back at the stars. They sat in silence for what felt like an eternity before she finally spoke again. "There's no doubt we're both at least a little scared right now… But there is one thing you should keep in mind, Ratchet." He turned to look at her as she did the same. "Without fear, there can be no courage. Just as without darkness, there can be no light."
"Words of wisdom, Venus," he said with a smile. "Words of wisdom."
The rest of their journey to Sargasso was made in silence. Only once they neared the planet did either one of them finally utter a sound. At the exact location the Renegades' base camp, there was a huge black and purple swirling mass, and it expanded with every passing second. "No…" Venus gasped. "The shadow. We may be too late to stop it…"
"I don't know about you," Ratchet began, speeding up. "but I refuse to believe that! I'm not giving up!"
"Then neither am I. Like I said before - I'm with you no matter what."
When the ship finally landed outside the base camp, the two couldn't believe their eyes. All that was once wild and beautiful was now dry and dead. Carcasses of the dinosaurian leviathans lay strewn about the cracked ground, many of them already in late stages of decay. From off in the distance, the roars of the Shraalites could be heard, as well as the bloodcurdling shrieks of the Shadow Hydra. Ratchet's expression of disbelief soon turned to one of pure rage, and Venus felt a tear make its way down her face.
"Venus, come on!" Ratchet said as he started forward. "Base camp's just over that hill!" She nodded, wiping the tear from her fur as she trailed behind him.
Both armies had set up camps on opposite side of a vast field. The two Lombaxes hadn't realized how many new forces they had recruited. Over the past months, the number of the Renegades had elevated from only a few dozen to several thousand. Terachnoids sat at communication stations at the back of the base camp. They would communicate with the troops as they fought, giving them any helpful advice they could. Near the Terachnoids, a large group of Vullards had set up repair stands, where they were already fixing up the many robotic troops, including a shocking number of pirates. Kerchu and Agorian warriors were working hard on preparing their weapons and armor, as were the multitude of Fongoids on the opposite side of the camp. Several dozen Agorians were working to keep the war groks under control. Talwyn and the two warbots had even managed to recruit some former gladiators from the days of Tachyon's rule, including Crushto and Zorthan. As they looked across the field, however, they saw that Zarthon's army was easily five times the size of the Resistance.
"This doesn't look good…" Ratchet said, still looking out at the scene.
"It isn't the number of warriors that win a war," Venus began, "but the spirit of the warriors that leads to victory." After that, he looked back at her, smiled determinedly, and nodded as they made their way down the hill.
As soon as they reached the edge of the camp, they were greeted by Talwyn, Cronk, and Zephyr. "There you two are!" Talwyn exclaimed. "Everything okay?"
"I'm not sure," Venus replied. "What's the situation?"
"Zarthon's troops are still pouring in. Looks like we're not the only ones who have been recruiting over the past few months. And the shadow's getting worse by the minute. If you guys are going to stop that thing, we'd better get moving as soon as possible."
"Right." Venus looked around, finding a large boulder at the front of the base camp. "Spread the word, you guys. Once everyone's finished preparing, have them meet over there, got it?" The three nodded and ran off to tell the other troops. "You," she said to Ratchet, who looked down at her. "You're coming with me." He followed behind her as she strode off to the boulder.
Once they scaled the oversized stone, they sat near its edge, Venus's legs crossed and Ratchet's feet dangling in the air. As he looked over at her, she appeared to be meditating - her eyes were closed and her breathing was deep as she seemed to forget everything that had happened in the past months and everything that was happening around her now.
After a while, he noticed many of the troops gathering in front of the boulder. "Looks like we're almost ready," he said. Finally, Venus opened her eyes and saw that he was right. Very few of the troops were still preparing themselves for battle. A look of determination on her face, she stood up on the boulder and spread her wings, staring contentedly at her followers. "Uh…Venus?" She looked back at him as he stood by her side. "What're you doing?"
"Just watch, Ratch," she replied as she turned back to the Renegades. "This is how you get an army revved up for battle."
Finally, as she began, the soft muttering of the crowd died down, and everyone listened intently to their commander. "My fellow Renegades," she called over the multitude. "You all know why we're here today." She then looked back at Zarthon's army across the field for a second, then back to her own and continued. "To stop a madman from making the worst mistake in the universe…to stop him from destroying it. As I look upon all of you now, I see the same fear that would break a lesser warrior…and the same fear that I, your commander, feel now. But I also see the courage to overcome that fear! Now, that kind of courage is extremely rare at best, but your being here is proof that it does exist, if only within the hearts of a select few." She then folded her wings at her sides. "It's that courage that will put a stop to this villain's plot."
Then, the troops began murmuring amongst themselves again. "That's right, Renegades!" the Lombax girl continued, catching their attention once more. "We will stop this monster and his followers! We will put an end to this madness! We will succeed in our mission, as long as we stand together! And throughout the battle that awaits us all, stand strong! And keep one thing tucked away in the backs of your minds: What doesn't break a hero will make a hero!" She lifted her sword high into the air above her and spread her wings as wide as she could. Her followers began clapping as she finished her speech. "Now let's fight for our universe back!" After that, she planted her sword hard into the boulder, sending huge ripples of purple light expanding over the masses. Now, they burst into boisterous cheering and clanging of weapons and armor.
"Impressive, Venus," Ratchet said, grinning as they looked over their forces. "Did you rehearse that?"
"Actually, that was off the top of my head," she replied with a chuckle. Then, the two heard something behind them. The rest of the battalion must have heard it as well, for at that exact moment, a hush fell over the crowd. As they looked toward Zarthon's army, they saw that it was rapidly approaching the Renegades' camp. Determination on her face, she turned back to her forces. "Okay, everyone! Battle stations!" They did as they were ordered, the Terachnoids returning to their communication stations and the Vullards returning to their repair stands. The rest of the troops stood behind the boulder, prepare to set out for battle. Venus and Ratchet turned to face the massive army as well. Raising her sword, Venus gave her command.
With that, the soldiers ran at their enemies, weapons in their hands and fires in their hearts. The two Lombaxes watched for a moment as the armies finally met each other on the battlefield.
"Venus!" called Talwyn as she, along with Cronk and Zephyr, looked up at her from the ground. "That was some speech! You ever consider motivational speaking?"
"Can't say I have. What do you say we help out our troops? You guys radio me if you get into too much trouble, got it?"
"Got it. Good luck, you two." After that, the trio dashed after their comrades, ready to face the eminent challenge.
"What about us?" Ratchet said.
"You do what you want. I'm going after Zarthon and the Heart." She then loosed a shrill whistle, and after she did, Crushto came rushing to her side. "Watch your back out there, Ratch!" she called as she leapt onto the creature's back. "I'll radio you when I have the Heart!" He was about to object until Venus commanded her mount, "Heigh-ho, Crushto, away!" After that, the beast dashed headfirst into battle, going exactly where Venus had commanded him to.
"Oh, Venus!" Ratchet growled as he watched the two disappear into the mass of soldiers. He called for one of the war groks, which, to his surprise, came dashing up to him. "Please, don't eat me," he begged as he carefully climbed onto its back. It growled for a second, but soon settled down and awaited the Lombax's command. "After that mechanical…fish…thing!" he shouted. With that, the beast ran after Crushto and Venus.
He found the two staring at Zarthon, who, quite unexpectedly, stood alone before them. "You think you can stop me, Tigress," the Shraalite captain sneered, grasping the Heart in his right hand and a black blaster in his left. "You really are a fool."
"It may be a fool's errand," she began, "but that doesn't change the fact that you must be stopped!"
"Such a brave young Lombax. Too bad you joined the wrong side."
"Crushto!" After that, the beast fired several rockets toward the Shraalite, all of which were nonchalantly knocked away with a swipe of his hand. Then, a final rocket was knocked back into Crushto's mouth. Venus leapt off of him just as the explosive detonated inside of him - an instantly fatal blow. Zarthon laughed insanely as she looked back at the fallen creature. Then, she noticed a war grok running toward her with someone on its back…a very familiar silhouette.
"Venus!" Ratchet called down to her. "Get on! Quick!" She flew up onto the war grok's back. "Okay, big fella! Do your thing!" The grok roared menacingly, then slammed its immense fists on the ground, sending a violent shockwave toward Zarthon that knocked him over. It then ran closer to him to kill him, but before it got the chance, he shot at its chest using the black blaster. The shot burned right through the grok's chest, scorching its heart. The two Lombaxes jumped off its back just as it fell to the ground, limp and dead.
"You see, you fools! You cannot defeat me!" Venus held her sword in front of her, glowering at the maniacal monster that stood before them.
"This guy's tough," Ratchet said. "Maybe tougher than we thought."
"Then you'd better be ready for the fight of your life, hero." He then looked at her. Now, she looked more determined that ever. "I wasn't just talking to the other troops when I said we'll succeed if we stand together. I was talking to you, too." After that, he smiled and nodded."Well, isn't that sweet," Zarthon snickered.
Suddenly, Venus flew toward him and attempted to slash him across his chest, but he knocked her away the same way he had everything else. "Venus!" Ratchet cried as she crashed to the ground. She lay there for a moment before she staggered to her feet, using her sword as support. Ratchet then ran toward Zarthon as his attention was turned to the white Lombax, but his focus soon shifted, and he grabbed Ratchet by the neck and held him off the ground for what felt to him like forever before he finally threw him back. She looked back at him as he lay one his side, gasping for breath. Then, she glared back at her opponent. "You're nothing but a murderous monster!" she spat.
"A monster that knows something you don't," he chuckled, waving the blaster back and forth. She looked at the Shraalite confused as Ratchet finally propped himself up using his wrench. "What are you talking about?" she demanded.
"Your necklace is working to protect you now, is it not?" She gasped and realized what he meant. It hadn't reacted to anything before. She didn't understand why it did now. "Would you like to know why it works now?" He turned his attention from the white Lombax to her partner, still in pain on the ground behind her. "It's love," Zarthon sneered, almost as if it killed him to utter the very word. Both the Lombaxes' ears perked up. "The sweet, sickening kind you see on reruns of holovision soap operas." Venus sighed and looked down at the ground, and then at Ratchet. "Is that…" he began. "Is that true, Venus?"
She didn't say anything. Her ears drooped down against the back of her head as he struggled to his feet and limped over to her, staring in disbelief at her.
"Bah!" the Shraalite roared. "Sickening! All of it, nauseating!" They looked back at him, Venus stepping in front of Ratchet with her wings spread. "Maybe to you," she growled. "But you'll never know what you're missing." Zarthon's gaze finally softened a little. "You'll never know love or friendship. And for that, I pity you."
His rage seemed to be more intense now than it had been ever before. "You have the gall to pity me?" he roared. "You will regret coming here, you fools! Lord of the Shadows! Come to me!" Once again, from the black hole, a mass of dark matter appeared, and from the dark matter, the Shadow Hydra emerged, surrounded by the energy. Zarthon climbed up onto the Hydra's back as it emitted a shriek that echoed for miles. Any remaining soldiers on the battlefield instantly stopped and stared as the creature sent out bursts of dark energy.
To Venus's surprise, her sword began glowing intensely, which in this case was something she had not intended. When she didn't do anything for a moment, Ratchet exclaimed, "What are you waiting for?" then took the sword and swiped it in the air the way he had seen her do time and time again. A razor-sharp wave of purple energy flew toward the Hydra's neck, severing its head from its body. The monstrous creature fell flaccidly to the ground.
"There," he said, handing the sword back to her. She stared at him in disbelief. "That wasn't so hard now, was it?"
"Ratchet, do you have any idea what you just did?" she shouted.
"Yeah. I just killed a hydra."
"No, you didn't!" She firmly grabbed his shoulders and said, "If anything, you've made it worse!"
Suddenly, the headless body of the Hydra got to its feet. What remained of its neck split in half, and where there was once one head, there were now two that glared down at them. "Uh-oh…" was all Ratchet could utter as Zarthon burst into laughter.
"Don't you know anything about mythology? You never cut the head off a hydra! If you do, two grow back!" Both heads shrieked loudly as Zarthon looked down at them. "Very good, Tigress," he said.
"So how are we supposed to kill this thing?" Ratchet shouted. Then, a strangely familiar multitude of voices could be heard. "You are not," they said. "But perhaps we can assist you in containing it." Just then, the bead around her neck began glowing in a wide spectrum of colors. From within the bead burst five large orbs of light - one yellow, one blue, one red, one green, and one white. The yellow and blue orbs floated on the Lombaxes' left side, while the red and green ones floated to their right, and the white behind them. Suddenly, all five of them exploded into a fantastic flurry of light particles, revealing the four guardians and the Dragon Leviathan. Finally, the Hydra ceased its shrieking and stared almost in fear at the five.
"What do you mean, 'contain it?'" Venus asked.
"I told you before, Miss Carapell," the Leviathan began. "The Shadow Hydra cannot die. In order to quell the wrath of this beast, I would need to contain it within something…and entrust it to someone whom I would entrust the universe." Her ears stood straight as she realized what the Leviathan was saying. "You fit the bill, Venus. I entrust you with the safety of the universe, at least for as long as you shall live. Do you accept this?" She thought about it for a moment, then nodded. "Good." Then, it looked toward the four guardians and said, "Let us begin."
The bird flew upward, hovering above the Hydra and flapping its wings to create a strong whirlwind around it. With a flick of its tail, the serpent summoned a whirlpool of water from the ground, which joined with the whirlwind. After that, the dragon quickly flew over the Hydra's head, blasting a jet of fire down upon it that created a second whirlwind within the first, thanks to the wind created by the bird. Then, the wolf howled plaintively, summoning plants and stone from the earth to join the cyclone. And finally, after gathering its power, the Leviathan threw its head to the sky and expelled a mighty roar. From its body, countless tendrils of light shot into the cyclone and bound themselves to the Hydra's body. The shadow monster jerked violently around in an attempt to escape, which only amounted to Zarthon being thrown off its back and onto the ground about ten feet away. Soon, the other four elements bound themselves to the Hydra's body as well. In an instant, it disappeared into a ball of purple light that swirled with the colors of the guardians as it flew reluctantly into Venus's bead, which turned dark for a second, but then returned to normal.
Zarthon tried to get up from where he lay on the ground, but before he could, the Leviathan pinned him down with an immense foot, allowing Venus and Ratchet to stroll up to him without worry. "I'll just be taking that, thank you," Venus said, taking the Heart from Zarthon's right hand.
"No," he gasped in defeat. "No! You worthless mutts! You've ruined everything!" He was about to spit more choice words at them, but before he could, the Leviathan wrapped a tentacle around him. "I really hate to do this to you, Zarthon," it said. "but you are too much of a risk to the future of this universe." After that, it tossed him into the swirling black hole above them. He screamed loudly as it swallowed him.
The Leviathan and the four guardians all looked at the two Lombaxes. "I'm afraid this is all the help we can offer you. The rest is up to you." They then suddenly seemed to evaporate into the air. "Great," Ratchet said. "So, now what?"
Suddenly, the ground began to quake, and the lightning grew more intense, breaking holes into the earth as it struck down. Venus looked down in desperation at the Heart and saw that it wasn't reacting at all. "No!" she said, looking back up as the darkness around the grew stronger. "We're too late! We can't stop it!" She turned her attention to him, and he stared intently at her. For a moment, it seemed like there was nothing in the universe except for them.
Then, the tremors grew stronger. The shadow began descending upon them. Just as the darkness enveloped them, Venus pulled Ratchet closer to her. For a moment that seemed to last forever, they shared a kiss. Afterwards, the two held tightly to each other, waiting for the end to come.
All was silent. All that could be heard was Venus's whispering voice echoing through the darkness.
"I love you."
To their surprise, nothing happened. After a few minutes, Venus's eyes finally fluttered open. She noticed something - a bright light piercing through the darkness. She looked down and saw the Heart of the Dragon Leviathan glowing brilliantly in her hand. "Ratchet," she said. He, too, opened his eyes to find the brilliant light emitting from the gem. They finally released each other and examined it. "What's happening?" Ratchet wondered. Then, he reached out and touched a finger to it.
When he did, a fountain of beautiful white light spouted from the gem, and it levitated out of Venus's hand to float just between the two. A multiplicity of voices could be heard whispering, "When two hearts become one, the shadow's curse will be undone." After that, a blinding light surrounded them. They held each other close again and waited to see what would happen.
After several long minutes, the light finally faded, and the Heart was gone. Along with it, the shadow had disappeared, and the damage done to the planet had been reversed. The leviathans that lay dead on the ground before now roamed the land again. Everything was green and alive. The two Lombaxes looked around in awe at their surroundings. "How is this possible?" he asked. Venus looked thoughtful for a moment, but was brought out of her thoughts when the apparitions of the four guardians and the Leviathan appeared before them.
"Well done, you two," the Leviathan said with a warm smile.
"I don't understand," Venus said.
"Do you know what that inscription meant?" They thought about it for a second, then finally understood and looked back up at it. "There is only one force in this universe stronger than spirit…love. True love conquers all, time and space alike. A love like that never really dies."
"So…that's what stopped the shadow?"
"Combined with the power of a heart of gold," It looked at Ratchet. "and a shimmering silver spirit." It then looked at Venus. "And the power of the Heart. You have done well, my dear Lombaxes. For now, your work is done." After that, the bird, serpent, dragon, and Leviathan all disappeared into bright beams of light that shot off into the sky, each one going back to where it came from. The wolf stayed for a moment and walked up to the two.
"My dearest Venus," it said, looking at her with such love and affection in its eyes that it almost brought tears to her own. "I am so very proud of you. I know your mother is watching over you even now, and I am certain she's just as proud as I am. I'm honored to call myself your guardian." Once that was said, it became cloaked in a green light that immediately sunk down into the ground.
"Ratchet! Venus!" they heard a voice shout. They turned to find Talwyn and the two warbots dashing toward them. "You guys did it!" she exclaimed joyfully. "What's even more, you've reversed the damage already done! We're already getting transmissions from Kerchu City. It's like the Shraalite invasion never even happened!" As they looked around, they saw the Renegades taking every one of Zarthon's forces away as they cheered gleefully.
"Way to go, rookies!" Zephyr laughed. "Everything's back to normal!"
Ratchet's ears drooped as he spoke. "Not everything…" he sighed. Venus embraced him comfortingly, resting her head on his shoulder as he held her. He looked up at the sky as he thought to himself.
Nothing will ever be the same again…at least, not without you…