Darkness Coming – Rundas

Disclaimer: In case you haven't figured it out yet, I don't own Metroid Prime 3. All Metroid-related characters, settings, etc. are the intellectual property of Makoto Kano and Nintendo.

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Strictly on the surface, the notion of Rundas feeling cold was patently ludicrous.

Hailing from the ice-moon Phrygis meant acclimating to temperatures several hundred degrees below galactic zero from birth; snow and frost were simply the Phrygisian way of life, even in the midst of the summer cycles. And indeed, even amongst his own people Rundas' physiology was exceptionally well-adjusted to the glacial atmosphere, his natural cryokinetic abilities having been graded at the highest possible level upon his graduation from the L'ad Conservatory several decacycles ago. Whether training his body and reflexes out in the frozen wastelands or sustaining his salary with part-time heavy labor in the Phrygisian ice mines, the absolute last thing he would ever choose to complain about was the frigidity of the surrounding climate.

So why was it – clattering around the boiling planet of Bryyo no less – that he was so frequently being moved to shivering these days?

Admittedly, the coldness that Rundas was experiencing was not a physical one…but then it did not appear to be either a mental or an emotion one at that, so far as he could tell. No, by all objective markers, the Phrygisian bounty hunter was in peak condition on all possible levels…and yet the presence of the foreign sensation was undeniable, even as its source utterly eluded him.

There were clues, of course – this clammy, depressing feeling tended to come-and-go with the waning and waxing of battle, a prospect that came up disturbingly often on a planet seemingly Hell-bent on brutally slaughtering him. The native Reptilicus were wild and frenetic, either unable or unwilling to speak as they attacked Rundas on-sight in roving packs. Distasteful as it was for the hunter to terminate potentially sentient life-forms, the creatures weren't really providing him with much of a choice, and the ease and efficiency of his newly acquired Phazon Enhancement Device continued to make such short work of the swarms that it almost seemed wasteful not to take advantage of it.

The P.E.D.…perhaps that was all there truly was to the issue? After all, Rundas had never before had such a thing literally implanted into his body, and the Federation scientists had warned that there might be some unforeseen side-effects stemming from this apparently benign flow of Phazon his body was now rather insistently generating. And if that was the case, a little bit of disorientation hardly seemed too steep a price to pay for the significant boost it was providing to his combat capabilities.

…Still, the lack of concern or restraint that he was increasingly meeting the Reptilicus with by instinct was beginning to seriously disturb him – with his well of energy continuously self-refilling, entering Hyper Mode to dispatch the hostiles with extreme prejudice was progressively becoming the rule, rather than the exception. But feeling the unbridled power flowing freely through him felt good, and meant alleviation from the oppressive emotional frost for at least a decent hour or so. The price was not great, and the advantages were nearly limitless…to the point where Rundas was now being sorely tempted, should he be able to figure out how, to disable the vent system in his P.E.D. and just spend a good couple of days locked into the Phazon-fuelled nirvana. What could be the harm, really?

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Rundas' first indication that he had overlooked some rather significant flaws in this prospective idea came during a reconnaissance sweep of Bryyo Fire – there were Pirates swarming across this particular corner of the resource-rich planet, quite apart from the already bountiful array of deadly local fauna, and it couldn't hurt to get a better idea of exactly how well-entrenched their current presence was. As such, the Phrygisian was more than a little on-edge by the time he reached a secluded chamber of what appeared to be an abandoned temple, and found himself face-to-face with the most unusual Reptilicus he had ever seen.

From what little Rundas knew of Bryyonian biology – which wasn't exactly much – this creature appeared to be female, and exceedingly aged. And unlike her naked brethren, whatever tribal clothes they might once have worn before the onset of Phazon Sickness having degenerated into simple masks of bone, this Reptilicus was adorned with ornate and flowing robes, albeit ones that were evidently a few decacycles past their prime. But easily the most unnerving details of all were this creature's eyes.

The organs were chalk-white and milky, glazed over in a distant stare that suggested that this female was almost certainly blind…and yet, the manner with which she was currently regarding Rundas gave him the distinct – and uncomfortable – feeling that this was utterly immaterial to her ability to perceive his location.

Now she was muttering something in some ancient, inscrutable language, one with slurred pronunciation and a great many guttural tones, and a moment later his Galactic Federation translator module returned the sounds as, "Finally you have come forth, Ice-Bringer. I knew that it was only a matter of time."

"Who are you?" Rundas breathed, unsure of how to proceed. There was something implacably upsetting about this creature's utter stillness…not to mention the fact that she seemed to be claiming to have expected him.

"I am Ban-Fhaidh, last prophetess of the ancient lineage of Bryyo," she declared, still not moving from her meditative stance. "I had foreseen the starborne death of my people eons before its descent, and in the days since I have been ensconced away, able to do naught but idly observe as the once-great Reptilicus decay into madness from the poison that now runs through their veins. You know of this poison, do you not? You too carry its essence all about you, Ice-Bringer."

"Do you…mean the Phazon?" Rundas asked carefully, unconsciously taking a step back. "What do you know about it?"

"I knew that it would arrive within my lifetime…knew ever since I was but a hatchling, dreaming haunting visions of formless shadows and living death," Ban-Fhaidh told him, giving no particular indication whether she was answering his question or merely continuing to ramble. Her tones were so distant, and so despondent, that it was quite impossible to tell. "My mentor, the last and wisest of our world's antediluvian Lords of Science, devoted the last epoch of his miserable life to preparing these lands for the coming corruption…but of course, he failed. Destiny's hand is unyielding."

Rundas lifted his head to say something to this grave pronouncement, but found his roster of possible responses to be quite lacking. They were talking past each other to the degree that were the prophetess not staring directly at him with those blank, murky patches of white, Rundas would've sworn that she wasn't even aware that he was standing here to begin with.

"…But I sense that not all hope is yet lost," she said after a long pause, a strange sort of power blazing deep within her eyes as she did. "She who brought light to the barren wastes of the Chozo and the shadowed lands of the Luminoth…she who is someday fated to bring this galaxy to a final and lasting peace…her approach is nigh. She is coming. She is coming."

One keyword in all of this prophetic babble – "Luminoth" – jumped out at Rundas, and recalling the briefings he had received on his prospective teammates immediately preceding the call to Norion, the bounty hunter demanded, "Are you talking about Samus Aran? Samus Aran is coming here? When? Why? Give me a straight answer, dammit!"

But she would not; enveloped completely in whatever eclectic visions were currently overtaking her mind, all Ban-Fhaidh seemed either able or willing to say was the repeated declaration that "she" was coming. Frustrated and growing entirely impatient with this enigmatic diviner, Rundas growled angrily and stuck a claw in her face, already feeling the temperature within it dropping several hundred degrees as his cryokinetic powers began to charge to their fullest extent. "Stop blathering, lizard!" he roared in a voice that did not sound like it entirely belonged to him. "You know more than you're letting on about Phazon, about Samus, whatever…just tell it to me already! I'm not going to ask again!"

"She shall bring death to you, Ice-Bringer," the prophetess stated suddenly, her tone as dispassionate and ethereal as ever.

"What?" Rundas hissed, Hyper Mode apparently flaring up of its own volition at this literal death-sentence. "Explain yourself!"

"You have fought the poison for longer than most – even your compatriots of steel and formless matter have fallen completely under its sway while you continue to resist – but it is inevitable that you shall eventually give in," she intoned, apparently unfazed by the clear and present threat to her life. "Even now, it has become a crutch for you to rely on in these harsh and deathly lands. The corrosive power of the poison is irresistible…and it is only a short matter of time before it shall compel you to strike against she who shall save us all. She is coming, Ice-Bringer. She is coming. She is coming. She is…"

The point-blank blast came utterly unbidden by any conscious thought on Rundas' part, and that was the part that frightened him the most. As inexplicably furious as he was at the unfathomable prophetess, he had been possessed of no true inclination to actually fire upon her…much less go straight for the kill. But here he was, standing over the flash-frozen, mutilated corpse of the only sapient being he had conversed with in weeks, Phazon tendrils whipping and lapping around as his P.E.D. flashed warning signs.

"I…I need to get this thing off…" he muttered in a panic, respiring profusely as he fumbled with the Federation hardware and attempted to wrench it straight out of his skin, damned be the consequences. Above all, Rundas prided himself on his independence, and what he had just experienced was incontrovertible proof that there were some actions his body was capable of taking that he had absolutely no choice over. As intoxicating as the regular expulsion of Phazon was turning out to be, there was absolutely no way that this price was worth it. Rundas, scion of Phrygis, was a bounty hunter…not a murderer.

But the moment that Rundas tugged at the device, an overwhelming flash of pain shot through his entire body, and within seconds the mighty hunter was on his back crying in agony, screeching gutturally as the strands of Phazon emanating from within his very core grew longer and bolder. His vision and overall sense of perception rapidly dwindling as he began to lose control of his extremities, the small part of Rundas' mind still capable of rational thought struggled valiantly to reach the emergency vent switch on the Phazon Enhancement Device, but it was no use; writhing and howling anguished pleas for help from the Reptilicus or Samus or one of Phrygis' supposed deities or someone appeared to be the absolute most he could muster at the current time.

But surprisingly, a voice did answer his tortured entreaties…although not one that Rundas had either been expecting or welcoming. At first the voice merely chose to laugh at his suffering, echoing low and cold across some distant corner of his brain. But soon enough it was forming whispered words, words of cruelty and sadistic malice that overtook Rundas' mind completely as the Phazon tendrils continued to similarly overtake his body.

You thought it would be that easy to simply walk away from my power, slave? Do not forget that I bestowed upon you and your friends a gift…Commander Ghor and Mistress Gandrayda have not, after all. And now, my child…my seed…now it is finally time for you to join them.

Against Rundas' will – for it was still wholly occupied with the mind-splitting pain currently wreaking havoc on his psyche – the bounty hunter climbed to his feet, every molecule of muscle and sinew now held firmly within the grip of the pulsing Phazon energy. Slowly, laboriously, Rundas was wrenched forward by one foot and then the other, some strange force connected with the disembodied, cackling voice compelling him to proceed down a path he had not yet fully explored. Coming to a large stone door he felt his arm raise and another frigid blast of Phazon-laden ice impact the energy shielding, allowing Rundas' unresponsive body to continue pulling him into a room that carried with it an eerie, sinister glow.

The source of the luminosity became clear almost immediately – a massive pool of pure, liquid Phazon lay sequestered within this chamber, bubbling and sizzling as its azure aura stretched in all directions, silently commanding Rundas to take just a few more steps forward and immerse himself within its radiating bounty.

"No…" Rundas coughed, vainly attempting to pull his limbs back and fight off the voice now viciously ordering him to take the plunge. "No…not like this…"

But it was no use; disobedience was a luxury he would no longer be afforded. Another step and the dive was finally complete, his entire body submerging itself into the churning liquid as it hissed and flowed about him, injecting itself into the P.E.D. and into his very veins.

For the first and last time in his life, Rundas fully and truly felt what it was like to nearly freeze to death, and as the vague prospect of what he imagined hypothermia must be like loomed, the Phrygisian sunk deep into an impenetrable blackness.

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Well, Ban-Fhaidh had been right about at least one thing: Samus Aran had touched down upon the planet only about two days later, her armor gleaming with the unmistakable mark of her very own Phazon Enhancement Device. But there was little opportunity for Rundas to warn her of the very present dangers that the toxic machine represented, given…recent events.

Rundas had never been a particularly sociable creature, but insofar as he considered himself to have any friends at all, Samus certainly qualified. He genuinely liked her – not like that, of course, although he wouldn't necessarily preclude the possibility somewhere long down the road – and admired her for her strength and dedication. Plus, her unceasing optimism (a rarity in this line of business if there ever was one) was always refreshing to behold; the line he had parroted back to her on Norion about "justice prevailing and all that stuff" had come from her on some previous mission they had embarked on together, though he couldn't immediately place which. There had been Pirates involved, he was almost certain of that…but there had been so many over the last handful of cycles that they tended to blend together fairly seamlessly.

As such, when the burgeoning corruption that was now totally in control of Rundas' brain and body began forcing him to track down and then attack Samus with the full intention to kill, the small portion of Rundas' true mind that still remained was…displeased.

Understatement-of-the-centacycle aside, Rundas was screaming bloody murder from within the Phazon-laden cage that was his own heart, but fighting was no longer an option for him – Dark Samus was pulling his strings from afar with nary but a small fraction of her ever-expanding power. Yes, he had finally discerned the true source of that malefic voice tempting him into madness, not that that knowledge was doing him any particular good…

Fortunately, Samus appeared to be winning their mortal duel for the moment, though not without a steep cost; the snatches of her soft, hominid face he had managed to glean through her verdant visor revealed a woman who was feeling painfully conflicted about fighting her longtime ally to the death, particularly as his constantly escalating assault forced her hand in activating her own version of Hyper Mode, blasting apart the pieces of Rundas' crystalline armor with concentrated surges of pure Phazon.

But eventually, inevitably, the battle ceased, with a barely breathing Rundas lying defeated at his friend's metallic feet, energy crackling throughout his bruised and battered P.E.D. armor as she gazed upon him with a mixture of contemplation, pity, and regret. But in her premature display of mourning, she was leaving open a critical opening in her defenses – her weapon arm was not raised, and his readings indicated that her current energy levels were too low for her engage Hyper Mode again anytime soon – and the dark and malicious voice echoing throughout the frigid chambers of his mind was bidding him to take swift and lethal advantage of this fact.

That's it, my child…make me proud…

Once again Rundas felt the cold and unwelcome sensation of his arms rising up by themselves, his cryokinetic powers building to their maximum and targeting the momentarily still form of Samus Aran.

"Samus…" he murmured, soft and strained enough that he knew she would not hear.

And then, in an instant, the decision was both made and carried out. The life rapidly fading from his eyes, the bounty hunter Rundas lay impaled upon a spear of his own creation, the result of his last, most desperate effort to wrest back control of his ice-generating abilities from the usurping parasite now roaring furiously at the wasted opportunity. It may not have been ideal…but at least this way, Samus Aran would have a much better chance of living to see another day. With what both the prophetess and Dark Samus had said about their remaining compatriots, the blonde hominid was going to be needed by the galaxy again very soon, and very urgently.

And so it was that, as Dark Samus' wraithlike projection absorbed his life's essence into her own, irritably attempting to salvage some use out of her first fallen lieutenant, Rundas cried out a silent plea of apology to the friend he had unwillingly betrayed, praying desperately that there might still be hope yet for his fellows still trapped within the throes of this sick corruption. Ghor, Gandrayda, and especially Samus…he wished them all luck in achieving favor with the guiding hand of fate.

Then Rundas of Phrygis fell still, and the woman who had been closer to him in life than any other sapient being turned away from his dissipating body, unable to bear witness any longer as a single, uncommonly warm tear slid down her slender face.